According to the lyrics of the classic 1963 Andy Williams Christmas song: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year, With the kids jingle belling, And everyone telling you be of good cheer, It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”
But the fact is that the festive season may not be the most wonderful time of the year for everyone – no matter how many people try to convince them to be of “good cheer”.
The December break might be an especially challenging time for some queer people, for varying reasons. Perhaps you aren’t out to your family, and the idea of spending an extended period of time with them causes your anxiety and depression to shoot through the roof.
Maybe your family knows you are LGBTQI+, but doesn’t approve. Perhaps you prefer not seeing your family for fear of experiencing microaggressions or outright criticism surrounding your sexuality or gender expression.
You might not even be going home for the festive season because your family doesn’t approve of your “lifestyle choices”, or because you have become estranged from them.
Whatever the reason this season causes your mental health to take a nosedive, you should, first and foremost, realise that you definitely aren’t alone.
According to a survey done by the American Psychological Association in 2006, 38% of people feel that their stress increases over the festive season, as opposed to the just 8% of respondents who maintained that their stress levels decrease at this time of the year.
A 2016 report compiled by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group found that while roughly 10% of the general South African population suffer from stress, anxiety and depression, this number is much higher for the LGBTI community, with 31% to 45% of this group affected by these mental health issues.
If you are expecting a rough ride, this festive season, here are some ways to practice self-care.
Set your boundaries early on
If, for whatever reason, you realise that it will be better for your own mental and overall wellbeing to not be at home this Christmas, don’t go.
Let your family know early on that you will be making alternative arrangements, and avoid being caught in circumstances that are detrimental to your health, or going somewhere you feel you can’t be your authentic self. Not being home doesn’t equate to not loving your family anymore.
If you do decide to go home, anticipate those occasions which will be tough for you. You don’t have to go to church if you don’t want to, and you are allowed to avoid confrontations with your bigoted grandfather by simply not being around him.
If you come across situations that push you to your limit or that are triggering, excuse yourself and spend some time doing breathing exercises, taking the dog (and yourself) for a walk around the block, or relaxing elsewhere.
Stay in touch with your chosen family
Keep in touch with friends that are also a part of the LGBTQI+ community, or that are allies you can rely on. If you decide you aren’t going home this year, arrange to spend some time with them. Create new traditions and let your hair down in an environment where there’s nothing to hide.
If you are spending time with your family this festive season, vent to your friends via text if things start becoming difficult. Let your chosen family know that you might need some extra support from them this time of year, and remember that these are people that care about you immensely, and for whom it’s no inconvenience to be of help to a friend.
Take some time for yourself
After all, this is also a time when you should focus on recharging your batteries for the New Year, while doing things that you like doing. Whether you’re at your own home or the home of your parents, carve out blocks of time that are only yours, and do things you enjoy, but don’t often get time for.
Kick back with that book you just can’t seem to finish, unwind in a bubble bath, or pop in your earphones and drown out Boney M’s Christmas hits with a playlist you love. Most important of all: try to rest and relax as much as you can.
If you find yourself in mental distress this festive season, please call LifeLine’s 24 Hour Counseling Line on 0861 322 322 or the South African Depression and Anxiety Group’s Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567. Please also consider reaching out to these LGBTQ organisations (although some may be closed during this period).