Posted on 18 November 2010.
The 38-day period between Thanksgiving and New Years Day known as the holidays can cause a rollercoaster of emotions for those in the LGBT community. For some, the moments fly by and precious time is spent with cheerful company making memories that will last a lifetime. But for others, as the days grow shorter, the holidays seem to last an eternity.
The holiday blues. It’s a time that can bring about all kinds of stressors no matter one’s sexual orientation. There’s all the social commitments, the stress of travel, the financial pressures. The days are shorter and the cold temperatures drive people indoors, often causing depressive symptoms. People often utilize this time of year to evaluate where they are in their lives, and it can negatively affect the mood if the reality doesn’t match up to the expectations.
But what about holiday stressors unique to the LGBT community?
The Extra Layer
There’s no definitive research proving whether or not LGBTs experience holiday anxiety and depression in greater numbers than straight people. But Will Mahan, Director of Equality Counseling Center, wouldn’t be surprised if it were true.
“I think there’s holiday stress which everybody experiences, gay or straight,” says Mahan. “Then there’s an extra layer of stress that I think comes from being gay and lesbian at this particular time of year.”
The emphasis on family is kicked into high gear during the holidays. Rifts about someone’s sexuality could lead to increased stress and uncomfortable situations. Or if one hasn’t come out yet, they have to deal with the anxiety of hiding it and playing the pronoun game, as well as questions from inquisitive family members about their personal life.
These family dynamics can cause stress within a relationship too. “If you have a partner and the parents aren’t accepting of that, do you go home or do you have separate holidays?,” says Mahan. “If you have an office party and you’re not out at work, do you come out at work or tell your partner they can’t come?”
There’s also a heightened emphasis on religion during the holidays, which can bother many gay people who are scarred by their religious upbringing. So there are major factors at play which adversely affect our community in particular at this time of year. You don’t have to be down because you’re out though.
Exposing the Ideal
You can relieve holiday stress in some of the same ways you relieve stress any other time of year—eating well, getting a good night’s sleep, exercising. But taking ownership over your holidays can be the most vital step.
“Holidays a lot of times are defined by family traditions from growing up and if you still enjoy those and are still welcome to be a part of that, then that can be great,” says Mahan. “But I think it’s good to try to define the holiday for what you want it to be.”
If the family dynamics are not healthy, you can avoid it altogether by taking off for a vacation in South Beach. Or you can stay and celebrate with the family of friends you’ve created outside of the family you grew up with. You can establish new traditions with your partner for meals and present exchanges.
And don’t get caught up in the “ideal” holiday images seen in the media throughout the season. No, it’s not standard behavior for a husband to surprise his wife with a Lexus wrapped in a bow in the driveway for Christmas.
“Everybody can benefit from the fact that [the holidays are] a good time to reconnect with people and socialize and spend time with people that you care about,” Mahan says. “So if you keep that guiding principle in mind, that’s a lot more important than the stuff that we get told is important by people wanting us to buy stuff.”
A New Mindset
Overall, making it through the holidays with good memories is about mindset, whether you’re gay or straight.
Mahan says oftentimes people with anxiety and depression aren’t necessarily experiencing more stressors than others—it’s how they perceive those stressors that can create the anxiety or depression.
“Be patient, keep your sense of humor, count your blessings, don’t worry about everything being perfect, don’t fret over the catastrophe that could happen, wait till it happens and then deal with it then,” he says. “A lot of times people get really worried about what it’s going to be like to go home or what it’s going to be like to not have anyone special to share the holiday with, and sometimes it’s really not as bad as you think it’s going to be.”