10 strategies to survive a family Christmas dinner

Christmas can be a fun and festive time, but it can also be very stressful – especially if it means spending time with non-accepting family members. Christmas is the most likely time of the year for many people to experience anxiety and depression.

Clinical Psychologist and Healthshare Clinical Director Alysha Casey said “In some cases our families can be loving and supportive, but unfortunately it is not uncommon for family members to behave in an awkward or directly homophobic way.”

“At Christmas time you may be asked to spend time with extended family who you choose to avoid through the year. You may have moved to urban areas or different towns to experience a higher level of social acceptance and build your own community.”

Tom, a Sydney student said “I came out 9 years ago. While my immediate family have been amazing, it’s a few of the more distant family members who have been very disappointing. It can make it difficult to feel included during family celebrations”.

“Here are my top 10 suggestions for coping with the holiday season, whether you are seeing relatives or spending time alone, said Ms Casey:

1. Be realistic. Don’t expect a hassle-free, perfect Christmas. When it comes to relationships, nothing is perfect. Manage your expectations to avoid disappointment. You, as well as your partner, want to be treated with respect but be realistic on what you may encounter and how you will react. If you are expecting things to be difficult make the visit brief and have an escape plan.

2. Choose who you spend time with. Try to spend time with loving, open-minded family members or friends during holidays or celebrations. It may help to start new traditions that include accepting and open-minded people if you find it too difficult to attend other family events. For example, if your biological family are non-supportive, you might choose to celebrate with your logical family, or family of choice.

3. If you have a partner, make sure you stay in tune with each other. Communicate well in advance. Determine whether to visit or not, visit alone or together, or to just do something together.

4. Book a hotel. Discuss sleeping arrangements beforehand if you are staying with family. Consider booking at a hotel nearby if you feel like you will need more space.

5. It’s not your fault. Remind yourself that you are not alone, and that the problem lies with your nonaccepting or homophobic family members, not with you.

6. Remain calm and patient, even in the face of hurtful insults and name-calling. Be respectfully assertive and honest. If someone says something offensive, correct them politely. It won’t help to start an argument.

7. Keep active. Family members are less likely to argue if they have another focus. Arrange a game of backyard cricket, soccer or a local walk for after lunch to keep everyone active and defused from focusing on problem dynamics.

8. Connect with others. If you don’t have family to spend Christmas Day with, or find that time with them is upsetting, see if you can spend time with a friend, at a community centre, or consider volunteering for charity work.

9. Try to understand each other. Show your family a support website such as http://community.pflag.org (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) for information and ways to understand each other. Some family members really aren’t homophobic deep down, they just don’t know what to say or how to say it, and comments may come out awkwardly.

10. Look after your self. Consciously increase your self-care behaviours. Eat healthily, drink lots of water, and reduce stress by exercising, meditating and spending time outdoors. Try limit the alcohol – often it seems like it may ease the pain, but it can make things a lot worse.
If you are having a hard time managing your family relationships, or are feeling stress, anxious or low, it can be a good idea to get support. Connect, a new App launched by health-tech company, Healthshare, provides a new way of connecting people with qualified Australian therapists at any time and from any place over a secure messaging platform. As many usual services are closed over the holidays, online services can be an especially useful option.

“Connect overcomes barriers to accessing support by providing a safe, confidential and convenient space for therapy. We have counsellors that specialise in a range of LGBTI issues. Connect doesn’t replace traditional counselling; instead it leverages new technologies to make mental health support more accessible,” said Ms Casey.

For more information and to download the App: www.connectme.com.au/topic/lgbti

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