Christmas is well known for being a time to get together, exchanging gifts and having fun. TV adverts tell us that family get togethers are the norm and popularity is measured by the number of presents under our tree. However, the festive season can be a lonely and difficult time, particularly for us in the LGBT+ community.
We can find ourselves surrounded by homophobic relatives, being called our incorrect names or pronouns, having to hide our identity or being totally alone and feeling unwelcome.
These stresses can affect us in a variety of ways including lack of sleep, anxiety attacks, changes in our eating and feelings of loneliness.
So how can we manage our stress at this, potentially triggering, time of year?
Remember that Christmas is just another day
At Coventry & Warwickshire Mind, I support adults with mental ill health and often tell them to take one day at a time, or even take things minute by minute if this is too much. Christmas is no different. All the hype surrounding the festive season can build a lot of pressure but remembering that Christmas is just another Wednesday can be helpful.
Seeing Christmas as ‘just another day’ means we don’t have to treat it differently and we can reduce some of the pressure we inevitably put upon ourselves.
Christmas is temporary and the festivities will stop and the world will get back to normal. These feelings are temporary and it’s not always going to be like this.
It’s okay not to be okay
It’s not nice to be struggling, but it’s okay not to be okay. Give yourself permission to feel how you feel rather than allow your emotions to build up and explode.
What usually helps you in times of stress? Keeping busy? Watching films? Listening to music? Writing a journal?
Plan in some self-care strategies so you have them ready if you need to take some time out. Perhaps you could make sure to pack your charger and headphones, a good book or game to play if you need some time out or distractions. It’s okay to look after yourself and do what you need to in order to get through.
Setting boundaries to make social events manageable is a great way to look after yourself. Give yourself permission to say no to demands of others or to attending social events. Setting and maintaining boundaries keeps us safe and healthy.
You don’t have to go to a church service at an anti-gay church, you don’t have to explain how you know you are a woman on the drive to your Aunt’s house, you do not have to see people you don’t want to see. Decide to take care of yourself and trust your gut to guide you to what is right for you.
Communicate boundaries ahead of time if you can- agreeing with your family/friends that you are not going to talk about certain things can protect you from awkward conversations- it’s okay to set limits for others- you do not need to discuss your sex life, employment status or anything else you don’t want to.
If you do attend social events, plan how you will get home, set a time to leave or have an excuse prepared if a ‘I need to leave now’ moment crops up. The motto “plan for the worst, hope for the best” may be helpful to remember.
Whether you reach out to others by volunteering over Christmas or have a list prepared of people you can talk to, connecting with others can be helpful. You might feel like you’re the only one but thousands of people struggle at this time of year, could volunteering in your local area be an option to connect with others and get your mind on something positive?
If you are isolated this Christmas, could you arrange to meet with someone else who may be feeling the same way? The Yard in partnership with Coventry Pride are hosting a Christmas day get-together that might be just what you’re looking for.
Work out who your chosen family is- who can you turn to for support? Make a mental note of who you could reach out to if you need to vent or for some friendly advice. It’s good to get things out.
If you’d prefer to speak to someone professional and confidential, try some of these options:
Above all else, remember that Christmas can be a tough time for many LGBT+ folks, you are not alone. Having the courage to be yourself makes you extremely brave. You are worthy of support and you have the strength to stay strong and get through this.