Photo by Al Elmes on Unsplash

Whether you have an intact family of origin, a family of choice, or both, the idea of spending time with them during the holidays may stress you out… and you are not alone. For many, visiting family means spending time, energy, or money in ways that don’t align with their values. It can get increasingly tricky if there are radically different political views, lifestyles, or religious beliefs among those we are spending time with over the holidays.

Some of us have families who don’t accept our sexuality, partner, or choice of career. The list could go on and on, and it’s a situation ripe for generating unsettling feelings of anger, resentment, inadequacy and loneliness. It can also reinforce strongly held beliefs stemming from historic marginalization and prejudices.

selective focus photography of girl an woman hugging each other in front of christmas tree Photo by S&B Vonlanthen on Unsplash

So, we need something to help us remain authentic and successfully socialize during these times. Don’t think of Captain America or Iron Man type-protection (yes, I love Marvel), but something subtle. There’s a myriad of expectations and personalities to manage while spending time with others during the holidays. One small step, which may be the only step needed, is to learn how to set healthy boundaries so you can perhaps enjoy the holidays, rather than dread them.

Having a healthy support system is essential for maintaining optimal physical and mental wellbeing. And setting boundaries with friends and family during the holidays can be an important part of ensuring you stay on track. Boundaries are important for everyone to have and set, as well as having respect for those of others. Setting such boundaries may be especially important for recently “out” members of the LGBTQIA+ community, where some family members may not be accepting of who they are, how they identify, and who they love.

While I remained closeted for my adolescence, being from a rural area, I lacked boundaries to protect family members from making harsh comments about my love for cooking, Paula Abdul, or for being “silly.” This is in stark contrast from when I had people present who accepted me, like my mom, my Aunt Zephyr, or a couple of my cousins, and I was able to enforce a proximal boundary; where I distanced myself from those who were unaffirming of my developing self. Not everyone has this and it may not be consistent. Therefore, a better approach is to create and maintain boundaries to sustain functional relationships with family and friends.

If you’re planning on spending time with family over the holidays and feeling a little activated, here’s a few ideas to help you set boundaries and take care of yourself during the holidays.

man in brown zip-up jacket Photo by Joel Barwick on Unsplash

  • Think about topics that may be difficult and prepare for them.
  • Take time to be alone.
  • Calmly communicate what is off limits (practice this!).
  • Establish your territory. Where are you staying and how long will you be there. Having a neutral space like a hotel can give you the time away that you may need.
  • The holidays are for everyone. Be sure to plan things that are fun for you.
  • Utilize your support system and let them know ahead of time where and when you may need them.
  • Remember that celebrating the holidays with those who are supportive and loving can make the holidays all the more special.

And finally, remember you are amazingly fabulous and are deserving of joy! Take the opportunity to:

  • Be proud and share your accomplishments
  • Discuss and educate others about the LGBTQIA+ community
  • Be entertained, rather than be the entertainment. No stereotypes here (unless you want to be, then you do you).
  • Practice grace and humility. Some people may let you down but recognize that they may be doing the best they can. There’s opportunity for growth in all of us.

Happy Holidays!


Dr. William Marsh is a Clinical Director and a primary supervisor for the APA accredited clinical psychology internship program with Southwest Behavioral & Health Services. With all areas of his work, he incorporates his passion for fostering positive interpersonal dynamics that help others identify, support and reach their goals and dreams. More information about programs and services is available at

Photo courtesy of Michael Feinstein.

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I think it’s fair to say we all want that #fitlife, especially with Spring around the corner — as well as Gaypril on the way. Whether it’s pool season yet or not, everyone would choose to look fit over not looking fit, if they could have it with a snap of their fingers. OK, the vast majority of us would.

If you’ve met me, or have been reading my articles, you know that I live, sleep, eat and breathe fitness; it’s my heart and soul. That being said, I’m here to tell you that the concept of “fitness” is oftentimes tragically misunderstood.

Before you get too aggressive with your goal for pool season, let’s dive a bit deeper into what fitness means on the inside versus what it looks like on the outside, and common misconceptions around this concept.

1. Beware of the cultural pitfalls and misleading information around fitness.

Most of the bodies you see in the media are probably not real, they just look very convincing. As a trainer who also moonlights as a photographer and Photoshop wizard, I’m telling you that it is incredibly easy to alter pictures in materially misleading ways. Once you know the tricks of the trade, the imposters are easily spotted. But that’s not what this is about.

The point is: to the untrained eye, it can be devastatingly defeating to see such impossible standards. It seems as though the cultural pressure to look a certain way, to look perfect, has spread all the way from runway models to fitness novices with the help of smartphone apps.

The truth is that we fitness models look that cut, and that lean for only a couple days at a time. That’s it! In many cases, months or even close to a year of training, dieting and programming all go into looking like that for ONE day. Let that sink in for a second. Day to day, I am less cut, less tan and much flatter muscularly than what you see in some of my pictures. That’s just the nature of the beast. So, when you have a bad day on the scale, in the mirror or in any other scenario, remember that we’re all human and that the most legitimate photos you’re comparing yourself against were from someone’s very best day. That should help to keep things in perspective.

2. Most people want the results, without actually doing the work.

Fitness is not six pack abs, it’s not superficial, it is not temporary and it’s not an isolated phase in your life. Further, fitness is not something you do for someone else, do to spite someone else or even to impress someone else.

Fitness is confidence, toughness, dedication, coordination, power, balance, speed, strength (both literally and figuratively) and persistence in the face of all obstacles. This includes control over your attitude, your mood, your sleep, your schedule, your diet and other aspects of your life. This means getting that workout in when you least feel like it.

It’s not easy, and it’s definitely a grind that has good and bad days. You must show up and keep working on the days you’re tired, stressed, rushed, defeated, doubtful, afraid and so on. The days you actually have to overcome something instead of just checking your workout off your to-do list are the days you have the greatest opportunity to really make progress, push your body and see the most improvement.

3. Fitness is really an internal mindset. The external physique is the fringe benefit.

I’ve said this time and time again, and it might sound strange coming from such an aesthetic-focused trainer, but you are not your body. Your body is a tool, it’s a means to an end, to express your internal mindset, belief system, discipline and dedication to your workout program. Your physique will come and go. Your strength will come and go. Your abilities will wax and wane depending on what you’re training for at the time.

The outside will, and should, be always changing, but the inside is what we’re really after here. Good trainers want to train you to believe in yourself when sh*t gets hard. We want to train you to be resilient in the face of injury, obstacles and other setbacks. We want you to set ambitious goals and shoot for the moon because you can get there with smart programming and relentless will (do yourself a favor and ditch the crash diets and the photo editing software).

So, as you make your spring preparations for swimsuit season, try focusing on developing a sterling, unshakeable internal character and the muscles will come along the way, this I promise you.

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