It’s the “most wonderful time of the year,” right? Right?? Well, as a therapist, I can tell you that is not always true, especially for LGTBQIA2S+ students. This time of year, LGTBQIA2S+ youth not only face the challenges of not feeling safe or affirmed at school, they are often forced to spend time outside of school with family members that are not accepting of their LGTBQIA2S+ identity. These difficult situations often leave LGTBQIA2S+ students feeling depressed, anxious, and overwhelmed during the holidays. This survival guide offers LGTBQIA2S+ students several tips to help protect their mental health during this stressful time of year.
Prioritize self-careTaking time to take care of yourself is crucial during times of stress. Make sure you are prioritizing self-care both before and after stressful holiday gatherings. Not sure how? Here are some ideas:
Connect with nature by taking a walk outside. Find a place to sit and take in all the relaxing sights, sounds, and sensations around you. Notice the sunlight glowing through the trees, the sound of the birds chirping, and the feel of the light breeze on your skin.
Spend time with pets or animals. Animals are amazing at reducing anxiety levels and can help make you feel safe and wanted.
Watch movies or listen to music that makes you feel good.
Plan aheadBefore you head into a family gathering, it’s important to think through things that are going to cause you stress and plan how you want to react. For example:
Make yourself a list of conversation starters for when you need to change the subject away from something controversial or political.
Have a response prepared ahead of time for when you are asked questions that are difficult or too personal.
Create an exit strategy for when interactions become too stressful, like having to go help with the holiday meal or feed the dog.
Find an allyFind the relative(s) that supports and affirms you and stick by their side, or have a supportive friend on stand-by to call or text when needed.
Try not to take it personallyIf someone says or does something inconsiderate or hurtful, remember that how people act and behave is a reflection of them and not you. Even though it can be difficult, try not to let it affect how you feel about yourself. You are amazing just the way you are.
Set boundaries (when you can)You can’t control how certain family members behave around you, but you can (sometimes) control how much contact you have with them. Position yourself at the opposite end of the table from relatives you just can’t tolerate. Ask for help from other family members to help you keep your distance. See if you can leave some gatherings early or come late.
Engage with your support community!
This time of year it is important to surround yourself with as much support as you can. Make sure to do things like:
Find ways to connect with other LGTBQIA2S+ youth that understand what you are going through right now, such as through your school GSA or by attending an in-person or virtual one.n.ten support meeting.
Spend time with friends or “chosen family” who you know will make you feel safe and supported during difficult times.
Reach out to community resources for additional support, especially if you are in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts:
Call, text, or chat with The Trevor Project.
For TGNC students, contact the Trans Lifeline, a peer support phone service run by trans people for trans and questioning peers.
Call, text, or email Teen Line, where you can access personal peer-to-peer support from highly trained teens supervised by adult mental health professionals.
By Andi Young, GLSEN Arizona Board Co-Chair