The state of the economy, worldwide political struggles, homeless-ness . .. Try tossing these out as conversation starters at your next holiday party! The fact is, we’ve been persuaded to believe this is “the most wonderful time of the year.” For some it just may be, but for others the holiday season conjures up feelings of stress, strain, anxiety, disappointment and loneliness.
Especially for LGBTQ people, the additional stress of strained family relationships or their judgments can cause the holiday blues to get the best of you. Other signs to watch out for include fatigue, having unrealistic expectations, becoming overwhelmed by holiday commercialization, feeling loss over past relationships or the loss of someone near and dear, financial constraints and not having supportive friends and family.
To compensate, we often do too much to cope, like drinking or eating more than our limit, or placing even more demands on ourselves and stretching ourselves thin.
Here are some useful strategies for keeping in tune with how you’re feeling and for reducing stress.
— Keep your expectations of the holidays realistic. Remember, you can control what you do or don’t do this season. Give yourself permission to be in command of your holiday social calendar. Do you have to attend everything? Of course you don’t. Pacing is key. Make a list of what’s most important and prioritize activities. You may just find the most enjoyment in planning a day doing your favorite activity or something you have been meaning to try.
— Limit predictable sources of stress. We all have that distant (or not-so-distant) family member whose call we debate answering. Should I, shouldn’t I … If you have to ask yourself, you probably know the answer. After all, you could always call back another time. Again, you’re in charge. If shopping, traffic, decorating and baking become overwhelming, use discretion and do something else.
— Avoid the hype. Contrary to what every high-ticket advertisement will have you believe, you are not a bad partner or lover if you didn’t give him or her this year’s “it” item. There are many ways to show love without going into debt. And besides, after the holidays, the prices tend to fall. Consider doing something thoughtful and creative that doesn’t cost too much and is personal, like planning a day trip together.
— Enjoy time with friends and loved ones. This is a tricky one. Friends and family are a source of strength and love for many people, although we mustn’t assume family and friends are safe territory for all. For many of us this may not be the case, especially LGBTQ folks. Holiday time is not necessarily the most effective time to “come out” to family because of all the existing stress. As adults, we can build our own communities and families and start our own traditions.
— Get involved. A great way to find meaning this time of year is to help others or to get involved in something new. Being around people taking part in activities helps combat feeling alone and isolated. Many organizations are eager for volunteers to get involved and contribute. It might lead to a new friend or new interest along the way.
— Don’t abandon what works. If you are experiencing more stress than usual during the holidays, remember, they are temporary and will be over soon. Be aware of the healthy habits you worked at all year long. Exercise, yoga, avoiding extra calories and other things you incorporate into your schedule should help now too. Be sure to ask a friend for support if you need it. Talking to someone can make all the difference. If you don’t feel you have someone to open up to, there are many local resources available for peer or professional help.
— Holiday blues or depression? When feelings don’t go away or get worse, it could be a sign of depression. Some symptoms of depression include persistent sad, anxious or empty mood, loss of pleasure and interest in activities that are usually enjoyed, feelings of guilt, hopelessness or helplessness, sleeping more or less than usual, fatigue or low energy, weight loss or gain, headaches, digestive problems, muscle or joint pain, difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions and/or thoughts of suicide.
Depression is a treatable condition. If you or someone you care about are experiencing any of these symptoms, consult a mental-health professional, a crisis-response center or 911 in case of emergency.
Judy Morrissey is program director for Mazzoni Center’s Open Door Counseling Program. Mazzoni Center offers individual, couples, family and group counseling services for the region’s LGBT community.