LGBTQ+ Mental Health and Heading Home for the Holidays

by Tranquilla Golden-Taylor, MS

At one point or another, every single one of us has dreaded the holidays, especially when we can’t fully be ourselves because of overbearing family members. Because we know what this is like, we can approach the holidays through these LGBTQ+ mental health tips with the spirit of making the holidays welcoming events for all involved. This is the season of love, which we are all entitled to.

Being a person in the LGBTQ+ community is often met with mixed reactions from family, who can (unfairly) sexualize the conversation as if to reduce you to the sum of who you love or are attracted to. Psychologist Dr. Logan Jones, head of NYC Therapy and Wellness, says:

“While experiences vary by individual, most of my LGBTQ and non-binary identifying clients report similar feelings of tension and stress during the holiday season. Common struggles range from anxiety and depression to feelings of rejection for freely expressing their authentic selves. For these clients, going home for the holidays is not always a time of bliss, but a painful reminder of moments of their ‘otherness’ within their families.”

For those in the community: I see you. I hear you. I am you. As a therapist, I’ve seen my fair share of angst around family gatherings, for these same reasons. These issues are not minor; they contribute to increased alcohol and drug usage, suicide attempts, isolation, and self-mutilating behaviors.

If you’re struggling to make this holiday season a welcoming, festive event, thinking about leaning into these attitudes and behaviors:

Be Open

By entering this season with open minds, we are allowing both ourselves and others to be authentic. This alone can create necessary dialogue around the dinner table that finds common ground while showing each another in a new light. Ask questions if you need to, but always check the intent of our questioning to avoid causing unnecessary harm.

Be Accepting

For my LGBTQ+ comrades, acceptance includes being accepting of yourself. You might have spent enough of your life holding back who you are, so it’s time to embrace the person you’re meant to be. Does this mean the road will be easy? It will not! But you can’t expect others to accept you when you haven’t accepted yourself. This doesn’t mean you don’t deserve love and acceptance along your journey, but your self-acceptance will lay the foundation from which you will bloom.

Introduce Boundaries

Whew… the ‘B’ word. Though this sounds daunting, boundaries are a protective layer for all parties in our interactions with each other. Boundaries allow each person to acknowledge their tolerance levels for certain topics so we can avoid them and the ruckus that comes along with them. For example, if we don’t feel comfortable discussing our dating life in front of distant relatives, we can politely decline the invitation to that conversation or steer the conversation in another direction. If Crystal wants to talk about her boyfriend that we all despise, we can change the conversation to a more neutral topic like, “Who made the delicious mac & cheese?”

Lead with Respect

Leading with this trait allows us to accept thoughts and actions that are different from our own. This automatically fosters a sense of safety, telegraphing that even if you don’t understand the perspective of another person, then you at least respect them enough to not hurt them. In the end, we’re all human and deserve to be treated with basic decency, even those with opinions that diverge from ours.

Look for Your Allies

Everyone wants to be in a room with at least one ally, so they know there’s someone around who cares. Bring someone with you to these occasions who will be in your corner. This fosters security while lending an ear and shoulder, if necessary.

Care for Yourself

Because taking care of yourself is necessary to make all the above tips happen, don’t forget to add yourself to your list. The holidays are full of stressful logistics, like travel arrangements, gifts, and meals. Let’s not make the holidays harder than they need to be. Take some time to yourself to re-group and breathe. Steal away to that nice bath you need. Take a walk up the road or make an extended but necessary grocery run for cranberry sauce that the store just happened to experience a shortage of.

Practicing these attitudes and behaviors can open up the holidays as each person feels safe and secure. Wishing you pockets of joy as you navigate the holidays this year with your family.

Know you’ll need some extra mental health support after the holidays?