Image courtesy of: http://algbtical.org/2A%20HOLIDAY.htm
It's that magical time of year and everyone around you seems excited for the holidays. People are signing, children are laughing, and everyone seems to be talking about their upcoming trips to visit friends or family. Everyone except you because you're LGBTQ.
For those identifying in the LGBTQ community, holidays may not be a time of celebration, but a time of deep sadness, anxiety, or isolation. It's no secret that the LGBTQ community already faces an increase in mental health issues and adversity, but around the holidays in particular it can be tough. Many LGBTQ individuals face ostracism or disownment by their families, sometimes leaving them without a roof over their heads, food, or emotional support. So what can be done if you happen to have a friend who identifies as LGBTQ, or if you yourself are facing a lonely holiday? Here are some ways to help you weather the holiday blues.
Lean on your family of choice
Many LGBTQ+ people who've been abandoned by their blood relatives, have strengthened relationships with friends and/or other relatives who do support them. During holidays when the idea of family and togetherness is being pushed by media and other outlets, remember the people who've been there for you through thick and thin and utilize them! True support systems are not there to judge you for feeling lonely, sad, or angsty and like a seesaw, they take turns balancing who needs the support in that moment. A family of choice can also help you develop new traditions to look forward to each year and to rely on when feeling down.
Prepare your Toolbox!
If you foresee that the holidays may be a depressing time for you, be sure to prepare all of your effective and useful coping skills. It is healthy for everyone to have a toolbox of skills to pick up and use in moments of crisis, or when simply feeling not quite themselves. These coping skills can include setting aside time when needed to reach out to friends or family, engaging in a favorite hobby, starting a new hobby, creating a crisis management plan, or treating yourself (because you know you deserve it)! If need be, also create a daily planner or calendar of events that you can look forward to as the holidays progress. Maintaining a sense of hope, routine, and connection with others will be important.
Limit or avoid social media
Where to even begin with social media! These days most of us know the emotional dangers of scrolling through Facebook or checking out recent Instagram posts from our favorite celebrities or friends. We also know that most of the images we see on social media are doctored, scripted, filtered, and/or sponsored, but we can't help but look and wish our lives could emulate that image. Images of perceived happy friends and family might also be a trigger for some, reminding you of what you don't have or are missing out on. So if you find yourself feeling down about your life based on social media posts or pictures, it might be good to put down the phone or shut off the computer for a while. Social media will always be there, but spending quality time with those you care about is precious and most important so get to unplugging!
Create a way out of negative situations
Spending time with preferred family or friends is often ideal for everyone, and for many can be a comforting reality this holiday. However, running into that one aunt, cousin, neighbor, or acquaintance that always seems to have something negative to say about you and your "life style choice" can be a mood killer. During holiday gatherings, spending time with non-supportive family or friends might be unavoidable and can be often put those in the LGBTQ community in a very negative head space. Although grandma might have strong opinions about your same sex girlfriend or gender pronouns, that doesn't mean you have to suffer the emotional turmoil alone. Planning ahead with another family member or friend to create an escape plan in situations where you're feeling emotionally triggered can help alleviate later emotional problems. For instance, setting up a code word, phrase, or signal can let your identified safe person know you might need to leave for the evening, need a break away from the family, or help you calmly and safely confront the situation. Simply letting your ally know you might potentially feel uneasy ahead of time gives you and the other person or people an action plan to tackle the situation safely and put you at ease knowing those around you have your back if you need a way out!
Check out local support groups
If you find yourself lacking a family of choice, or other support networks, look into local LGBTQ and Ally friendly support groups in town. There are some groups that have prepared events and other forms of support for those feeling down over the holiday. Some good resources to check into include the following:
PFLAG National (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). The national website has a find chapter button to determine if there is a local chapter in your area. PFLAG is not just for allies, but for LGBTQ members as well, however you will want to check with your local chapter to determine if there are any specific polices. Here's a link to their Find a Chapter page https://www.pflag.org/find-a-chapter
Mental Health organizations: Find local support through organizations like National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Other support groups include healthyplace.com where a list of other LGBTQ friendly resources can be found. The link for healthyplace is listed below.
If you find yourself in a crisis situation over the holidays, please do not hesitate to contact the following agencies for help:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (available 24/7)
The TREVOR Project 1-866-488-7386
911 for medical emergencies
Devin Pinkston is a local mental health counselor and Gender Therapist in Grand Junction Colorado. Call to schedule a free consultation today at 970-644-2392.