Prefer to watch? Below is the full interview with special guest Dr. Marie Fang that served as the original inspiration for this article.

The LGBTQIA+ community and major religions have often been at odds with each other. This conflict can create hardship for members of the religious community, particularly those that are also part of the LGBTIA+ community.

We’ll explore the tension between sexual relations and the influence of religion, how it affects those caught in the middle, and how we can create a space that allows for both religion and gender and sexuality to coexist without hardship, pain, or discrimination.

The “Typical” Religious Perspective on Sexuality and Gender

It’s no secret that the relationship between religion and sexual relationships has been contentious. For many conservative religious people, sex may be seen as a dirty, sinful act that should only be engaged within the confines of heterosexual cisgender marriage. And while there are a few religions that are more open-minded about sex, sexuality, and gender, the vast majority still view it as a taboo subject.

LGBT couple with their dog

The reason “typical” is in quotes is that, though there are common views, a lot of variety exists among religions, their practitioners, and their institutions. Some religions, such as Christianity, view sex as a sacred act that should be reserved for marriage between a man and a woman, while others, such as Hinduism, view it as a natural and normal part of life. Still others, such as Islam, have a more complex view of sex and sexuality, seeing it as both a natural and normal part of life but also something that should be used for procreation between husband and wife in order to avoid sin. All of this is cis-dominated and heteronormative.

No matter what the religion, there are usually strict guidelines about sex, sexuality, and gender. For example, many religions believe that premarital sex is a sin, and that sex outside of marriage is an even bigger sin. There are also usually strict rules about who you can have sex with. For example, many major religions forbid same-sex or same-gendered relationships and have an exclusively gender-binary narrative.

So, while there is no one answer to the question of how religions view sex, sexuality, and gender expression, it is safe to say that it is often seen as a taboo subject.

family with LGBTQIA+ parents

What About the LGBTQIA+ Community?

The LGBTQIA+ community has long been the target of discrimination and violence from religious groups. This is often justified using religious doctrine that condemns being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender as a sin. This has led to many LGBTQIA+ people feeling unwelcome in religious communities, and has contributed to a feeling of isolation and exclusion.

Recent years have seen a growing movement within some religious groups to be more inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community. This has been driven in part by a growing acceptance of being gay in society, and by a desire to be more compassionate and understanding. However, there are still many religious groups that actively discriminate against LGBTQIA+ people, and the impact of this can be very damaging.

LGBTQIA+ people who are rejected by their religious communities can often feel isolated and alone. This can lead to mental health problems and can make it difficult to form healthy relationships. It can also make it harder to access support and advice from within the LGBTQIA+ community.

guy with a flag LGBT

The impact of religious doctrine on the LGBTQIA+ community is complex and multifaceted. It can lead to feelings of isolation and exclusion and can be damaging to mental health.

In some cases, it can lead to an unhealthy “us vs them” mindset where the religious individual separates themselves from their faith because of how unwelcoming it was of their identity. For some, this dichotomy creates a struggle because they want to hold on to their faith, but are repeatedly shunned by the members of their faith. They’re seemingly faced with an impossible decision of embracing who they are OR practicing their faith. However, times are changing, though not fast enough, some religious institutions are making great strides toward a more inclusive outlook.

A Healthier More Inclusive Take On Religion

The LGBTQIA+ community has long been marginalized by religious institutions, despite the fact that many religious texts and teachings actually support equality and inclusion for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. However, this is slowly beginning to change, but there is still much work to be done. We’re starting to see more ways in which religious institutions are starting to be more inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community:

1. Being open and welcoming.

This may seem obvious, but it is still worth stating. Some religious institutions ensure their doors are open to all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Everyone is welcome in their space. This goes beyond just embracing members of the LGBTQIA+ community, but also including them in religious services, in the clergy, and in celebrating same-sex marriage.

LGBT couple wedding

2. Using inclusive language.

When referring to members of the LGBTQIA+ community, they use language that is inclusive and respectful. This includes using the correct pronouns and avoiding offensive terms.

3. Offering support and resources.

Many members of the LGBTQIA+ community face discrimination, violence, and rejection from their families. Some religious institutions are offering support and resources to help those in need. This can take the form of anything from financial assistance to counseling, and providing a safe space.

4. Educating others.

Educating its members about the unique experiences and needs of the LGBTQIA+ community. Reminding their faithful that members of the LGBTQIA+ community are also a valid part of the community and God loves them and all of them, not just parts. As well as discussing some of the challenges the community faces.

5. Speaking out against discrimination.

In addition to educating their members, they also speak out when someone among their faithful is discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. These religious leaders lead by example and show their support for the LGBTQIA+ community by standing up against hate.

Embracing Your Sexuality and Gender while also Holding On To Your Faith

No matter what religious doctrine someone follows, it is important to remember that everyone should be treated with respect. Just because someone is part of the LGBTQIA+ community does not mean that they are any less of a person. Everyone should be able to live their life the way they want to, without fear of discrimination or violence.

march for LGBTQ rights

With that understanding, this journey of navigating faith and sexuality is very personal. For some, the answer is to turn away from religion. They don’t want or need religion in their life. If this works for you and it’s brought you peace and happiness, that’s fantastic.

For others, it’s about finding a group where they feel secure and can still exercise and express their faith and study religion on their own terms. It may not involve the same conventions or level of organization that more traditional religious institutions employ. This can be anything from getting together with a trusted group and doing bible studies or practicing ceremonies or studying religious texts that are important to your religion.

It’s also possible to find more conventional religious institutions, like a church or a temple, that is welcoming of members of the LGBTQIA+ community. They may be harder to find, but they do exist. If that’s where you feel most comfortable expressing your faith, then seeking them out is the option for you.

What’s most important is to remember that being a member of the LGBTQIA community and desiring to have faith in your life is possible and nothing is wrong with you for wanting or needing this. There are many other people and religious spaces that will respect and embrace you and also allow you to practice your faith. You deserve respect and to live your life on your terms without discrimination. If you are struggling, counseling is always an option, just remember to find an inclusive therapist. If you don’t feel you need it, or aren’t ready just yet, below are some resources that may help you on your journey in navigating faith, gender, and sexuality.

Resources

Reclaiming my Theology Podcast

God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines

Bible, Gender, Sexuality by Dr. James Brownson

Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians by Austen Hartke

Resource page from Austen Harke’s website

Queerology Podcast

The Christian Closet

The Christian Closet BlogAusten 

IamClinic Blog – Can I Be Gay & Christian? Navigating Your Spirituality & Sexual Orientation

IamClinic Blog – Faith & Sexual Identity | Using Your Spirituality to Strengthen Your Confidence

We often think of intimacy as physical closeness, but it goes much deeper than that. Emotional intimacy is about sharing your innermost thoughts, feelings, and experiences with someone else and being able to be vulnerable without fear of judgment or rejection.

Emotional intimacy is often confused with physical intimacy or sexual intimacy, but they are two very different things. Physical intimacy is about sexual attraction and physical closeness, whereas emotional intimacy is about a deep, emotional connection.

While physical intimacy and sexual satisfaction are certainly important in a relationship, they are not the be-all and end-all. In fact, many intimate relationships that are built solely on physical attraction often fizzle out quickly because there’s no emotional bond to sustain them.

On the other hand, romantic relationships that are built on emotional intimacy can often withstand the ups and downs of life because there’s a deep level of understanding, connection, and care between the people involved.

So why are we so afraid of emotional intimacy?

For many of us, emotional intimacy is scary because it means putting ourselves out there and opening up to someone else. We worry that we’ll be rejected or hurt if we let down our walls and show our true selves. But the reality is that emotional intimacy is a vital part of any close relationship, even platonic relationships, and without it, we may continually struggle to truly connect with another person.

worried woman

According to a study by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, only 26% of adults report being very emotionally close to their partner. It’s no secret that our upbringing and society’s messages can profoundly affect our lives, including our emotional intelligence and sexual well-being. When it comes to emotional intimacy, these factors can play a significant role in our fear of intimacy and vulnerability. Our parents may have taught us to be independent and self-sufficient, which can only contribute to our emotional distance and make it difficult to open up and depend on someone else. Additionally, we may have received messages from society that emotional intimacy is weak, unimportant, and not a valuable trait. As a result, we may view emotional intimacy and the feeling of closeness as something to be avoided or overcome.

But the truth is that emotional intimacy is an essential part of a healthy and fulfilling life. Emotional experiences are crucial for our development as human beings and life satisfaction. That is why it is essential to understand the root of our fears with self-compassion and learn to embrace emotional intimacy instead of running from it, especially if we are yearning for a long-term commitment or a close friendship. Studies find that adults in long-term relationships are more likely to report feeling emotionally close to their partner than those in shorter relationships. This makes sense, as we often need time to develop trust and intimacy with someone.

How do you create emotional intimacy with someone?

When it comes to emotional intimacy, many of us tend to shy away from it because it can be scary. We may not know how to express our feelings or may be afraid of being rejected. But emotional intimacy is an important part of any relationship, whether it’s with a romantic partner, family member, or friend.

So how do you create healthy emotional relationships? It all starts with communication. Building intimacy requires honesty and communication. Communicate openly and honestly with your partner. First, you need to feel safe sharing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences with them without fear of judgment or rejection.

It’s also important to spend quality time together on a regular basis. Spending time together allows you to connect with each other without distractions. Quality time means having long conversations, sharing experiences, and simply enjoying each other’s company. It also means being curious about where the other person is coming from without judgment, ridicule, and shame.

couple sharing feelings

Finally, it’s important to be supportive of each other. This means being there for each other during tough times, offering encouragement and understanding, and being each other’s biggest supporters.

Emotional intimacy is not just about sharing your feelings with each other. It’s also about feeling heard and understood by your partner. It’s about feeling supported and valued by your partner. When you have emotional intimacy in a relationship, you feel a sense of closeness and connectedness that goes beyond the sexual experiences. You feel like you can really be yourself with your partner and that they accept and love you for who you are.

What is at the root of the fear of emotional intimacy?

Fear of emotional intimacy is often rooted in fear of abandonment and rejection. This can be due to childhood experiences, such as being neglected or having parents who were emotionally unavailable. Trauma plays a major role in fear of emotional intimacy, especially if it has been caused by a parent or caregiver leaving or not being consistently available and nurturing.

Fear of emotional intimacy can also be connected to feelings of insecurity. When we are afraid of emotional intimacy, we are afraid of being vulnerable and hurt. We may feel we need to protect ourselves by keeping our guard up. Previous relationships where you felt rejected or abandoned often lead to fear of opening up with other partners. If you’ve been hurt in the past, it can be difficult to let yourself get close to someone again.

Low self-esteem or trust issues can also play their part in fear of emotional intimacy. If you don’t feel good about yourself, it can be hard to believe that someone else would want to be close to you. And if you’ve been betrayed in the past, it can be hard to trust that your partner won’t hurt you too.

Fear of emotional intimacy can prevent people from having healthy and fulfilling relationships. It’s important to develop insight and self-awareness of why fear comes up for you and possible ways to work through it. If you are afraid of being rejected or abandoned, try to build up your self-esteem and confidence. If you are afraid of being hurt or betrayed, try to work on building trust with people. If you are afraid of the intensity of emotions, try to learn healthy ways to cope with and manage your emotions.

couple drinking coffee

Tips to work through your fear of emotional intimacy

There are many ways to work on overcoming a fear of emotional intimacy. One is to talk about it with someone you trust. This can help you to understand your fears and start to work through them. Another way is to slowly open up with more and more people in your life that you feel safe with. Share a little bit more each time until you feel comfortable with being more vulnerable. Finally, it’s important to practice self-compassion.

When it comes to emotional intimacy, we often put up barriers because we’re afraid of getting hurt. By following these tips, you may find it easier to let down your guard and open yourself up to a more fulfilling and connected relationship.

  1. Don’t be afraid to share your feelings with the other person. It’s okay to be vulnerable and open up about your thoughts and feelings. This will help create a stronger connection between you two. Make sure you feel safe first.
  2. Spend time talking and listening to the other person. Really get to know them on a deeper level. Ask them questions about their life, thoughts, and feelings, and listen to what they have to say. This will help nurture your romantic partnership.
  3. Be honest about what you’re feeling. If you’re feeling scared or vulnerable, tell your partner. This can be difficult, but it’s an important first step in being emotionally intimate with someone.
  4. Don’t try to control the situation. Trying to control how your partner responds to you or what they feel may push them further away instead of creating a close relationship. Consider focusing on being present and open yourself up to whatever they may feel.
  5. Don’t make assumptions! Don’t assume you know what’s going on with your partner. Instead, ask them to explain what they’re feeling and why. This will help you understand where they’re coming from and give you a much better idea of the appropriate response.
  6. Don’t try to fix things! Dedicate your energy to listening and understanding, and avoid coming up with solutions. When you tell your partner what they should do or feel, you may create judgment for them and invalidate their feelings.

couple talking

Of course, these tips are oversimplified versions of the work that needs to be done to increase self-confidence and healthy emotional intimacy. Talking with a therapist to get to the root of your fear of emotional intimacy and understand what emotional intimacy really entails can be the foundation of healthy relationships and the best investment you can make for your well-being.

Working with a mental health professional who can validate your experiences, provide insight into how these experiences have shaped your life, and help you find tools to cope is invaluable. As with anything else related to our mental health, small and safe steps are most important.

You might know that the I in LGBTQIA2S+ stands for intersex, but you may not know very much about the experience of individuals who are intersex. You might not even be sure what the definition of the term intersex is, and while it is easy to explain, a lot of the language is medical and not the nicest way to describe someone.

What is intersex?

The definition of intersex is not as simple as some may think. Intersex, to explain it in as inclusive a way as possible, is an umbrella term used to describe a person born with different characteristics assigned to biological sex traits and reproductive organs i.e., the development of a vagina and the development of a penis. These characteristics can be anatomical ones identified at birth, such as a penis with ovaries, secondary characteristics that appear at puberty, like the development of breasts and facial hair, or genetic characteristics that are likely not to be noticed.

Medically, terms like “ambiguous” are often used to describe the genitals of a newborn person who is intersex. While the term “ambiguous genitalia” is less harmful than previously used words, it’s still not an inclusive way to label people with intersex traits. This is because terms like this one stem from the oversimplified idea that there are only two biological sexes and that gender classification is binary.

person waving the flag

In truth, the actual science behind chromosome configuration is not entirely accurate when taught to people in schools. Oversimplifying the science behind sex chromosomes and chromosome patterns leads to reinforcing typical binary notions and, most importantly, to prejudice and discrimination against people with intersex conditions.

Most people think you can either be born XX or XY, which are the only possible options. However, nature proves us wrong… again! Because parents have two chromosomes each, a baby can theoretically end up with four chromosomes (or only one). If you were to follow the pure mathematics behind this theory, it is only natural to conclude that a healthy baby can be the result of more than two combinations of chromosomes.

What are the struggles of intersex individuals?

The problem is society finds it difficult to include people who don’t fit neatly into prescribed labels. So, instead of making room for individuals with atypical sex characteristics and intersex bodies, it forces them into boxes where they don’t fit nor have room to develop and reach their potential. Historically, many states in the U.S. and worldwide allowed health care providers to assign sex and perform unnecessary surgeries without informing the parents of any medical intervention performed.

intersex person with her partner

One of the reasons I is included in LGBTQIA2S+ is because intersex people are discriminated against in society based on their physical anatomy and sexual characteristics. Some members of the intersex community don’t feel like they belong in the LGBTQIA2S+ community because they identify as straight, and that’s okay too.

One of the biggest obstacles facing the intersex community are the “corrective” surgical interventions made without the patient’s and/or parents’ consent. Many intersex children grow up not knowing they were intersex. Some have reported feeling like something was “off” about their assigned gender, especially when puberty sets in and their body starts to change in ways they weren’t prepared for. When others make decisions about someone’s personal bodily autonomy, they often make the wrong choice for the person being impacted.

How to become an intersex ally

Supporting the intersex community can consist of advocating for changes to policies around nonconsensual genital surgery and other medical procedures. Our support can also take the shape of allowing intersex infants to grow up and make decisions when they get older instead of trying to physically alter their bodies through guesswork.

We can help by trying harder to understand the concept of gender nonconformity. When we grasp the notion, we can start educating others and help them understand the complexity of gender, sex, and diverse communities to prevent injustice from spreading.

intersex person

Intersex individuals are estimated to be born at a rate of 1 in every 2,000 births, which is equal to the number of natural redheads. This means you may not know it, but you have definitely met and likely interacted with someone who is intersex. By making space for intersex individuals, you can help reduce the harm they experience in society and stop the degrading treatment many are subjected to even before they can talk.

Our community wants to protect and advocate for all communities that experience discrimination, human rights violations, and violence based on their sexual identity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Standing together with intersex people means providing them with support and mental health access so they can avoid mental disorders like gender dysphoria, anxiety, and depression and find their path towards happiness just like the rest of us. And for this to happen, we have to let go of our concept of normality and start embracing nature as it is.

 

Jamez Ahmad

 

This post was written by Jamez Ahmad.

Jamez (they, them) is a proud member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. They have over fifteen years of experience educating groups on issues relating to gender identity and sexual orientation. As a mixed-race individual, they are passionate about social justice and dismantling systems of oppression. They have an MA from USC and an MSW from Smith College. They are a Taurus who enjoys travel, fiction writing, and film.

LinkedIn – Jamez Ahmad

Some people seem to have it all together. They breeze through life with little stress and few problems. But for others, even everyday tasks can be a challenge and overwhelming. Life may feel like a never-ending balancing act for people with high functioning anxiety.

High functioning anxiety is a term used to describe people who experience many symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) but can continue functioning in their daily lives. People with high functioning anxiety may feel anxious all the time, worry about things that may not seem important to other people, or have trouble focusing on anything else other than their worries.

Even though they may impress others with their poise, self-confidence, and ability to handle stressful situations, high-functioning anxiety sufferers often struggle with the same issues that people with GAD experience. Many people with high functioning anxiety are successful in work or school, but most often, they live in fear of doing something wrong or being evaluated negatively by others.

The good news is that individuals with high functioning anxiety can learn to manage their symptoms of anxiety and live with reasonable levels of anxiety. The bad news is they are often unaware of how debilitating their anxiety is and feel stuck. There are many reasons why people with high functioning anxiety often aren’t aware of their mental health condition.

What are the symptoms of high functioning anxiety?

For many, the term “anxiety” is interchangeable with the term “stress.” And while stress is a common experience for most, it can be debilitating for those who suffer from high functioning anxiety. Individuals with high functioning anxiety may appear to have it all together. They’re often seen as high-achieving people who are always organized, efficient, and driven. But looks can be deceiving.

Beneath the surface, these individuals are struggling with a constant sense of worry and fear. They have an intense desire to control their excessive anxiety but find it difficult and overwhelming to do. They’re often plagued by a feeling of impending doom. They live in constant fear that something terrible will happen and that they’ll be unable to cope with the crisis.

women with anxiety

High-functioning anxiety often takes the shape of one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling constantly anxious or on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Racing thoughts or mind going blank
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Difficulty falling asleep or poor sleep
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Headaches, stomach upset, rapid heart rate, or heart palpitations

What’s the difference between anxiety and high functioning anxiety?

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the United States, affecting 40 million American adults in the US each year. There are different types of anxiety disorders, but the most common are generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder.

Many people don’t know the difference between anxiety and high functioning anxiety. Anxiety is what most people experience when they have to give a presentation or speak in public. It’s that feeling of butterflies in your stomach or racing thoughts you get before stressful life events. High functioning anxiety is a more severe form of anxiety that can make it difficult for people to function in their day-to-day lives.

People with high functioning anxiety often have difficulty sleeping, concentrating, and making decisions. They may also experience intense feelings and often worry about things that some people would not worry about.

Normal anxiety is usually a healthy response to being anxious. It keeps you on your toes and gives you an extra energy boost when needed. However, if your anxious feelings are so severe that they affect your ability to get your daily tasks done at work or at home, it may be important to work with a therapist to process your feelings and find the best treatment for anxiety.

woman with anxiety

What causes high functioning anxiety?

High functioning anxiety is caused by a combination of factors, including genetics, environment, and lifestyle. While scientists are still learning about the specific causes of high functioning anxiety, they believe it may be related to a malfunctioning in the portion of the brain that regulates fear and stress. Thus, high functioning anxiety may be caused by a specific genetic mutation or a combination of factors that trigger the brain to over-respond to stress and fear.

There are many different causes of high functioning anxiety, but some of the most common include:

  • Genetics
  • Environment
  • Brain chemistry
  • Learned behavior
  • Coping mechanisms
  • Medication

One theory suggests that people with high-functioning anxiety are perfectionists who strive for excellence in everything they do. This constant pressure to be perfect can lead to a high stress level. Another theory suggests that people with high-functioning anxiety are hypersensitive and constantly scan their environment for potential threats. This constant vigilance can also lead to bad stress and severe anxiety.

What are the treatments for high functioning anxiety?

Although high functioning anxiety can be frustrating and debilitating, various treatments available can help lessen symptoms and improve quality of life. Behavioral treatments include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and relaxation strategies.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The goal is to teach patients how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can affect their anxiety symptoms. CBT is often used to help patients overcome fears, such as fear of failure or rejection.

To reduce the fear, the patient works on identifying the triggers for these feelings and learning more effective coping skills. CBT can be used to treat generalized anxiety disorder, high functioning anxiety, social phobia, and panic disorder. Relaxation strategies help patients learn to relax and cope with stress. Relaxation techniques include progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, and meditation.

People with high functioning anxiety benefit greatly from a self-care plan. One of the most common self-management activities is social support. Social support can include family and friends, as well as professionals. These people can provide the support and encouragement a person needs to get through the challenges of high functioning anxiety.

family support

Your self-care plan should also include eating well, exercising, and taking breaks to relieve stress. These strategies can be as simple as working through a difficult situation by telling a friend or family member about it. It is also important to make time for hobbies and friends to distract the mind from negative thoughts and feelings.

A mental health professional can suggest self-care strategies and teach you how to manage stress and difficult situations. There is no one “cure” for anxiety disorders, but with the right help and treatment, individuals can learn to manage their symptoms and find strategies for high-functioning anxiety. It’s important to seek professional help to have a therapist in your corner while working through this.

In many Indigenous and Native communities and traditions, there were folks welcomed and celebrated for being Two-Spirit people. Native people and tribal communities considered Two-Spirit individuals to be divine. Indigenous cultures saw Two-Spirit folks as people who communed with the creator, sacred beings often regaled in their societies. Furthermore, people with Two-Spirit identities were given roles as healers, mediators, shamans, matchmakers, and leaders. People like We’wha, Osh-Tisch, Hastiin Klah, Lozen, Dahteste are just a few of the historically documented Two-Spirit people who took such roles.

The term Two-Spirit was coined in the 1990s by Myra Laramee during an international Indigenous gathering of Lesbian and Gay Natives in Winnipeg, Canada. It was used to identify indigenous individuals who fulfilled mixed gender roles in Native American cultures. Two-Spirit expresses the complex and diverse traditions of tribal nations regarding gender identity and gender-diverse people in a way that could unify across tribal affiliations without erasing multiple native terms or individual experiences.

Nevertheless, this third gender identity should only be used by people who are part of Native American communities and not by folks outside of Native and Indigenous tribes. The term reflects a traditional, cultural, and spiritual component that should be respected. Native and Indigenous members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community may also use the term Indigiqueer.

While many tribes and nations respected diversity in gender and sexual identities, often celebrating Two-Spirit traditions, a lot of the history was forcibly destroyed through colonization by European settlers that came to Turtle Island, now commonly referred to as North America. Unfortunately, many of the records available today are from the perspective of colonizers who often did not understand nor respect the wide variety of gender identities of native individuals, and refused to comprehend the traditions and experiences of Native American societies. We’wha is one of the most prominent figures recorded in Two-Spirit history, and a member of the Zuni Indians from the area of New Mexico, was imprisoned by Christian missionaries for being Two-Spirit.

Girl LGBTQ with flag

It wasn’t until these interactions with colonizers that Two-Spirit people started to become displaced in tribal societies. As mentioned earlier, Two-Spirit individuals often held positions of power and were highly regarded in Native American communities. However, colonizers and settlers would refuse to work with any Two-Spirit people and used hostility to displace them from their esteemed societal roles, leaving them ostracized and eventually erased.

This displacement and erasure were magnified by genocidal practices inflicted on Native nations across Turtle Island. Unfortunately, the atrocities didn’t stop with genocide and land displacement, as many Native children were taken and placed in boarding schools, where they would be beaten, starved, humiliated, and murdered in an effort to “kill the savage, save the man,” as it was in the interest of colonizers to completely eliminate Native culture and tradition.

The impact of colonization on Native and Indigenous communities is still ongoing and continues to marginalize Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer people as well. When advocating for Two-Spirit folks, it’s important to recognize that all aspects of oppression are interlinked. This is most clear in the policies regularly put in place in the U.S. with the purpose of disenfranchising Native peoples.

Two-Spirit girl

Two-Spirit people were healers and leaders and served an important role in their communities. We should honor and respect their identities and third gender status, as well as the culture and history intertwined with them. The constant erasure and disregard for Native and Indigenous people take a toll on the mental health of Two-spirit people. There’s a disproportionate amount of stressors and pressure put on Native communities and this gets amplified if you are Indigiqueer or Two-Spirit.

All members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community deserve respect, and you can help us by advocating for the Two-Spirit community, nearby Native communities where you live, and more mental health resource access in your area.

 

Jamez Ahmad

 

This post was written by Jamez Ahmad.

Jamez (they, them) is a proud member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. They have over fifteen years of experience educating groups on issues relating to gender identity and sexual orientation. As a mixed-race individual, they are passionate about social justice and dismantling systems of oppression. They have an MA from USC and an MSW from Smith College. They are a Taurus who enjoys travel, fiction writing, and film.

LinkedIn – Jamez Ahmad

We keep hearing about the dangers of work-related stress and the importance of work-life balance. However, many of us struggle to participate in self-compassion and self-care. We struggle with “taking care of our needs.” High achievers, in particular, find it difficult to abandon their “I can do everything by myself” motto and label asking for help as a sign of weakness. It may be the passion that fuels their ambition or the desire to constantly prove themselves.

High achievers strive to excel by working long hours, taking on overwhelming workloads, and constantly putting pressure on themselves to be the best. This is what makes them and other professionals who struggle to find a positive balance between their work life and private life the best candidates for burnout.

What is burnout?

The concept is relatively new and was first used in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. Burnout manifests as extreme fatigue and chronic stress and takes individuals through three main stages: exhaustion, detachment or cynicism, and the feeling of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. In other words, individuals suffering from job burnout tend to experience mental exhaustion that affects their job performance, feel no joy going to work, and have a reduced ability to perform their job properly.

Burnout is usually associated with a high-stress job or a demanding profession (lawyer, physician, nurse, therapist, teacher), but it can also stem from an unhealthy lifestyle and environment that can cause constant stress or build up over the already existing chronic workplace stress. Perfectionism, the constant need for control, and pessimism can also fuel feelings of burnout.

stress

Who is most predisposed to burnout?

Burnout, like many other mental health issues, has a way of creeping up on someone without the individual ever noticing it. It can be caused by various stressors, including high-stress environments and stressful situations, such as caring for an ill family member or children or receiving tragic or upsetting news. Unnoticed and untreated, burnout can impact someone’s overall well-being, stealing their joy and sometimes their will to live and leading to more serious mental health conditions like anxiety disorders and depression.

High achievers are the most predisposed to developing burnout, but this doesn’t mean that other individuals exposed to a constant source of stress or dealing with high-stress levels outside a professional environment are not at risk of burnout. Everyone can suffer from burnout as long as they are exposed to a prolonged period of stress, negative emotions, or traumatic stress.

What are the tell-tale signs of burnout?

Burnout is a state of mental and emotional exhaustion often accompanied by a wide range of mental and physical symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of burnout are:

chronic fatigue – it starts with a constant lack of energy and feeling tired all the time and may lead to emotional exhaustion, feeling empty and drained, and having to struggle with a lack of motivation in all aspects of life;

isolation – patients suffering from burnout tend to feel overwhelmed in any situation and find it easier to withdraw from a social situation and isolate themselves from the rest of the world;

sleep and appetite changes – changes in appetite and sleep patterns are often a consequence of stressful situations, and they usually get worse as the level of burnout increases;

attention and concentration problems – workplace burnout often manifests as lack of focus and forgetfulness that, in time, may prevent individuals from getting their work done and struggle with a lack of productivity;

physical symptoms – burnout can impact your blood pressure, decrease energy levels, and cause shortness of breath; individuals suffering from burnout may also experience chest pain, heart palpitation, dizziness, and fainting;

anxiety

increased illness – due to extreme exhaustion and overwhelming stress for an extended period, burnout patients have a weakened immune system and are more prone to colds, flu, and infections;

irritability – a natural consequence of extreme fatigue and continuous stressors, irritability takes hold of the individual struggling with burnout, who finds it more difficult to be patient and understanding with the people around them;

anxiety and depression – in the late stages of burnout, the patient may develop symptoms of anxiety and depression from constantly worrying and being on the edge to pronounced sadness and hopelessness, as well as feelings of worthlessness and guilt; a carousel of distressing emotions and negative effects impact the individual’s health and well-being.

How can we prevent burnout?

The path to burnout starts with excessive drive and an uncontrollable eagerness to work harder and push yourself beyond your own limits. Left unchecked, your ambition and drive can cause you to lose sight of what really matters in life and put your needs and self-care on a secondary plan. The most common symptoms of stress can amplify and pave the way to burnout.

Soon enough, you’ll find no time for needs that are not associated with your work and isolate yourself from your family and friends in an endless chase for perfection. Behavioral changes often follow and can bring with them irritability, lack of motivation, feelings of inadequacy, fatigue, and lower productivity levels.

Stress is indeed unavoidable in our day-to-day life, and trying to eliminate all sources of stress from our professional and personal life is a battle lost before it’s ever fought. However, burnout syndrome can be avoided if we educate ourselves on the topic and adopt a healthy lifestyle. Whether we are talking of professional burnout, burnout caused by financial pressures, or caregiver burnout, we can learn to manage excessive stress and prevent the effects of chronic fatigue if we:

eat healthily – a healthy diet abundant in omega-3 fatty acids can help us fight depression and improve our mood;

exercise – regular exercise boosts our positive emotions and allows us to better handle stressful situations without succumbing to their emotional weight;
sleep – a healthy sleep pattern can do wonders for our health, providing our body with the necessary time to rest and reset;

exercise

adopt a self-care plan – whether we’re taking some time off to read a book, take a bath, or go on vacation, self-care is primordial for our physical and emotional health;

be aware of the warning signs – knowing the most common signs of burnout and making sure we change our ways as soon as we notice the first sign of burnout can help us avoid the psychological effects of burnout and allow us to adopt a positive attitude when faced with stressors.

talk to a therapist – asking for help is never a sign of weakness; talking about our overwhelming emotions with a mental health professional can help us identify the stressors in our life and learn to manage them.

LGBTQ Pride Parade, also known as Gay Pride parades, events, and festivals take over the United States during the month of June. Colorful floats, participants, and a plethora of fun activities and workshops accompany what we know now as the Gay Pride Month, LGBT Pride Month, or simply, the Pride Month. The weekends of June are now filled with color, music, dance, and celebrations of everything in this community.

June is the month when the LGBT community is more visible than ever. It is the month when they remind the world that everyone is entitled to their rights, freedom, and kindness. But why do lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans need the celebrations? Why do tens of thousands gather to celebrate their sexuality and gender identity and stand in front of the world as they are? Why do they need to be present on the streets every June?

It all started with Stonewall Uprising

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, homosexuality, “masquerading” as a member of the opposite sex, and other expressions of gender nonconformity were considered a crime in the United States. Being a member of the LGBT community and going to a bar or restaurant could easily lead to arrest for “disorderly conduct.” Being gay was listed as a mental health disorder in the DSM in 1952 and President Dwight Eisenhower banned “sexual perversion”, also known as being gay, from federal jobs. The police constantly abused gay, lesbian, and trans* individuals and not many people were advocating for this marginalized community.

Trans Activists Marsha Johnson and Sylvia Rivera

THE EVERETT COLLECTION; AP IMAGES

At the time, New York refused to provide licenses to bars that served members of the LGBTQ community. It all changed on June 28, 1969, when the police raided the gay club Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York, and arrested the patrons. They were cuffed and forced to wait outside the bar handcuffed. The crowd in front of the bar started to grow and, eventually, it sparked a revolt. Thousands of people gathered to stand with the owners of the bar, which was an important LGBT institution, and express their solidarity with the LGBT community. The protests lasted for six days, and the LGBT community was no longer silent. The movement had to be louder and more visible for everyone to understand they deserved the same rights and respect as any other member of the community.

Many in the LGBTQ community believe that the spark that changed it all was transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson, who is thought to have thrown the first brick or shot glass. Regardless if this is true or not, Marsha played an important role in the change that was about to happen. The same can be said about Sylvia Rivera, a Latinx transgender pioneer. Even though many years have passed since then, the LGBTQ wants to name those who fought for their rights at Stonewall and acknowledge the importance of trans women of color to the movement.

Stonewall was the tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. People from major cities started rallying with the movement. Publications were created to support gay rights, activists took over the streets, and the gay community decided to have a voice. This was the beginning of a movement meant to outlaw discriminatory laws and practices against the LGBT community.

lgbtq flags

The first Gay Pride parade

Five months after the Stonewall rally in New York, activists Craig Rodwell, Fred Sargeant, Ellen Brody, and Linda Rhodes came up with the idea of organizing a march in New York to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the uprising. The proposal was made to the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO) and included an essential aspect: the march was to be held with “no dress or age regulations.”

The march was approved, and the Christopher Street Liberation Day Umbrella Committee planned it. The people involved in the planning met in Craig Rodwell’s apartment and bookstore and used the bookstore’s mailing list to spread the word. The initial slogan of the march was “gay power.” However, L. Craig Schoonmaker, a member of the committee, thought that gay individuals may lack real power to make a change, but they do have pride.

This is how the “gay pride” movement came to life. On June 28, 1970, celebrating the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the first gay pride procession in the U.S. made history on the streets of New York. It was also known as the Christopher Street Liberation Day march after the street where the procession originated and turned into one week-long celebration of freedom for the LGBT community. New York wasn’t alone in the fight against discrimination and abuse against the LGBTQ community. Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco joined the celebration, and Gay Pride or Gay Freedom parades enlivened their streets too, and gave a voice to the movement.

month of Pride

June, the month of Gay Pride

And so, June became Pride Month. Although it has been celebrated for more than 50 years, President Bill Clinton officially declared June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month in 2000. Eleven years later, in 2011, President Barack Obama named it the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.

Pride Month is a month of celebration and awareness. The parades, the picnics, the workshops, and the concerts are all a joyous opportunity to get together and praise the people who had the courage to stand up and fight for equality and freedom. They are an occasion for the LGBT community to feel proud and walk tall.

However, Pride Month is not only about feasts and rainbows. It’s also about remembering those who have made this possible through hard work, dedication, and commitment to the cause, and those who have lost their lives to hate crimes, mental health, substance use, homelessness, housing insecurities, food insecurities, or HIV/AIDS.

Every Gay Pride event celebrates the past but looks into the future, a future with no discrimination, violence, and hate towards the community. Pride celebrations and community events are organized to serve as a reminder that the LGBT community is just as “normal” as the rest of us, and no one should be marginalized because of their sexuality or gender identity.

LGBTQ community

Let the parades fill the streets

Many feel that not much would have changed if political activism and the gay rights movement hadn’t gotten louder and stronger. Attitudes toward the LGBTQ community may have continued to stay the same, and abuse and discrimination would have been accepted as the status quo. Often being silent is not an option for marginalized and ostracized communities, the Stonewall riot was proof that things were yearning to change.

But there is still so much work to be done. The celebration of pride has to extend beyond the month of June. The annual celebrations are also a reminder that there is still much to accomplish for the LGBT community. It’s true that same-sex marriage is now legal, but adoption rights vary from state to state. The community continues to be discriminated against at work and not given the work opportunities they deserve and, worst of all, parents continue to kick out kids who have the courage to come out.

Furthermore, more and more anti-LGBTQ legislation bills keep showing up on the legislators’ tables. This year alone, over 325 bills, of which 130 target transgender rights, have been put in motion by Republicans. Last year, 268 bills were introduced, and 27 became laws. In March, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis passed a bill that bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity. Known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, this piece of legislation has found its echo in states like Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, and Louisiana, and led to similar proposals.

 fill the streets

It seems that instead of going forward, some members of our society want to drag us back to the Dark Ages of the LGBTQ community. While activists struggle to earn new rights for the members of the community to help them live safe, healthy, and fulfilled lives, their already rightfully-earned rights are once again at risk. The discussion about the LGBTQ community and their rights needs to be kept open, and people have to be supportive of each other and show up for them.

Mental illness is plaguing the LGBT community, and the voices of those suffering are not loud enough for everyone to hear them. Mental health is a major concern for members of the community. They need to know they can talk about their fears, thoughts, and experiences in a safe environment. Therapists need to learn to be inclusive, and their community needs to embrace their uniqueness.

Awareness is vital for the health of the LGBT community and, consequently, for our society. And this is why the parades should keep filling the streets, and the rainbow flags should keep fluttering in the wind so that we all remember that unity and tolerance can save lives and change the world.

The conversation about mental health is finally open, and many are participating. They ask questions and are no longer afraid to find the answers. However, the majority still shy away from the topic. Too many people continue to deny the existence of mental health issues and live with the symptoms of mental health illnesses because they are afraid they will be ridiculed, isolated, or ostracized. But would things be the same if their parents, guardians, teachers, or other social support systems had known how to tell them about the importance of mental health?

No matter how vehemently we deny it, mental health disorders are real. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults have had or currently have symptoms of a mental illness. And this study only concerns the Americans who have had the courage to step forward. How many other Americans and people worldwide suffer in silence while smiling and denying to themselves that “everything is fine” or “I’m just a bit sad?”

What is mental health?

WHO defines mental health as mental well-being, a state that allows a person to reach their potential and handle the stress in their daily lives. Mental health encapsulates our emotional, psychological, social, cognitive, and behavioral well-being.

Mental health is a factor that plays throughout our life, from childhood through adulthood. Mental health impacts how we experience the world, feel in our interpersonal relationships, and our decision-making abilities. Mental health finds its echo in the way people think, feel, and behave.

mental well-being

What factors can impact our mental health?

A mental health condition is never the consequence of a single event. Most of the time, mental disorders are the result of a plethora of risk factors, such as:

  • biological factors – genes, brain chemistry, or a family history of mental illness has been linked with an increased risk of mental health conditions due to the presence of various genes and gene variants;
  • socio-economic factors – belonging to a marginalized group or struggling to make ends on a daily basis meet may expose individuals to the risk of developing mental health disorders;
  • environment – stresses of life, such as living in poverty or having an abusive family, may trigger mental health conditions, as can stressful events such as the loss of someone dear or a divorce;
  • childhood trauma – trauma is often associated with some of the most common mental health disorders our society is experiencing, and adults with a history of abuse;
  • unhealthy lifestyle – lack of sleep, an unhealthy diet, or use of drugs and alcohol can significantly increase the risk of developing mental health conditions.

childhood trauma

Why is mental health awareness important?

Mental health awareness is crucial for the health of our society. NAMI recognizes May as Mental Health Awareness Month and raises awareness about the importance of keeping the conversation about mental health going and taking the time to listen to people who are struggling with mental health illnesses. The message is simple: you are never alone, and help is always on its way.

Mental health impacts all our life experiences, and people have to be aware of the toll mental health disorders can have on their daily functioning. Among the most common mental health conditions that plague modern society are generalized anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, eating disorders, and schizophrenia.

Awareness is key if we want to start healing our loved ones, our community, and our society. People need to learn what mental health is, why it matters, and how to recognize the symptoms of potential mental health conditions. Some of the most common symptoms associated with mental health disorders include:

  • sleep problems
  • loss of appetite
  • apathy
  • impulsive decision making
  • unhealthy lifestyle choices such as drug or alcohol consumption
  • suicidal thoughts

Each mental health disorder comes with its own specific symptoms, but the ones mentioned above are usually a clear indication that an individual is struggling to find their path towards inner balance and emotional well-being.

loss of appetite

Ask for help!

Your emotional and psychological well-being matters. Mental health issues can impact everything in your life, from everyday activities to intellectual functioning. They can affect your cognitive skills and social skills. It is vital to care for your mental health. From healthy habits like sufficient sleep, healthy eating, and regular physical activity to healthy social interactions, doing things that you love, and getting treatment as soon as you notice something is not right, there are numerous mental health resources to tap into so you can keep your balance.

Getting treatment and asking for mental health care can make the difference between a life lived and one you’ve just survived. Learn to be vulnerable. If you or your loved one is struggling with symptoms that betray a mental health concern or a medical condition that requires mental health treatment, do not hesitate to ask for help. Read about it, try to identify any potential emotional and physical symptoms, and act! It’s easier than ever to get mental health therapy and talk to someone who can guide you on your path toward well-being.

Ask for help!

Break the stigma!

Mental health awareness month concentrates its effort on helping people find the courage to assess their mental health and ask for help if they find that they are not living their best lives. The campaigns and events organized during Mental Health Awareness Month are meant to be the voice that many people feel they lost during the emotional war that has enslaved their brain and daily living.

Mental health awareness wants to normalize talking about mental health illnesses. They are, after all, common illnesses. Dealing with a mental health condition should not be a reason to feel ashamed or isolate yourself. Mental health awareness month educates the public and advocates the importance of policies that support people struggling with mental health disorders. No one should suffer in silence! If they don’t have the strength to voice their pain, everybody else should speak for them.

Up until our era of awakening, “vulnerability” was deemed an “ugly” word if not repulsive. Generations before us were taught to be strong, endure, and power through. You were not to talk about your emotions or show them in any way. You were to strive for perfection and settle for nothing less. You were to be the best at everything, or at least pretend to be. There was no other way if you wanted society to consider you worthy and successful.

Humanity has been blessed with such a complex spectrum of emotions. We have the ability to experience an astonishing palette of feelings. But we tend to push them away if they don’t have positive connotations. Vulnerability is often at the top of the list of emotions we reject simply because much of society has told us that it is not becoming to expose your emotions to the world and shed your emotional armory. Why should we expose our authentic selves to the world and risk being taken advantage of, ridiculed, or mocked? 

What is vulnerability?

There is no conversation about vulnerability without citing the work of Dr. Brené Brown and her talks and books about the power of vulnerability and the courage to break our vulnerability armor and embrace the entire palette of our emotions. 

Dr. Brené Brown has dedicated the last two decades of her life to studying vulnerability, courage, empathy, and shame. She defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” Vulnerability can take many shapes. It can be the feeling you get when you step out of your comfort zone, the rapid breathing you feel when you share your emotions, the pit drop in your stomach when you see someone you like, or the inability to speak when you become overly emotional.

vulnerability

All these feelings help make sense of why we may feel fearful to be vulnerable. However, they shouldn’t stop us from taking that leap into the healing abyss of our emotions. The rewards make all the sudden turns and twists of our inner journey worth it. Dr. Brené Brown mentions that “vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.” Certainly, the chance to access all this is worth shedding perceived control and exposing our personal vulnerability.

A frozen nervous system, the inability to speak, and tense muscles are all physical manifestations of vulnerability. How can something that may interrupt our daily life be the path to leading a life of courage and emotional plenitude? How can vulnerability lead to a meaningful connection with people in our lives? How can vulnerability add balance to our mental health and allow us to get to know ourselves and bring light to our true needs?

What are the benefits of vulnerability?

If you look back on some of the most dramatic events in your life, you’ll notice that the times when you felt more vulnerable and dared to expose your emotions were the times when you showed the most courage. Furthermore, the times when you stepped out of your comfort zone – taking a new class, learning a new skill, discovering a new place – were also the times when you opened yourself to experience new emotions and grew as a person.

Vulnerability is indeed the “core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness” in the words of best-selling author Dr. Brené Brown, but when we become aware of the epidemic of shame that plagues our lives, stand up to fear, raise our voices to ask for what we deserve, say no when we need to, or admit that we are wrong, we start to reap the benefits of embracing vulnerability.

benefits of vulnerability

When our vulnerability armor comes down, and we dare to feel shame, uncertainty, anxiety, and fear, we can experience:

  • empathy and understanding
  • trust and intimacy in a relationship
  • increased self-worth
  • gratitude
  • creativity
  • personal awareness and accountability
  • personal growth
  • our accurate measure of courage

Vulnerability is the only way to get to know our authentic selves. It opens the path to growth and gives us the courage to fight the need to please others and focus on our well-being. Vulnerability helps us bring to light all our emotions and process them. It takes a lot of courage to stand in front of the world without your armor, but this is the only way toward authentic and meaningful connections with others.

Types of vulnerability

While vulnerability means the same thing in every circumstance, it does take different shapes depending on the environment where we manifest it. 

Vulnerability in relationships

Our relationships benefit the most from our exposed vulnerability. Many fear to reveal their true selves and needs out of shame or fear of rejection or judgment but it’s when you reveal yourself from beyond your shield of cynicism and fear that you get to establish an authentic and meaningful connection with the people in your life. Vulnerability is indeed the birthplace of joy and the one and true path to human connection.

So, have the difficult conversations, ask for what you need, and talk about your hopes and fears. You are both imperfect human beings empowered by your vulnerability. Be patient and take small steps. This cannot be achieved overnight and should not be achieved in a haste. Build that trust, cultivate closeness, and “choose courage over comfort.”

Vulnerability in relationships

Vulnerability in the workplace

The workplace might be considered the last place where you would show your emotions and be vulnerable. You have an image to build and a reputation to protect. However, many of us fall prey to doubts, incessant comparisons with our colleagues, or the imposter syndrome where we feel as if we are not worthy of all our achievements. Remember that self-doubt is paramount for growth. Accept it as part of who you are and work to improve your self-confidence. Ask for help when you need it. Vulnerability is often the foundation of excellent teamwork.

Leaders especially fear showing any crack in their vulnerability armor out of fear of losing the respect of their peers. However, visionary leadership is born out of courage, and courage stems from vulnerability. You can’t dissociate them and, honestly, you shouldn’t even try. Authentic leadership can only be the result of daring leaders who have embraced their vulnerability. Transformative leaders will never hide in their comfort zone. If your dream is to become a confident leader who practices true leadership, you need to be willing to experience shame and fear. 

Vulnerability in community

Too many generations have lost their true selves because they feared “what people are going to say.” Shame has crushed so many spirits and broken so many lives that it hurts just to think about it. Parents have taught their children to always look and act impeccably, and children have learned that only “positive” emotions are acceptable. We are now afraid to say no to other people just because they would think “bad things” about us or label us as selfish.

When you embrace your vulnerability, you allow yourself to invite only the people you want in your life. You give yourself permission to make the best decisions for yourself and your family and simply remove yourself from situations you are not comfortable with. You are empowered to set healthy boundaries and rearrange your priorities to better reflect your needs.

Vulnerability in community

How to embrace vulnerability?

The key to becoming comfortable with your own vulnerability is to let things fall apart and give up on this hurtful idea that we have to be in control at all times. The closer you get to your own vulnerability, the more your life is going to change. Vulnerability helps you improve your self-awareness and admit the fact that you don’t know everything and you shouldn’t in the first place. It frees you from the prison of perfection and validation and opens the way to accepting risk, uncertainty, and that dreaded feeling of being uncomfortable.

When you break down the walls around your comfort zone and step into the unknown, you get to explore, learn, and grow. You will see your relationships in a different light and start to understand the thought process behind your decisions. You learn to love with all your heart. What can be more beautiful than becoming a “wholehearted” being, as Dr. Brené Brown describes people who embrace their vulnerability and dare to love without conditions?

Find the courage to see beyond the myths of vulnerability. Understand that vulnerability is not weakness or a dispensable set of emotions. Vulnerability should not be used as a bargaining chip or confused with full disclosure. It shouldn’t be used recklessly but only manifested in front of the people who deserve our truth. Vulnerability creates a sense of belonging, the innate need we all have in our quest for happiness. It should be used as a foundation of our relationships and a way to create new connections.

Vulnerability gives us access to profound insights about ourselves. These transformative insights help us build self-esteem, combat anxiety and depression, reduce stress, and live fuller lives. Leading a meaningful life and having profound connections with other people can improve both our physical and mental health. Take the time to acknowledge your emotions without judgment, look for value in your life and relationships, and practice vulnerability every day. 

Window of tolerance” is a term introduced by Dr. Dan Siegel in his book, The Developing Mind. The term is now commonly used to define and understand the zone of arousal of individuals where the brain functions normally and the body reacts healthily to outside external stimuli without signs of hyper – arousal or hypo – arousal.

People who are able to stay within their window of tolerance in their everyday lives do not need to utilize mechanisms such as withdrawal or extreme emotions when faced with potentially stressful situations. When you act within your window of tolerance, you can process the information from your environment in a calm and regulated manner without outbursts of emotions or the sudden need to shut down and isolate yourself.

What is the window of tolerance?

The window of tolerance is the optimal arousal level that allows individuals to function normally and manage day-to-day stress effectively. People with an optimal window of tolerance can react healthily to stress and anxiety and manage difficulties without feeling flooded by their emotions. This is their comfort zone, where the brain gives them all the necessary tools to self-regulate their emotional responses.

The moment you step outside your window of tolerance, your brain loses its capacity to function well, and you struggle to maintain a rational train of thought, reflect, or feel calm, grounded, and safe. This is when you can experience either hyper-arousal or hypo-arousal:

  • hyper-arousal (the fight-or-flight response) – often takes the shape of excessive activation, anxiety symptoms, panic attacks, fear, anger, hypervigilance, and agitation.
  • hypo-arousal (the freeze response) – leads to emotional numbness, dissociation, lack of energy, feelings of emptiness, and depression.

In either state, the brain loses its ability to function properly and react calmly to stressors and stimuli. The prefrontal cortex region of the brain shuts down, and individuals lose their capacity to maintain their calm and reasonable reactions. This often leads to chaotic responses, brain function dysregulation, and outbursts of emotions.

diversity

What can impact our window of tolerance?

Each individual has a window of tolerance. Their window of tolerance varies depending on several factors, including childhood experiences, traumatic experiences, and their environment. People tend to function better when they feel safe and supported and are better equipped to stay for longer within their window of tolerance.

Children with caregivers who took the time to help them understand their feelings and made them feel safe often grow up to have a wider window of tolerance due to their secure foundation and the increased ability to tolerate a broad range of thoughts and emotions.

Children growing up without people teaching them how to tolerate their feelings or understand that all emotions are “allowed” often feel alone and confused, struggle with childhood anxiety, and develop a narrow window of tolerance.

Individuals with a narrow window of tolerance may feel overwhelmed when faced with stress or novelty, while those with a wider window of tolerance have the necessary tolerance to manage stressful situations and intense emotions without feeling overwhelmed or emotionally flat.

Those who have experienced childhood trauma or other types of complex trauma, such as abuse or sexual assault, as well as people struggling with mental health issues often find it difficult to stay within their window of tolerance and struggle to maintain their optimal arousal level.

As their window of tolerance becomes narrower, individuals may perceive the outside world as more dangerous than it is and may find themselves more often in a fight-or-flight response or freeze response. Consequently, people who frequently find themselves outside their window of tolerance often experience post-traumatic stress, anxiety, or depression.

interracial

How to recognize your window of tolerance

Emotions follow a pattern of ups and downs. All humans experience anger, pain, anxiety, and hurt at some point in their lives. Do we have the right tools to cope with the ebb and flow that makes us human and regulate our nervous system to manage emotional distress in a healthy manner that keeps us grounded and helps us grow? 

Recognizing your window of tolerance means taking the time to observe your reactions and understanding the way you function. It also means paying attention to outside stimuli and your reaction to them and noticing when you operate within your window of tolerance and when you feel pushed out of it.

Pay attention to any signs and try to associate them with the situations that have triggered them. Identify your symptoms and distress level and keep an eye on the cause. Awareness is essential if you want to learn how to stay within your window of tolerance and self-regulate as soon as you experience the first signs of dysregulation.

How to widen your window of tolerance

A wider window of tolerance means an increased tolerance to stress, improved brain function, and a better grasp of the ability to think and feel at the same time. Widening your window of tolerance helps maintain your emotional balance and rational and helpful responses for longer when faced with various obstacles life throws at you. So, how can you increase your window of tolerance to better control your emotions and reactions to outside stimuli?

heart

Practice mindfulness 

Mindfulness helps us pay attention to our emotions and stay in the present moment. It does not focus on finding a way to stop what we are feeling. Instead, it switches attention to the causes of our emotions and allows them to run their course without reacting negatively. Take the time to be aware of everything you’re feeling and allow yourself to feel every emotion. Be open and do not try to block negative emotions. Let them flow so they can find their way out of your mind and body without impacting your brain function. Accept your emotions, hold the judgment, and avoid multitasking. This too shall pass, and you’ll learn from it!

Prioritize overall wellness

Happiness is not a given mental state. It is something we have to work towards every single day of our life. Grow your happiness by focusing on increasing your DOSE chemicals – dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphin, responsible for a happy state of mind:

  • meditate
  • check tasks on your to-do lists
  • create art, music, crafts
  • socialize
  • listen to music
  • cuddle and hug
  • go outside
  • get a massage
  • laugh
  • cry
  • eat dark chocolate or crunchy or spicy foods

hug

Self-regulate

Self-regulation techniques can help you stay within your window of tolerance and maintain a wider comfort zone. As soon as you feel you are stepping out of your window of tolerance, resort to one or several self-regulation strategies to get back to your optimal level of arousal. Self-regulation techniques depend on the type of arousal you experience.

Hyper-arousal self-regulation strategies:

  • let go of your anger – lie down to calm yourself, stretch your arms in front of you, shake it off, or hug yourself for a couple of seconds;
  • breath – hold your breath for 3 seconds, do at least 10 deep breaths, or take a long deep breath and exhale with your mouth;
  • meditate – meditation and yoga can help you regulate your emotions and thoughts while allowing you to regain control.

Hypo-arousal self-regulation strategies:

  • activate your senses – listen to music, eat tasty food, get a massage, take a bath, light an aromatic candle;
  • exercise – try grounding exercises that connect you with the floor and allow you to see and touch objects around you.

eyes

Ask for help

Talking with a therapist about your window of tolerance problems can provide the right tools to help you self-regulate and come back from a hyper-aroused state or hyper-arousal state within your window of tolerance

Therapists create a safe space where people struggling with dysregulation due to a narrow window of tolerance can share their emotions in full detail, become aware of their feelings and thoughts, and, most importantly, identify the causes behind their emotional state. 

A mental health provider can teach you how to connect to the present moment and use cognitive techniques to better gauge your level of hyper-arousal or hypo-arousal. Furthermore, they can provide access to the best breathing technique for you and equip you with the right tools to identify warning signs, calm your nervous system and self-regulate.