If you’re queer, have a difficult relationship with your family, or are just having a rough one this year, I wrote this for you.

Greetings of the season friends,

This year has (again) been a lot, for a lot of people.  Globally and collectively, in the realms of finance, health, politics, the climate –  we’re dealing with and processing so much,the impact of which is disproportionately weighted to affect some over others.

And now, it’s Christmas, apparently.

So, in case you’re having a rough one, these are 5 ideas on how to make the season better, in the hope that maybe it’ll help, even just a little.

  • Life doesn’t stop for Christmas and if you’re not having a good time right now that’s not a personal failing

Rudely, life didn’t seem to get the Christmas film inspired memo that our challenges are supposed to dissolve over the period 24/25/26th December inclusive.

Whilst I recommend looking for glimmers and practicing gratitude (see below for more on this), experiences of grief and loneliness and pain are just hard and squashing down your feelings definitely isn’t a long-term strategy for mental wellbeing. 

I hope you have somewhere you can be honest when you’re not feeling good (therapy can be a really useful place for this). If not, and if therapy isn’t accessible right now, some free helplines/online mental health support are listed here.

Even the most intense, difficult emotions pass but if things are particularly rough right now, in order to reduce overwhelm, it might be helpful to start breaking days into smaller chunks (rather than writing off the whole day if you wake up not feeling great, for example).  Can you dial your expectations right back to aiming to have just 5 minutes of peace/feeling ok?

  • Queers, pick your battles

Look, as much as I love the sentiment of Glennon Doyle’s

‘I will not stay, not ever again – in a room or conversation or relationship or institution that requires me to abandon myself’

this is the work of a lifetime and some of us have less freedom and resources to set everything on fire in this way. In the festive season, as at any time of year, I highly recommend picking your battles, i.e deciding on your non-negotiables are and practicing your boundaries around these.  Ultimately, your safety matters most of all, so if you do temporarily head back into the closet, smile to keep the peace in a hostile environment, or decide not to have a massive blazing argument you know you’ll never win, remember that you are doing your best in a difficult situation and for that you deserve grace and compassion.  Collapsing in and attacking yourself for how you try to navigate unsupportive environments isn’t helpful or in any way what you deserve.

  • Rest as resistance

The dark days and cold nights of this season are calling us in to stop, slow down and reflect so we can emerge refreshed and rested in spring.  The way our current society is set up means that this isn’t always possible, but if you can take these inhospitable short days as an opportunity to hibernate in your pyjamas even for a short amount of time, your body and brain will probably thank you.  If your inner critic has something to say about you stopping for a while,  try reframing it as an act of resistance from the frenzied hustling of late stage capitalism (and for more on rest as resistance check out Tricia Hersey’s work on the nap ministry)

  • Get some light, please just get some light

Christina Rossetti called it the bleak mid-winter for a reason.  Whilst we all like to think we’re massively complex, on a biological level we’re basically just pot plants with reasonably advanced needs.  Exposure to sunlight regulates serotonin and melatonin which positively impacts on mood and sleep and at this time of year getting some natural light, ideally timed as close as you can to waking, is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and wellbeing.   Overcast days still count.  Light boxes and Vitamin D can help in a pinch but you can’t beat the real deal (and it’s also free).

  • Catch the glimmers, discover your own traditions (or don’t)

I love Deb Dana’s concept of glimmers, those ‘small moments when our biology is in a place of connection or regulation, which cues our nervous system to feel safe or calm’ . The counter opposite of triggers (where our nervous system is hijacked into the past by trauma), glimmers can be clues to what brings us meaning and joy, something which is so essential but often overlooked in terms of trauma treatment. 

What might your seasonal glimmers look like? Is there anything about this time of year you wouldn’t want to throw out?  Maybe it’s just settling down with the anarchic capitalist critique of Muppets Christmas Carol (whilst you wait for the ultimate LGBTQ+ Christmas film, sorry Happiest Season wasn’t the one…) Maybe it’s doing something nice for someone who’s having even more of a rough time, or just sacking the whole thing off and going for a walk with your dog.  As adults we get to make our own traditions and decide who from our chosen family we spend our downtime with.

Some years these decisions might look different from others.  Some years are just about getting through it and that’s ok.   

Whatever your festive period looks like this year I hope you can give yourself some kindness (and maybe just a little bit of sunlight).