It doesn’t matter how hard you try to avoid gross oversimplifications: there are only two categories of people at Christmas time. Those who tick people off their present list on 1 December and those who would like to spend the entire holiday season under a rock to reemerge once the festive frenzy is over.
Whatever category you belong to, Christmas can be an especially tough time when it comes to your mental health.
If you’re part of the LGBTI community, things might get worse. Several reports have shed a light on the prevalence of depression and anxiety experienced by LGBTIs.
Casual homophobia and transphobia by family members can play a part in killing the Christmas spirit. Moreover, not being out to or accepted by your loved ones might make the holidays trying even for the most staunch Christmas enthusiasts.
What can we do? GSN talked to Dr. Sheri Jacobson, founder and CEO of Harley Therapy, a counseling clinic dealing also with issues concerning LGBTI identities. She gave us some valuable pieces of advice both LGBTIs and straight allies can benefit from.
Learn to say no
‘Christmas, for most people, means getting together with family. Which is already stressful. Of all times of the year, it’s the time that old arguments and traumas seem to surface most,’ Dr. Jacobson told GSN.
‘And if we like the festive season but are estranged or rejected by our family for being different, then it can be a very tough time indeed.’
She explained self-care is key to get through and enjoy the holidays.
‘Turning to things like alcohol and partying might seem easy but it’s just going to make you feel worse. Choose instead things that make you feel secure, cared for, and happy. See friends you feel good around, spend time in nature, book off a night to yourself for a long bath and some relaxing.’
‘And then set boundaries. Saying no might be your best weapon here. Say no to parties you don’t want to go to, people you don’t want to see, traditions you don’t feel good about. It’s not being rude or anti-social. It’s taking care of yourself.’
Better not to break any big news at Christmas time
Want to come out or introduce your new partner on Christmas Day? Dr. Jacobson believes it might not be such a great idea.
‘It’s already a stressful period. People are tired, tempers flare, and there is often too much alcohol use. It’s not fair to expect others to be available for an important conversation during this time,’ she said.
‘Would you want a partner to announce an affair the day you are navigating a promotion at work? Your friend to barge in right when you are cooking dinner for twelve to let you know they are having a baby?
‘And it’s absolutely not fair on yourself, either, to announce something so important at the holidays. Don’t you deserve better? To share important news with people who are sober and able to give you their full attention, not five Baileys in and distracted by hosting duties or shouting children?’ she also said.
She added it is crucial not to bring uninvited guests, and if you made clear you are bringing someone over, it is worth asking yourself if this is actually the best time for your family.
But if you do, use neutral language
Nonetheless, for those living abroad or only seeing their family during the holidays, Christmas might be the one occasion to be open.
‘If Christmas is the only time you see your family each year, and you are determined to do this now, then we’d just say aim for a moment before the alcohol has started flowing and the family feuding has begun,’ Dr. Jacobson said.
‘Be calm. Use neutral, factual language over language geared to provoke.’
An example? Say ‘I would like to tell you that’ as opposed to, ‘I know you might have a problem with this, but I would like to tell you that…’.
‘Give people time to respond. Don’t assume you know how they will react,’ Dr. Jacobson continued.
Do what makes you feel good
If you already know that going back home will make you feel anxious or depressed, then simply don’t go.
‘Don’t let guilt drive your decision, but self-care,’ Dr. Jacobson said.
‘Make another plan for yourself. Spend the festive season with friends, start building your own traditions, or treat yourself to a mini vacation. The other great idea is to volunteer. It’s shown by research to lift our moods.’
‘In summary, there is no one way to celebrate the festive season. Find what works for you. If what really makes you feel great is Christmas spent in bed with a box of chocolates as you internet shop and beat everyone else to the Boxing Day sales, then so be it.’
Ask for help
Sometimes, however, taking care of ourselves and saying no isn’t enough. That’s when we need to reach out for help.
‘This might be a friend, but could equally be calling a helpline, support group, or booking a session with a counselor. In fact, the best thing you can do, if you know that the holiday season is a challenge for you, is get that support lined up in advance,’ Dr. Jacobson said.
‘Ask a friend if they can be on standby, or book some sessions with a counselor now, as opposed to when you are in the thick of your anxiety and depression when simple things like picking up the phone can be a challenge.’