The holiday season can be a difficult time for many of us. Loneliness and isolation, challenging enough to cope with on their own, can exacerbate or contribute to the development of feelings of anxiety and depression. Interactions with those family members and friends we don’t always see eye-to-eye with can increase our stress levels. The holidays may cause even greater distress for many LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly those whose identities are challenged, denied, or otherwise unaccepted by family members.
Some LGBTQ+ individuals who are out to their family members and friends are accepted and welcomed. Their coming-out process may have been met with love and support. Others who had a rougher experience and faced rejection, discrimination, and other negativity from their community may still be dealing with this lack of tolerance.
Some individuals choose not to continue interacting with intolerant family and friends, while others may value their familial ties and hope that with the passage of time will come greater understanding and acceptance. Either choice is likely to lead to some measure of distress: the former may lead to feelings of isolation, sadness, and regret, while the latter may place an individual in the position of having to continually defend their identity and/or partner while also act as an educator to family members who may be homophobic or transphobic.
Another byproduct of owning our LGBTQ+ identities might be rejection from our religious or spiritual communities, something that may feel especially isolating during the holiday season. Many LGBTQ+ people hold deep spiritual beliefs but feel that they are not welcome in their childhood place of worship without hiding parts of themselves in order to attend services. Many may not be able to attend services at all due to virulently anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment expressed by the congregation.
LGBTQ+ people who have not yet come out to their families may find maintaining a pretense or lying about their identities, either directly or by omission, to be draining and stressful. Having to lie about the existence of a partner or other aspects of personal life may also have a negative impact on some. Many individuals might wish to come out to their families and bring their partner home for the holidays but may be unsure of how family members will react. Delaying out of fear of rejection may lead to not only inner emotional distress, but also relational conflict.
Going through the holidays alone when we would rather have a partner is another potential source of emotional distress. During this time of year, being single can feel especially onerous, especially in the presence of other happy relationships. Reminders of the importance of “that special someone” are typically more prevalent throughout the holiday season, and at times they may seem inescapable, which can contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Whatever the cause of our feelings of distress and loneliness or our experiences of rejection, they can have a particularly negative impact in a season that is overwhelmingly portrayed as a family experience filled with love, warmth, and joy. Those who exist outside this family holiday paradigm may find that feelings of depression or general lowness can often sneak in and take over the holiday experience.
Seasonal messages in movies, marketing, social media, and a multitude of other forums all seem to give the implication that everyone should be sitting by a fireplace with their loved ones, sharing a magical holiday. Those who have a different reality may feel isolated, damaged, or as if they are outsiders.
Self-Care to Combat Holiday Isolation and Loneliness
It is vital, then, for us to remind ourselves that we are not damaged and find ways to step out of a cycle of destructive thoughts. One way to begin this process might be to review what we do have in our lives, rather than focusing on what we do not have. It is vital, then, for us to remind ourselves that we are not damaged and find ways to step out of a cycle of destructive thoughts. One way to begin this process might be to review what we do have in our lives, rather than focusing on what we do not have.What positive aspects of life do we create for ourselves? Think of friends, successes, pets, a partner, and so on.
Try addressing feelings of isolation by getting involved in community activities you find satisfying or enjoyable. Volunteer at a local food bank, spend time with seniors the community, or join a community chorus. Any of these activities can lift a low mood and assist in the management of negative self-talk that may come up–and provide a topic of discussion for those who do attend family gatherings. Perhaps consider volunteering for a queer youth group, as many queer and transgender youth may be experiencing a difficult holiday season themselves.
Those who feel unwelcome in their chosen place of worship may find it helpful to seek out another. Many communities, large or small, have congregations that welcome members of the LGBTQ+ community as they are and are LGBTQ-affirmative in their services and support. Try searching online or reviewing posted fliers at the library or other community-centered location.
Plan activities that are nurturing and enjoyable, whether they are holiday-related or not. See that new blockbuster movie. Try out that new restaurant or read a book in a favorite coffee shop. Maybe even plan a trip during the holidays, if it is possible to do so, to somewhere that is inspiring and delightful. To combat loneliness, make evenings bright with a baking party or potluck with a few close friends.
But above all, understand that your happiness is not reliant on someone else’s presence or approval. Holiday loneliness and isolation may be common among members of the LGBTQ+ community, and these feelings can be challenging to deal with. But employing self-care and self-awareness techniques can make the season brighter for those who struggle with the holidays each year.
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