Tag Archives: navigating the holidays

A mental health perspective on the season

Someone asked me today why I always say ‘Have a Peaceful Holiday’ in my writings. I don’t say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. The desire to wish sincerely for another to have a season that is personally significant is absolutely wonderful. It’s a desire to connect.

What would it mean to approach this festive time of year from a mental health or trauma-informed perspective? How should we greet people and wish them well in a way that does not inflict hurt?

One of my clients says that the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is the MOST _____ time of the year.

The most stressful.
The most triggering.
The most binge eating and drinking.
The most expensive.
The saddest.
The most hectic.

The most disappointing after engaging in wishful thinking about one’s familial relationships.

Another client tells me he spends every brain cell he has trying to stay sober between November 20 and January 2.

Yet another wishes that she could just sleep through the entire season and wake up in January.

Though happy and merry are synonyms, they actually have different connotations. Merry implies a degree of revelry that is missing from happy, which tends more toward quiet contentment. Merry was actually slang for inebriation in the 18th and 19th centuries. Not everyone is merry and it’s invalidating to assume that. And not everyone is happy.

The desire for personal faith and ritual is nearly universal. The context is uniquely individual. There is agency to say whatever you want to say; but know that each word has connotation. Language is life.

I wish you peace, joy, love, and health this season.

See also:
Personal Praying May Boost Mental Health
How to talk to your family about mental health.

A Note From Dr. Siddique, on the end of the year

If you find yourself feeling anxious for the holidays, you are certainly not alone. Here are a few steps you can take to prioritize your mental health during this hectic season:

1. Accept Your Feelings
The holidays can bring up a range of emotions for people. Sometimes you can even experience seemingly contradictory emotions all at once. Try your best to acknowledge and accept your emotions rather than place judgment on them. It’s OK to feel happy; it’s OK to feel sad; it’s OK to feel anxious about being anxious; it’s OK to feel both happy and sad. Give yourself compassion and allow yourself to sit with whatever you’re feeling.

2. Maintain Healthy Habits
For many people, the holidays lead to a massive disruption in your day-to-day routine. But maintaining healthy habits like going to therapy, getting enough sleep, eating well, going outside, taking prescribed medications, and exercising are critical to keeping your mental health on track.

3. Set Boundaries
People like to be generous during the holidays, but that generosity doesn’t have to come at the expense of having healthy boundaries. If hosting an event or buying an expensive gift is too stressful, it’s OK to say no. It’s also OK to limit the time you spend with family or others that you may have a complicated dynamic with.

4. Make Time To Connect
Connection and meaning are critical to our mental health. Make time for your important relationships and connect with yourself through self-care. You can even connect with loved ones who are no longer with you through a family tradition or a personal remembrance ritual.

This holiday season — and as the year winds down, whether you find it to be the most wonderful or most difficult time of the year — I hope you’ll be taking care of your mental health by accepting whatever emotions come up, maintaining healthy habits, setting boundaries on stressors, and making time for meaningful connection.

Be safe, be kind, be generous. Lots of people are not doing great.

Please know you are not alone.
Suicide Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
National Domestic Abuse Hotline: https://www.thehotline.org
Embolden Psychology: https://Embolden.world

Holiday Hurts

It’s happening again. It’s that time of year where we gather around a table, be it among family or friends, to reconnect, catch up, and have terse conversations about politics. As a lover of psychology in all its forms, I personally have a complex relationship with the holidays. I’m also aware of all the unique family dynamics that can make them so painful for many LGBTQ+ people. Many of my clients dread holidays.

I tend to get asked a few common questions around the holidays: How do I put up with my homophobic relatives? How do I cope with having to be back in an environment where people knew me before I came out/transitioned/identified a certain way?

Quickly Identify Queer Allies
These include: ambiguously lesbian aunts, Gen Z cousins who haven’t yet learned hatred, family dogs, cats (they are generally disdainful of mean people). This is about comfort, not politics. Find them. Cling to them.

Fabricate an Alternate Identity
When your nosy relatives ask about your life, tell them that you’ve since become a mariner/covert agent and your life belongs to the sea and security now, rendering their question irrelevant. Scowl through dinner. This may sound blithe: The underlying theme is that your life is your own and nobody’s business unless you choose to share.

Redirect Any and All Conversation Back to the Food
Bon Appetit has prepared you well for this moment: if someone gets a little too intrusive about things you’d rather not divulge, say something like, “I wasn’t sure Carla Lalli Music of Bon Appetit could make crispy potatoes work as a holiday side but now that I’ve tried it myself I’m fully on board.”

Stay Home and Get Food With Friends
This is fine. If you, like many LGBTQ+ people across the country, are being expected to put yourself in a place where you know you’ll be subjected to being misgendered or homophobia, then entertain the idea that maybe they don’t deserve your presence.

Keep Your AirPods in
Music calms. That is all.
Maintain Your Support Network

The reality of the situation is that being around people who make you feel worse about yourself (regardless of their intentions) is a difficult thing to endure. Let some of your close friends know about your situation and let them know you might be reaching out if things get overwhelming. Reminding yourself of your identity outside the context of people who may not “see you” as you are can help you get through this brief, frustrating window of time.

Remember Your Progress Isn’t Going Anywhere
Even if you love your family dearly and the holidays are “fun,” it can still be stressful to put yourself back in an environment that reminds you of the version of yourself before you came out or realized who you were. It can put you back in your old shoes and make you feel like you’re that person all over again. Your hard self work isn’t being erased. You’re just in a challenging space. So try to put those fears to bed, accept that being “home” can be confusing and anxiety-inducing, and make yourself a second plate. Stay at a hotel if you need to.  You’re going to be just fine.

Families and Holidays – How to Navigate.

While holidays and family get togethers, virtual or in real life, can be very joyful, may have treasured rituals and traditions, and bring people together from their busy lives, they can also be pitfalls for potential hurt.

Have realistic expectations
As refreshing as it would be if your father didn’t criticize your outfit this year, or your mother didn’t mention your weight, they probably will. Don’t expect people to change when they have behaved in the same way for years. Having expectations can lead to feelings of upset.

Keep potentially upsetting topics off-limits
Politics and religion are obvious, but people also bring up sensitive subjects without thinking about how they might affect others. “Are you ever going to get married?” Or “ when are you going to have a baby?” may seem harmless, but more likely than not, it will strike a nerve. Plan to keep conversation conflict-free by avoiding potentially sensitive topics, or simply ask what’s new and take it from there.

Set your emotions aside. Except empathy.
Put your emotions aside when talking to older family members about racism or current policy/events – remember that you are changing the worldview they have been surviving by. Without them, we would not be having the discussion.

Relatives who rehash old arguments or bring up past mistakes.
Unfortunately, there’s something about families coming together around the holidays that sometimes seems to make people eager to bring up old hurts, arguments, and mistakes. Try to move to another topic, but if they continue, you can firmly say, “I’m not talking about that, there are so many things to talk about.“

Become a Participant Observer
Psychologists use a research technique called participant observation, meaning that they join groups of people in order to watch and report on whatever those people do. Observe family members as if you’re collecting data for a research study. Almost any group activity is interesting when you’re planning to describe it later as an observer.
Accept that the only thing you can control is your reaction
You can’t stop people from bringing up controversial or hurtful subjects or asking rude questions, but you can monitor and modify your own reactions. No one can force you to engage in a negative conversation.

Don’t drink too much
If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Some people become aggressive or argumentative when they’ve had too much to drink. Avoid people who have had too much to drink, and don’t engage in arguments.

Be active
It’s difficult to be drawn into an argument when engrossed in an activity that requires concentration, physical activity, or laughter. Play a game, go for a walk, or watch an engrossing holiday movie.

Practice gratitude
Take a time-out and think about all you have to be grateful for: a delicious meal, a warm home, good health, a close friend, your sweet companion animals, or a sunny day. Anxiety can be diminished by focusing on the things we enjoy and value.

Bring or have a happy reminder
Looking at a favorite photograph, a funny or encouraging text from a friend, or anything else that makes you smile can go a long way toward relieving stress.

Take a deep breath, or ten
Can’t physically leave a stressful situation? You can always focus on your breathing. Take ten slow, deep breaths, focusing on breathing in and out. Deep belly breathing has been shown to be a powerful stress reliever.

It’s helpful to follow up on family events by debriefing with someone you love. If your brother really “gets” you, call him after a family dinner you’ve both survived. If you don’t trust anyone who shares a shred of your DNA, report to a friend or therapist. When you are able to discuss hurtful, awkward, or just plain awful exchanges with another person who loves and accepts you, it helps to take the sting out.

Embolden Psychology

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.