Coping with Holiday Stress - LGBTQIA Healthcare Guild

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Holiday Stress & Coping With Potential Family Rejection: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning People

* From the Mazzoni Center

The holidays can be a stressful time for LGBTQ people or families with LGBTQ members, but there are several strategies that you can use to help reduce stress and create a happy holiday this year. Don’t assume you know how somebody will react to news of your sexual orientation or gender identity — you may be surprised. Realize that your family’s reaction to you may not be because you are LGBTQ. The hectic holiday pace may cause family members to act differently than they would under less stressful conditions. Remember that “coming out” is a continuous process. You may have to “come out” many times. Don’t wait for your family’s attitude to change to have a special holiday. Recognize that your parents need time to acknowledge and accept that they have a LGBTQ child. It took you time to come to terms with who you are; now it is your family’s turn. Let your family’s judgments be theirs to work on, as long as they are kind to you. If it is too difficult to be with your family, create your own holiday gathering with friends and loved ones. If you are transgender, be gentle with your family’s pronoun “slips.” Let them know you know how difficult it is. It can be easy to lose ourselves – stay connected to who you are.

Before the visit...

Make a decision about being “out” to each family member before you visit. If you are partnered, discuss in advance how you will talk about your relationship, or show affection with one another, if you plan to make the visit together. If you bring your partner home, don’t wait until late into the holiday evening to raise the issue of sleeping arrangements. Make plans in advance. Have alternate plans if the situation becomes difficult at home. Find out about local GLBT resources. If you do plan to “come out” to your family over the holidays, have support available, including PFLAG publications and the number of a local PFLAG chapter.

During the visit...

Focus on common interests. Reassure family members that you are still the same person they have always known. If you are partnered, be sensitive to his or her needs as well as your own. Be wary of the possible desire to shock your family.

Remember to affirm yourself...

Realize that you don’t need your family’s approval. Connect with someone else who is LGBTQ—by phone or in person—who understands what you are going through and will affirm you along the way. Take some alone time – go for a walk, read a book, journal meditate, listen to music, exercise. Before the Visit: Make a plan with friends – set up phone dates or videochat dates, ask if you can email them and determine whether you would need an immediate response. Who is open to emergency phone calls? Have friends write you supportive notes that you can read during hard moments

Have Boundaries...

Discuss with friends you trust and/or therapist possible boundaries to have with your family. What do you need to feel safe? What is realistic? What’s the difference between unsafe and uncomfortable and what are you willing to deal with? Some boundaries make and maintain for ourselves. Other boundaries have to do with other people’s behavior – is it best to communicate these boundaries to the other person? What will you do if your boundaries are broken?

Here are some examples:

- I will not tolerate it when my mother talks about my body in any way. If she does, I will ask her to stop. If she does not stop, I will walk away from her. I will communicate this boundary to her in an email before I arrive at her house.

- I will not allow my family to call my partner my “friend”. We have been together for years and they are aware of the nature of our relationship.

- I will correct them when they say it.

- I will not drink alcohol with my family or be around them when are drinking heavily. If they start drinking, I will excuse myself politely and go to my room to read, call a friend, or go for a walk. I will speak to my parents on the phone before I get there to tell them this boundary.

**If you have a friend or partner coming with you – have a conversation ahead of time about what each of you would like from the other in terms of support. How will you ask for it? What would that support look like? What if the other person isn’t able to give that support? Remember this could be hard at moments for both of you – be compassionate.

If you’re staying the night…

Be sure to pack things that keep you connected to who you are – photos of friends, a favorite book, maybe even your pet. Pack things that comfort you – special pillow, scented candle, favorite bath products, food that makes you feel good. Pack coping tools – books, journals, favorite music, walking/running shoes, guided meditation After the visit... Connect with your regular support community on your way home or immediately when you get home. Plan a fun activity with your friends, circle of support back in your community, to decompress and enjoy some holiday cheer among your chosen family. Acknowledge and affirm yourself for utilizing your coping skills.

Holiday Blues -  Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning People

Holiday songs tell us "It's the happiest time of the year." While we like to think of this season as a time of joy, festive parties, warm family gatherings, and optimistic hopes for the new year, sometimes our idealized expectations are not met and we end up feeling anxious, let down, disillusioned, alienated, and/or stretched to emotional limits. Pre-holiday stress. Mid-holiday frenzy. Post-holiday letdown. Each of these, or the cumulative effects of all them all, can result in a case of the "holiday blues"--or even more serious conditions, such as depression or anxiety disorders. Commonly-Experienced Causes of the "Holiday Blues": Increased levels of stress are invariably cited as one of the biggest contributors to the "holiday blues." In addition to stress, some of the other oh-so-common factors that can lead to the "holiday blues" include:

o Fatigue

o Unrealistic expectations

o Feeling bombarded by over-commercialization

o Strained relationship issues that surface when families get together

o Reminders of past losses of significant loved ones

o Sadness over the contrast between "now" and "then"

o Adapting to changes in family configurations and logistics for celebrating together caused by such new situations as divorce, marriage, blended families, adolescents who no longer celebrate the holidays as "children," and grown children establishing their own independent holiday traditions

o Financial constraints and demands

o The inability to be with friends and family

o Residue stress from unfortunate past experiences during previous holiday seasons

o Tension caused by the additional demands of shopping in holiday crowds, heavier-than-usual traffic, entertaining, holiday baking, long-distance travel, family reunions and/or houseguests

Useful Strategies for Keeping Stress to a Minimum Oftentimes, people try to counter the emotional strain they're feeling by drinking more than they should, over-eating or even placing still further demands on themselves and going to bigger and more elaborate efforts to try and ensure their holidays are the best ever. Throughout the coming weeks, consider engaging some of the following strategies for getting around potential sources of the "holiday blues":

1. Keep your expectations for the holiday season manageable: Be realistic about what you can and cannot do-as well as what you want to do and don't want to do. Although the holidays often mean trying to fit a lot of activities into a short period of time, pace yourself and, to the degree it's possible, try not to place your entire focus on just one day (e.g., Thanksgiving Day, Christmas morning, New Year's Eve), instead, remember it's an entire season of holiday sentiment and that activities can be spread out (time-wise) to help increase enjoyment and lessen stress. Set realistic goals for yourself; make a list and prioritize the most important activities; ask for and accept help; simplify!

2. Remember the holiday season does not banish reasons for feeling sad or lonely: During the holiday season, there's room for feelings such as sadness and/or loneliness to be present along with other more joyful emotions. You may be feeling out of sorts and periodically out of sync with the season's "jollier" aspects because of a current stressor, for example, a recent romantic break-up, or dealing with an adolescent child who's expressing their newfound independence by not participating in this year's family traditions. When you feel down, avoid critical self-perceptions, such as thinking of yourself as Scrooge and, instead, try to articulate the understanding you need from those around you. You might also consider seeking the help of a therapist to help you sort out your feelings and deal with the troubling issues.

3. Limit predictable sources of stress: If you feel the annual trappings of shopping, decorating, cooking and attending social events risk becoming overwhelming and stressful, use discretion and limit the activities you commit to.

4. Don't fall prey to commercial hype: Advertisers would like to have you believe that "if you really loved your spouse" you'd give him or her that expensive new gadget or piece of jewelry or that you should be the "perfect Santa" and grant your kids' wishes for this year's pricey crazes. Recognize the ads and commercials as hype that manufacturers and stores have to do to benefit optimally from the season. You can show love and caring in lots of thoughtful ways which don't cost a lot and that make the holidays all the more meaningful and personal.

5. Get together with friends and family members: As much as possible, share the holidays with friends and family members in person, as well by phone, e-mail, and mail. The holiday season can also be a good time to contact someone you have not heard from for awhile. If who have recently suffered the loss of someone especially close, spend time with special friends and family members with whom you can reminisce and share stories and warm memories about your loved one.

6. Attend holiday community events: Most communities offer special events during the holidays, such as theatrical and orchestral performances, that can be enjoyable to look forward to and to attend.

7. Join a social group: Feelings of loneliness and isolation can often be remedied by participating in activities with others. This can also help in opening up the potential for making new friends. You might consider looking into groups affiliated with your local church, museum, library or community center.

8. Engage in volunteer activity: Helping others is a pretty foolproof method of making the holidays feel more meaningful. There are many volunteer organizations that need extra help during this time of year.

9. Enjoy activities that are free: Financial strain can be the cause of considerable added stress during the holidays, however, there are many ways of enjoying the season that are free, including driving or walking around to admire holiday decorations, going window shopping without buying, making a snowperson with children, and attending free concerts.

10. Don't abandon healthful habits: Don't feel pressured to eat more than you're accustomed to just because it's the holiday season. And, since many of the season's parties and social gatherings include alcohol, be aware that excessive drinking will only contribute to or increase feelings of overwhelm or depression. Alcohol is NOT an antidepressant and, in fact, often worsens mood.

11. Make the time to get physical exercise: Exercising, for example, aerobics, walking, skiing, hiking, yoga, or swimming, can help burn away a lot of stress as well as the extra calories of holiday meals.

12. Remember that life brings changes: As families change and grow, traditions often need to adapt to the new configurations. While you can hold onto certain family rituals, for instance, a certain holiday activity or preparing a long-cherished family recipe, some traditions, such as everyone gathering at your house, may not be possible this year. Each holiday season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way. Don't set yourself up for disappointment by comparing this year's holiday season with the nostalgia of past holidays.

Spend Time With Supportive and Caring People In all of the ways listed above-as well as any other opportunities you can think of that specifically apply to your life-it cannot be emphasized enough how important it can be to spend the holiday season in the company of supportive and caring people. Many have found that seeking the counsel of a therapist during this time of year provides just the kind of support and care that helps them with the many emotional issues that arise in response to the holidays. Therapy provides a safe, comforting, and confidential setting in which to receive the kind of help and understanding that can best assist in first relieving, then understanding, and finally recovering from the effects of any feelings of sadness, disillusionment or loneliness you may be feeling.

The Effect of the Shorter Darker Days of Winter For some people, the shorter, darker days of winter are enough to bring them down. When this is the cause of "winter-time blues," it's commonly referred to as SAD, which is short for Seasonal Affective Disorder. The word "affective" relates to emotions, and for those who experience SAD, their emotions go into a tail-spin throughout the winter months, causing such symptoms as depression, fatigue, anxiety, chronic over-eating and social withdrawal that persist until Spring brings longer, lighter days. If you feel down for days on end during the holidays, it's important to seek advice from a mental health professional as soon as possible, particularly if you notice that your sleep and appetite are affected. SAD is very treatable; even the most severe cases can receive almost immediate relief once treatment has begun.

Could It Be Depression? The demands of the holiday season can overload an already stressed, almost depressed emotional system. If you are unable to shake what you think are the "holiday blues," you may be suffering from depression. The difference between the "holiday blues" and depression is essentially based on the duration of the symptoms and the degree of severity. When symptoms such as the following last for two weeks or longer, it could, in fact, be depression:

o Persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood

o Sudden loss of pleasure and interest in activities that are usually enjoyed

o Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness

o Difficulty sleeping, or increased sleeping

o Behavior that is more nervous or agitated than normal, or more slowed and unresponsive than normal

o Complaints of being tired all the time and having low energy

o Significant weight loss or gain

o Persistent physicals symptoms that don't respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, muscle or joint pain

o Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions

o Thoughts of suicide**

Depression is very treatable--but first it must be recognized. If you or someone you care about are experiencing any number of the above symptoms of depression, consult a mental-health professional as quickly as possible. Depression is not a sign of personal weakness; people suffering with depression cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better.

If left untreated, the depressive symptoms will only continue on beyond the holiday season and progressively worsen, causing needless pain and suffering, not only to the person who is depressed, but also to those who care about them. Untreated depression can even become a life-threatening disorder as it persistently distorts thinking, making the individual feel more and more hopeless about themselves and life in general.

The American Psychiatric Association reports that "80% to 90% of all people with depression-even those with the severest cases-improve once they receive appropriate treatment." Basic ways to treat depression include therapy, medication, and a combination of the two. There are therapists who are particularly skilled at helping those who are suffering from depression so that they're better able to enjoy a winter holiday season that's merry and bright and to look to the New Year with hope and optimism.

**Suicidal ideation is always a serious matter and should be immediately responded to by enlisting professional assistance, for instance, calling "911," and/or seeking help from a local suicide hotline (listed in your Yellow Pages under "Crisis Intervention Services"), and/or contacting a local mental-health professional.

Five Tips for Staying Sober Over the Holidays

December 3, 2008 by Hugh McBride

Staying sober can be challenging under the most “normal” circumstances, but when routines are interrupted and stress levels are increased, avoiding alcohol can be exponentially more difficult.

For some in recovery, the holiday season is a particularly trying time. Financial pressures, family stress, and the dramatic increase in social gatherings can tempt even the most resolute individuals. Though every person has specific strategies that enable them to pursue lifelong sobriety, the following are five common-sense tips that can help you remain alcohol-free throughout the holiday season:


Staying sober requires a one-step-at-a-time mindset, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be looking down the road to prepare for the obstacles that may await you. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, those obstacles may be particularly daunting, but with proper preparation they can definitely be overcome. Dr. Larry Smith, author of the book Embrace the Journey of Recovery: From Tragedy to Triumph!, advises recovering alcoholics to plan “each and every day of your holiday” to limit the likelihood that you’ll encounter situations that strain your commitment to sobriety. For example, inviting a dependable friend or a member of your 12-step group to accompany you to a gathering where you know alcohol will be present can provide you with the support you need to stay sober. In addition to preparing you for specific events such as a family dinner or company party, your holiday success plan should also incorporate more of a “big picture” philosophy to ensure that you get through the season with both sanity and sobriety intact. If you anticipate difficulties, you may want to schedule an extra session or two with your therapist or plan to attend more 12-step meetings than you normally do. Also, make sure that you continue to eat healthy and exercise regularly.


Regardless of how long you’ve been sober, you need to remain vigilant for situations or events that may prompt to you take a drink. The holiday season is rife with triggers such as financial pressure, family conflicts, and large gatherings where alcohol is served, so your success plan needs to include strategies for overcoming these enticements. If your family members traditionally follow Thanksgiving dinner with a football game and a few beers, you need to prepare for this ahead of time by either making other after-dinner plans or enlisting your family’s assistance to get you through those potentially tempting hours. If the stress and arguments that accompany your family’s get-togethers threaten to push you back toward the bottle, you may have to make the difficult (but ultimately healthy) decision to skip these events or limit your attendance to just an hour or two until you have a firmer grip on your sobriety. Regardless of what shape your particular triggers take, don’t put your health at risk by exposing yourself unnecessarily or without proper preparation.


Holiday traditions are designed to encourage a spirit of togetherness and continuity. But if these activities put your health at risk (and, if you are a recovering alcoholic, alcohol-dependent, taking even one drink does just that), then you need to create a new method for celebrating.

Some alternative traditions are simple to implement. For example, if you previously welcomed the New Year with a quiet evening at home, highlighted by a champagne toast at midnight, substitute sparkling grape juice and keep everything else the same. But if you’re used to celebrating New Year’s Eve at a local bar or popular nightclub, it would probably be wise to find another way to mark the year’s passing, such as hosting an alcohol-free party or attending an event that is sponsored by your local AA chapter. A great tradition to start this season is writing a letter to at least one person who has touched your life in a particularly meaningful way during the previous year. In addition to giving this person the wonderful gift of knowing that they have made a positive difference in your life, writing a letter like this will also benefit you in two distinct and important ways: by strengthening your connection with an important source of support, and by reminding you how far you have progressed in your recovery.


When you were mired in the depths of alcoholism, you may have felt as though you were alone in your misery. But as you began to walk the path of recovery, you found that there were many others who understood what you were going through and were more than willing to lend whatever support they could to help you regain control over your life. During the holiday season, make an extra effort to connect with the members of your support network.


One sad truth about our world is that there will likely never be a shortage of individuals who are in need of assistance. People who will be experiencing their first sober holidays, underprivileged youth, residents of homeless shelters, and those who are hospitalized are just a few of the many folks who could benefit from your expertise, your advice, or simply your company. Volunteering to serve others is a fantastic way to take your mind off your own worries and problems, to give back to the community, and to remind yourself how valuable you can be (and how rewarding life can be) every day that you resist the urge to drink


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Home for the Holidays - Movie Trailer

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National Center for Biotechnology Information - Prejudice, Social Stress, and Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations: Conceptual Issues and Research Evidence

In this article the author reviews research evidence on the prevalence of mental disorders in lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals (LGBs) and shows, using meta-analyses, that LGBs have a higher prevalence of mental disorders than heterosexuals. The author offers a conceptual framework for understanding this excess in prevalence of disorder in terms of minority stress—explaining that stigma, prejudice, and discrimination create a hostile and stressful social environment that causes mental health problems…. Read the Article Here.