Fraught with expectations and heavy on the socializing, the end-of-year celebratory blitz can be tough at the best of times. And — let’s be real — these are not the best of times. So we reached out to a few counselors in the city for tips on how to best navigate the waning days of 2020. They let us know to take it easy on ourselves, make a plan, reach out and keep healthy routines in place, even at a time when tensions may be running high and the pandemic is isolating us. While this is by no means meant to substitute for getting care if you need it, we think it’s a good framework for keeping safe and in touch with yourself this holiday season.
Sarah Evergreen, LMSW, Change, Inc.
Connect with loved ones. If you think this might be a hard holiday season for you, make plans to connect with people who bring love and light into your life. You can get creative with this, too! If you’re feeling the Zoom fatigue, try a phone call, a voice memo or audio message, or a handwritten letter or postcard. Don’t forget to hit up your friends that you suspect will be having a hard time, too, whether that’s because they will be spending the holidays alone or with non-affirming family. Let them know that you’re there for them if they need a break and a safe, familiar and loving person to talk to.
Put a twist on old traditions. Reflect on your favorite traditions and see which ones you can adapt to work with the restrictions we’re operating under this year. Do you usually walk around the neighborhood with friends and look at Christmas lights? Pick a night where you all take a solo walk and send pictures of your favorite light displays to the group chat. Do you usually have folks over for one of the nights of Hanukkah? Do a Zoom call where you all make latkes together and argue over whether sour cream or applesauce is the way to go, or drop batches of latkes off on your friends’ doorsteps with a nice note.
Connect to and support your queer community. Check in with your favorite LGBTQ+ organizations/affirming organizations or connect with a new one. Many groups are working harder than ever to foster connection, raise awareness and offer support in St. Louis during these tough times. PrideSTL, The Spot, Growing American Youth, PFLAG and Metro Trans Umbrella Group are just a few. A quick internet search will help you connect with even more!
Keep things simple. If you don’t want to cook a big, elaborate meal, then don’t. Cook a few of your favorite dishes or consider takeout from one of the many queer-friendly restaurants in town. If you don’t want to stay on a large Zoom group call for hours, don’t. Stay for a half hour and then make your goodbyes. Do what you need to feel good this year, even if that means doing less than you usually would.
Jason Eccker, MSW LCSW, Synchronicity Counseling Solutions
The holidays can be a difficult time for individuals in the LGBTQ community under the best of circumstances. Political and religious tensions in many families are heightened right now, and LGBTQ family members likely feel this more acutely given past issues with conservative family values, “coming out,” religion, political backlash and discrimination. The pandemic has necessarily relegated many into isolation; however, this step to insure safer physical health has had the opposite impact on mental health. Due to higher rates of depression, anxiety, trauma and substance abuse in the LGBTQ community, self-care becomes even more critical to individuals trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle and positive forward progression. It can be helpful to keep the following things in mind:
• Try to keep as many holiday traditions active as you would in a “normal year.” They may look different (virtual, distanced, scaled down), however, they will still provide a sense of normalcy and connection. Plan virtual social interactions in advance and make a commitment to participate.
• Stay active in healthy routines, including exercise, eating and sleep.
• Monitor substance use patterns and pay attention to any significant shifts.
• Engage in mutual support with other community members; have at least one person with whom you regularly discuss any difficulties or negative emotions you’re experiencing.
• Avoid focusing on the particular material aspects of the December holidays. Many people are stressed financially right now, and with less in-person gift exchanging, these expenditures will create less joy than in other years and might bring significant stress and negative self-regard to others.
• The key to navigating rough holiday waters lies in identifying one’s support system ahead of time and having a plan. This bolsters our sense of preparedness and reminds us that we are not alone even when we might physically be and emotionally feel that way. The community outreach programs that typically fill gaps for people during the holidays are dealing with the same set of difficult circumstances as individuals; however, they too are certainly relying on their resilience and resourcefulness to modify their activities in a way that supports the need for connection in a safe way. Contact your local LGBTQ community center and ask them what they have planned!
Jen Durham Austin, LCSW, Change, Inc.
• Minimize how much news or media you are consuming and evaluate the type that you are consuming. If you find yourself inundated with news that’s sensationalized and repetitious, check out news sources that focus on positive news stories like Good News app. This can help you create a more balanced view of the world and people around you.
• If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and have 10 minutes to yourself, try focusing on calming your nervous system, which may be overstimulated. Guided meditations are a great way to do this and are often easier than attempting to meditate on your own, especially if meditation is new to you. The Calm app is a helpful, free option to lead you in a few moments of mindfulness.
• Plan and create Zoom video call visits with those who respect your pronouns and identity. Socializing with supportive individuals, even via Zoom, can boost your mental health and help you feel less alone. Each time we spend time with family and friends who don’t accept us for exactly who we are we can experience what I like to call “emotional dents” in our foundation. As much as possible, limit how much time you spend with people who don’t respect you in your wholeness.
• Whether you plan to see family or friends via Zoom, outside or indoors with masks on, set a time limit for yourself. You know yourself and what amount of socializing with others you can handle. This can be a helpful way to set a healthy boundary in terms of your emotional bandwidth, especially with a challenging relative.
• Give yourself buffer time after engaging with a difficult family member. Use this time for any quiet, self-care activity that provides an opportunity to reset and to restore your emotional and physical resources.
• Explore the possibility of regular counseling appointments with a queer/trans-affirming therapist. Having someone as a sounding board, who validates and respects you is crucial and can lead to support, growth, and positive change.