If you’re worried about going home for the holidays, here’s how to deal with negative comments and cope in healthy ways.
For members of the LGBTQ+ community, the holidays can be a difficult and complicated time of year. While some enjoy quality time with loved ones, others worry about coming out to their families, facing homophobic or insensitive comments, or feeling the pain of not being accepted by their relatives. If you’re struggling this holiday season, you’re not alone. Here are some ways to work through some of the most common stressors the LGBTQ+ community faces this time of year.
Coming Out to Family
Every person in the LGBTQ+ community has a unique experience with coming out—whether to their friends, family or colleagues. If you’re planning to come out to your loved ones this holiday season, you’re likely feeling stressed and anxious about how they’ll react.
“It’s safe to say that anyone who has had a coming out experience has a nugget of fear that their family will never speak to them again,” says Behavioral Health Specialist Christopher Huff, LCSW. “And while that can make the experience really difficult, I usually advise that you [should] expect the best, while preparing for the worst.” Huff suggests you be prepared for questions, but also be ready to walk away if the situation becomes too uncomfortable or overwhelming. It can be helpful to have a friend or someone you trust there or nearby for support.
There’s also no set timeline to come out. “If you’re not out yet, it doesn’t make your lived experience less valid or real,” says Huff. “And if your family members are asking questions about who you’re dating or about your personal life, you can give short and to-the-point responses. Remember that ‘no’ is a complete sentence.”
Dealing with Hurtful Comments
Even if you’re already out to your family, you may be worried about hurtful comments from family members who aren’t accepting. “You’re going to come out for the rest of your life. It’s not a one-time declaration,” says Huff. “So get comfortable receiving both positive and negative feedback.”
If you receive negative comments, be prepared to tell those people they’re being inappropriate or insensitive, and offer an explanation why. As an alternative, simply walk away from the conversation—have an exit strategy for any gathering you attend.
Unfortunately, it’s also fairly common for those in the LGBTQ+ community to become estranged from biological family members after they come out. “Nobody wants this to happen, but sometimes it’s necessary. And I want to acknowledge that it’s a big deal to be estranged from your family,” says Huff. “But part of being in the community means we get to pick our chosen family—friends and loved ones who accept us for who we are and are there to support us.”
If you’re estranged from your family, try making your own traditions this holiday season. Lean on your chosen family for support. You can celebrate the holidays however you’d like—by volunteering, going to events, decorating your home or throwing your own party.
Coping in Healthy Ways
With the many holiday season stressors, it can be easy to turn to unhealthy coping strategies. “When people are stressed they tend to seek things that will give them dopamine: food, sex, drugs and alcohol,” says Huff. And, especially this time of year, overconsumption of food and alcohol is very common. “It’s a time when many of us aren’t able to follow our normal routines—we’re traveling, going to events, staying in unfamiliar places and packing our social calendars,” adds dietitian Sara Spinner, RDN.
But there are healthy ways to handle stress, like eating a balanced diet. “There is scientific evidence that food can affect the way we handle stress,” says Spinner. “An anti-inflammatory or Mediterranean diet can lower your levels of cortisol, the hormone associated with stress.” Spinner suggests eating whole foods containing nutrients that fight inflammation and alleviate stress, such as:
- Vitamin B12, found in chicken, eggs and lean beef
- Omega-3s, found in salmon, chia seeds and walnuts
- Magnesium, found in pumpkin seeds, broccoli, avocado and dark chocolate
- Probiotics, found in yogurt, kombucha and kimchi
- Prebiotics, found in oats, garlic, asparagus and bananas
In addition, Spinner suggests avoiding excessive amounts of alcohol, caffeine and sugar, all of which can increase general anxiety levels.
It’s also important to focus on self-care during the holiday season, which means getting plenty of sleep, finding movement that brings you joy and adopting a mindfulness routine. And don’t be afraid to ask for support—whether from a trusted friend or a healthcare professional like a therapist or dietitian. “It might be a tough time of year, but it’s only a short period to get through,” says Huff. “Remember, you’re not in this alone,” says Spinner.