With the holiday season upon us, many of us are preparing to join with family and friends to celebrate our holiday traditions with the important people in our lives. However, the holiday season can also come with many challenges, producing new stresses and heightening existing anxieties.
For many in our communities, the holidays mean stressful interactions with family members who may be homophobic, transphobic and biphobic, creating potentially unsafe and uncomfortable environments. Many LGBTQ individuals have become estranged from our families and friends because of our identities. Spending the holidays without these family members can bring up emotional wounds over the losses of these relationships.
LGBTQ older adults frequently face additional stressors. Many elders have seen their support networks shrink over time, with friends passing on and past relationships fading away. LGBTQ elders who came out later in life may have children who struggle with their new family dynamics. Familial estrangements may include not only siblings and parents, but also biological children and grandchildren.
For those who no longer drive or who may have accessibility concerns, the mere logistics of travelling may produce barriers to spending time with family and friends. Connecting with friends and family through technology may be an option when geographic distances prevent in-person gatherings, though this relies on having access to and comfort with the necessary technology.
These factors in turn can lead to elevated health disparities, anxiety, substance abuse, isolation and even suicide. According to the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), “It is estimated that one in five adults over age 50 are affected by isolation, a problem that has been associated with higher rates of chronic disease, depression, dementia and death.” This rate is even higher for LGBTQ elders, who frequently do not have the same familial supports as non-LGBTQ older adults.
With these already-pressing concerns becoming exacerbated during this time of year, it is important that we all prioritize self-care during this season. There are many practical methods that may reduce your stress, anxiety and isolation during the holidays.
If you are spending the holidays with family who may not be supportive of your identity, it is important to set boundaries in advance of your visit to identify how to stay safe and supported during your visit. The Mazzoni Center offers a guide to “Holiday Stress & Coping with Potential Family Rejection” that outlines several ways to mitigate the stress that may come if you do choose to visit family this year (available at http://healthcareguild.com/minority_holiday_stress.html)
Many of us will choose to spend our holidays with our families of choice rather than our biological families. Healthy, non-toxic, embracing and loving friends can form a tribe that supports and embraces us all year long. Putting in the work to develop these networks can have a big payoff, especially around the holidays.
The National Association of Area Agencies for Aging (n4a) has created a resource brochure called “Expand Your Circles: Prevent Isolation and Loneliness As You Age,” which identifies concrete strategies to become engaged and fight off isolation (available at www.n4a.org/Files/Brochure1.pdf). Participation in community events and groups can help to form the support networks that will help LGBTQ older adults to thrive all year long. A few groups for LGBTQ elders to check out include:
MorningsOut Senior Social at William Way LGBT Community Center is a social/educational group for gay, bi and trans men age 50 and over. The group meets 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. every Tuesday at William Way, 1315 Spruce St.
The LGBT Discussion/Support Group at the Southwest Senior Center is welcoming to older adults age 55 and over who are LGBT or the parents, family, friends and supporters who are LGBT. The group’s winter meetings will begin Jan. 18 at the Southwest Senior Center, 6916 Elmwood Ave.
In caring for one’s mental health during the holidays, it can be beneficial to talk to a therapist or counselor. Local resources include the peer-counseling program at William Way (215-732-8255), the Mazzoni Center (215-563-0652) and the Therapy Center of Philadelphia (215-567-1111). For those experiencing an emotional crisis during the holiday season, the following hotlines can be utilized:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health Suicide and Crisis Intervention Hotline: 215-686-4420
- Crisis Text Line: text 741741.
These resources are just a start. Building community, caring for mental health and setting boundaries are all important parts of self-care at the holidays. Focusing on developing these supports on an ongoing basis will help to make the holiday season something to celebrate.