Flickering lights. Bundled families browsing tree lots and shopping malls. Sweet treats in bowed boxes and an endless stream of carols blaring from speakers everywhere.
The sights and sounds of the holidays are all around us, and sometimes they can overwhelm us.
While many people experience some degree of “holiday stress,” members of the LGBTQ+ community and people living with HIV often deal with a deeper sense of loss, isolation, and sadness during the months and weeks of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas.
“We need to be conscious that the legend of the mainstream holiday is not the story that is representative of the LGBTQ+ community, or any marginalized community,” said Ria Megnin, MA, MSW, LSW, a therapist with Equitas Health’s Mental Health and Recovery Services in Dayton.
“A lot of folks are dealing with those couple of family members who are outright bigoted, while others are dealing with unmet needs or unresolved history,” she said.
Megnin counsels individuals who experience feelings of depression and isolation at this time of year. She also provides workshops and presentations to help people cope. Most importantly, she encourages clients to think about and learn from the emotions that arise.
“That emotion is giving you good information about how things are for you and what is alive for you in that situation: Do you feel safe? Do you have unmet needs? Do you have some unresolved history? That is maybe what the emotions are revealing,” she said.
We don’t have to act on those emotions, but our awareness of them can be helpful. We help ourselves when we name the hurt we are feeling and accept the energy it offers us. “If we are sad, it is going to give us the energy to be introspective and do the healing work. If we are angry, it is going to give us the energy for change. If we are joyful, it is going to give us the energy to connect and share that goodness,” Megnin said.
There will be ups and downs. We may be joyful about the lights and the tree and the food, but at the same time be anxious to see an uncle or our parents. Choosing not to see family may elicit both grief and gratitude.
Emotions do not have to be burdens. Instead, they can be our allies. They provide all that helpful information and maybe some energy for change. Megnin encourages members of the LGBTQ+ community to expand their story through new traditions and rituals. Those might include volunteer service, attending a community event, or identifying a “chosen family.”
“Humans have always had that tension of ‘this is the way it has always been,’ but that is not the reality. The holidays are never going to look like they did. We need to recognize that we are constantly evolving,” Megnin said.
In addition, she offers some tangible ways for dealing with our emotions:
- Feel the feeling. Recognize your grief and embrace the energy it produces.
- Practice gratitude. Notice and celebrate what has been built from the bones and ashes and be grateful. Here we are, in spite of it all!
- Connect with others and the larger community, perhaps through acts of service.
- Spend time with nature. This season connects us to the environment through things such as holly and light and fire and food.
- Engage in physical activities. Take a walk outside, go dancing, or decorate with friends.
Through all of this, you are going to find what works for you, what meets your needs. And if you’re really struggling, and you don’t have any interest in your usual connections or activities, then you might need support. That is when you can reach out to a group like Mozaic, Pozitive Attitudes, or In Transition. For a more complete list of support groups, click here.
Listen to your emotions this holiday season. Create new traditions. Expand your story.