Holiday Blues Especially Hard on LGBT’s

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San Francisco psychotherapist Michael Halyard, MFT explains how Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people are especially vulnerable to holiday depression. Strategies to help LGBT’s through the holidays are offered.

During the holidays, everything is focused on home, family, and joy, but when you are lacking these things, or are going through some kind of loss--your own pain is exaggerated.

The Holiday season--beginning with Thanksgiving and ending in New Years Day--is a stressful and difficult time for many people, but often even more so for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

“The holidays are supposed to be a fun time of the year for people, filled with celebrations, parties, and gatherings with family and friends-- but for many people it’s a time filled with loneliness and depression," says San Francisco psychotherapist Michael Halyard, MFT.

Halyard is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and runs the websites http://www.sftherapy.com/ and http://www.sanfrancisco-psychotherapy.com.

“Shorter darker days, lousy weather, unrealistic expectations, strained family relationships, demands of socializing, overeating, too much sugar, not enough sleep, lack of exercise, financial difficulties, commercialism, holiday crowds, and extra traffic-- taken together are a perfect recipe for the holiday blues,” reveals Halyard.

During the holidays, everything is focused on home, family, and joy, but when you are lacking these things, or are going through some kind of loss--your own pain is exaggerated.

Halyard says what makes the holidays hard for many LGBT’s is the lack of acceptance from many of their families and communities, and the ensuing isolation that can result. Because often LGBT’s don’t have children of their own, they rely more on spending the holidays with their family of origin. When there’s a lack of acceptance or estrangement, it can lead holiday depression.

Some gay or trans people go home for the holidays, and receive only limited acceptance from their families, if any at all--making for a painful visit. This is often the case shortly after a LGBT person comes out to the family.

“For gay or trans people just coming out to their family, the first holidays can be extra stressful, because of the fear of rejection and actual rejection. It’s even harder for trans folks coming home as a different gender for the first time. If you just came out to your family, realize that it may take a few years for them to adjust to the reality of your sexual orientation and gender identity, and the holidays may be temporarily strained,” explains Halyard.

Even when families are accepting, there’s still the lack of equal rights and acceptance from society in general. The oppression from society, communities and religious organizations colors queer people's experience of the holidays.

Halyard says much of the problem is in people's expectations, due to the media images of what the Holidays are supposed to be. “Let’s face it, the holidays are not all they're cracked up to be. American culture continues to promote the image of the happy intact family with the white picket fence. Television and movie depictions of the holidays are of perfect families having fun, enjoying their holidays together. These media images are often a sharp contrast to our own family and can exacerbate and trigger feelings of sadness and loss.”

The truth is, however that the perfect family doesn’t exist-- even those families that are intact with the white picket fence have their share of problems.

Often people try to counteract the emotional strain of the holidays with unhealthy behaviors like isolating, overeating, over-consuming alcohol, drug use, and increasing anonymous sexual activity. For those with addictive tendencies-- these behaviors go into overdrive during the holidays. It’s not uncommon for gay people to use crystal meth, spend more time in bars, or have lots of compulsive sex to avoid feeling the emptiness.

Halyard says all is not lost, because there are ways to prevent and lessen the holiday blues. “Thorough planning, exercising, eating and drinking in moderation, having realistic expectations, setting and sticking to a budget, and getting emotional support will go a long way to help alleviate holiday depression.”

Emotional support is the best antidote for holiday stress says Halyard. “Whether from your friends, community groups, a 12-step group, or a therapist, getting emotional support will help you cope with the stress of the holidays, and support you in your goals, whether that’s keeping you sober or maintaining a healthy diet.”

Alcohol and drugs suppress interfere and distort feelings. Alcohol is a depressant--if you are depressed, it will make you more depressed! The alcohol will sometimes makes the pain go away for a while, but you’ll likely end up feeling worse.

Not over-committing yourself during the holidays in social activities and self-imposed tasks like decorating will help to reduce your stress. It’s okay to say ‘no’ and not attend parties or family gatherings.

“These are your holidays--make them what you want them to be. Don’t spend time doing things you don’t want to do. Don’t spend the holidays with your family if you know you’re going to be miserable. Make plans to see the people you care about, have a pot-luck for your friends, a night out at your favorite restaurant, or a quiet visit with a friend. Celebrate the holiday any way you feel like it and be at peace with that. If you don’t know what to do for Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah, invite your friends over for a holiday celebration. You can always go to spiritual services at a gay-affirming congregation. With a little planning and positive thinking, you can enjoy the holidays more than you ever thought you could,” argues Halyard.

“If your family refuses to accept you, realize that it is because of their own ignorance or bigotry, and there is something wrong with them, not you. Eventually, they may come around. Remind yourself that you don’t need your family’s approval to survive--you’ll be okay without them! You are lucky to be a part of a wonderful community of LGBT people,” says Halyard.

“Whatever you do, don’t isolate--get connected with your community. If you need to make new friends, get involved with some community activities or volunteer. There are all kinds of gay activities where you can make new friends. Stay away from people who bring you down, put you down, or drain your energy. Instead be around positive people. If too many of your friends are negative, it might be time to make some new ones, adds Halyard.”

If the holiday blues are severe enough, you could be suffering from clinical depression. Make sure to see a mental health professional if your symptoms are severe and the depression lasts more than two weeks. Even if you don’t see yourself as depressed, you could still be suffering from depression. Symptoms to worry about include crying spells, trouble sleeping, loss of pleasure in previously enjoyable activities, hopelessness, low energy, difficulty concentrating and changes in appetite. Suicidal thoughts require urgent attention by a mental health professional.

“If you think negatively towards the holidays, you’re going to feel negatively towards the holidays. If you think of the holidays as a chance to get some time off from work, some time to spend with friends and celebrate your friendships, you will see the holidays as a good thing! The good news is the holidays aren’t going to last forever--they’ll be over before you know it. Try to enjoy the holidays this year. Also, get treatment if you need it, it will surely make for a Happier New Year,” explains Halyard.

About Michael Halyard
Michael Halyard, MS, MFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and specializes in LGBT issues, depression, anxiety, addictions and couples counseling in his San Francisco private practice. He also runs the web sites http://www.sftherapy.com/ and http://www.sanfrancisco-psychotherapy.com.

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