Have you noticed your hair turning grey with the constant attention to Proposition 8, “Don't Ask, Don't tell,” and the Defense of Marriage Act? Do other people mention in passing that you seem stressed or tired? Don't panic! Politically speaking, the past year has felt like a roller coaster ride for many of us. With the much-needed attention to LGBT issues in the upcoming election campaign for California's new governor, we can expect more verbal gay bashings on mainstream news channels and protesters from vocal activist groups on our street corners. This overwhelming attention to our shared LGBT identity can be especially draining sometimes, especially since it continues to attract contempt, hostility, and shame from social conservatives. Thus, it is no surprise that some of us may develop some unhappiness and frustration with being different.
The current uncertainty with regard to marriage equality in California and the ongoing negative attention directed toward us can lead to what psychologists now recognize as a unique type of stress – chronic minority stress. The idea of minority stress comes from the idea that it's just plain hard being LGBT-identified in a heterocentric culture. Because many of us are reminded often about how different our sexuality is from the mainstream expectation, we can become particularly vulnerable to the effects of stress – especially if we're forced to discover our identity alone or if our marriage is threatened with annulment by a constitutional amendment. People who experience this particular type of stress face many of the same symptoms that victims of hate crimes experience including inability to sleep, irritability and anger, mild paranoia, feeling emotionally distant from others, inability to experience positive feelings, depression, nightmares, reliving negative events, lack of appetite, upset stomach, and so on.
If this sounds like something you’ve experienced recently, or other people have mentioned that you seem stressed, then these steps might help you decrease your stress and feel a little more empowered given the current political climate.
Step One – Find time at the end of the day to think about how you felt throughout your day. Start to notice the emotional reactions you have to current events and begin to question whether you are experiencing some of the symptoms listed above. Pay special attention to other people's observations of you. Has your personality changed at all recently? Do you seem more stressed than usual?
Step Two - Recognize the ways that you might be dealing with your stress. Some of the unhealthy ways people deal with stress include isolating from others, abusing drugs or alcohol, attempting to avoid thoughts or memories, or even feeling mildly paranoid. If you continue to use these unhealthy coping skills, you are allowing this stress to take over your life.
Step Three - Find someone to talk with about your reactions to current events. If you can, try to recognize a person or group in your life who appreciates you for who you really are (therapists are really good at this). Talking with others gives you an outlet to express your true inner thoughts and provides an opportunity to develop a supportive social network of people who share similar ideas. You may even get the itch to join a political action group to help make the change we're working toward as a community.
Stephen Brewer, M.A. is a registered psychological assistant (PSB33858) in Mira Mesa and is supervised by Angela Spenser, PhD (PSY15450). He runs a LGBT and Kink friendly practice, specializing in addictions, trauma, HIV/AIDS, and men’s issues. He can be reached at (619) 377 – 3120 or you can visit his website at http://www.therapybrew.com