Mental illness does not discriminate. Unfortunately, some therapists do. Finding an inclusive therapist is often a daunting mission for marginalized individuals struggling with mental health issues caused by racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia. Oppression in psychotherapy continues to prevent indigenous people, people of color, people with disabilities, BIPOC, and members of the LGBTQIA community to access proper and quality mental healthcare.

Modern therapy often continues to treat categories of individuals instead of treating the individual. Some clinicians still dismiss clients as being oversensitive when racism issues are raised while others continue to believe homosexuality can be fixed. The sole fact that trans people and nonbinary individuals need to base their gender confirmation surgery on a therapist’s official recommendation is a clear indication that modern therapy continues to maltreat marginalized communities and refuses to accept the complexity of our identity.

What is an inclusive therapist?

An inclusive therapist is a clinician who understands the need to include the principles of social justice and intersectionality in their work. They have acknowledged the existence of oppressive therapy practices designed to harm marginalized identities and rooted in our society’s patriarchal, racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic power structures and are determined to deconstruct them while keeping an open mind and heart to understand the individual – their identity, culture, experiences, and struggles. Individuals coming from marginalized communities are often looking for therapists who share their identity or culture in hopes of establishing a connection through shared values and experiences.

Muslim psychologist

However, a culturally responsive, social justice-oriented therapist doesn’t always need to share the client’s identity to provide valuable and competent mental health care services. They do not need to come from the same background nor go through the same experiences to meet them at their intersections and offer the help they need to conquer their fears, embrace themselves, establish healthy relationships, and overcome obstacles imposed by a rigid society. A competent clinician who has taken the steps to acknowledge and conquer their own biases and is continuously educating themselves regarding marginalized communities, gender diversity, racial identity, and other social justice-related issues will have the right tools to know how to listen, ask, and provide feedback to their clients.

No matter how you may feel, change is possible!

We'll work side by side to uncover the challenges and patterns that keep you from living the life you desire.


Ask yourself the right questions

It would be wonderful if Facebook ads could guide your steps toward the perfect inclusive therapist for you. However, choosing a therapist is a mission too personal to entrust into the hands of keywords and algorithms. You need to do a bit of soul-searching and see what you truly expect and need from your therapist. Ask yourself some questions, and chances are the answers will help you find an anti-oppressive, inclusive therapist.

woman at a session with inclusive therapist

What do you want from your therapist?

Some black people prefer to work with black therapists, people of color may prefer therapists of color, while a religious person may choose a Christian therapist who shares their values. A member of the LGBTQIA community may be inclined to work with an LGBTQIA-inclusive therapist, and a female-identified person may feel more comfortable sharing her inner struggles with a female-identified therapist. However, this is not the only way to find a therapist. A shared identity with your therapist does not guarantee a good and well-attuned fit.

Furthermore, choosing a therapist based exclusively on their identity may rob you of your chance to work with an inclusive clinician whose professional training and expertise may resonate better with your needs and mental health goals. It is important to assess all the information before making your decision and take into consideration the clinician’s identity, as well as their training and experience.


What should your therapy experience be like?

You also need to think about your therapy sessions and the way they should be conducted. Do you want your mental health therapy session to be based on a set of questions, or do you prefer a conversational approach? Is sitting on a couch something that will do for you? Would you rather have an online session while discussing your issues with your therapist? Are you looking for individual therapy or do you need couples counseling? Is gender-affirming therapy what you need right now? Make sure your therapy experience echoes your needs and creates a comfortable space for you to share and receive advice.

Ask for recommendations

Recommendations are often a good place to start your research. Talk to people you know who can recommend inclusive therapists and see if they can give you the number of a clinician who can provide the help you seek. You can also go through directories for therapists where you can find clinicians with the training and experience you require.

If you are a member of an online community, you can always ask your fellow members if they can share any positive experience they have had with therapists who address the type of issues you are struggling with. You can also discuss this topic with local groups. For example, if you need therapy related to domestic abuse, you can try to find therapist profiles through a local advocacy organization. Make a list of the therapists who have the training and experience you are looking for, and get in touch with them.

inclusive therapist

Schedule a consultation meeting

A consultation meeting with potential clinicians is the perfect opportunity to assess the therapist’s foundational knowledge of your identity and culture and see if you “click” with them. Now is the time to ask your questions and see how the interaction flows. You could ask them if they have experience in the area you want to talk about, and evaluate their approach to the subject.

It is important to feel you are sharing your experiences in a safe space where you don’t have to continuously explain terminology, culture, and the values of your community. A competent therapist with inclusivity skills will always make you feel comfortable enough to open up about your challenges while providing mental health services tailored to your own individuality, identity, and background.

How do you know if your inclusive therapist gets you?

An inclusive therapist who gets you notices and understands your multifaceted identities. They should not only focus on you being a person of color, a person struggling with gender identity, or an individual with a drug abuse problem. Inclusive therapists should take the time to understand every aspect of identity while considering your background, community, and culture. They should also trust and validate your own understanding of your identity and help you through any life transitions you may be facing.

crying patient

When you are working with an inclusive therapist that’s right for you when you don’t have to constantly defend or explain your identity to them and underline why certain aspects of your identity are crucial for your treatment. An inclusive therapist knows how to honor a client’s experience of identity and they will be open to receiving feedback from their client and allow the space for them to fully express themselves. If the client has concerns or requires therapy adjustments, the clinician should be open to discussing the necessary functional changes to help the client make the most of their time spent together.

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

Religion has always played an important role in many communities. Some people find comfort and peace in religion, while others cling to the hope it provides when tragedy occurs. Religion was meant to bring people together, provide a safe space for like-minded individuals that have a shared belief system, and create rituals to encourage togetherness, the feeling of belonging, and unity.

However, things take a turn for the worse when religion becomes indoctrination. This is when religion forgoes its original purpose of providing love and hope and becomes a reason for psychological and physical abuse. When members of a congregation experience a loss of sense of autonomy, shame associated with their emotions, and a constant fear of punishment from a religious leader, parent, guardian, or even the divine itself, religion turns into a source of trauma and mental disorders.

sad guy

What are the causes of religious trauma?

Religious trauma is the result of different experiences that occur in a religious community, within a church, or spiritual community that exposes the members to indoctrination messages, coercion, humiliation, embarrassment, and abuse. Here are some of the instances that may lead to religious trauma:

  • Exposure to religious leaders who insist on being the only source of authority in the life of congregants and base their preaching on cultivating fear and shame
  • A religious institution that requires financial participation or sacrifice for members to access blessings or eternal life from a god or deity
  • Individuals in positions of power who force members to participate in religious ceremonies or use fear of hell or punishment to earn their abnegation
  • Suppression of normal child development through limited access to information and the teaching of dysfunctional beliefs
  • Stifling independent thinking and creating self-doubt, to diminish the agency of members
  • Victimization through physical and/or sexual abuse, as well as constant exposure to unhealthy sexual views and applying punishment to achieve discipline, obedience, and purity of soul

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We'll work side by side to uncover the challenges and patterns that keep you from living the life you desire.


What are the symptoms of religious trauma?

Religious trauma manifests in different forms, and just like with any other type of trauma, it needs to be acknowledged before it can be treated. The support of therapists with knowledge in the field of trauma-informed care is essential for the well-being and health of religious trauma survivors who often find themselves experiencing symptoms like:

Cognitive deficiencies – confusion, perfectionism, lack of self-confidence and self-respect, and difficulty with decision-making skills.

Emotional challenges – anger, difficulty with pleasure, overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame, lethargy, anxiety disorders, and depression.

Social obstacles – difficulty forming healthy relationships, sexual difficulty, loss of social network, sense of isolation, and impeded social development.

PTSD symptoms – nightmares, panic attacks, fear, flashbacks, dissociation, etc.


What is religious trauma syndrome?

Religious trauma syndrome (RTS) is a consequence of religious trauma. While it is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it’s a term that has been gaining traction. RTS manifests in most people who have suffered religious abuse or have been exposed to dysfunctional beliefs due to their religious affiliation.

People struggling with RTS are usually individuals who have left a dogmatic religion or have abandoned a belief system that led to their indoctrination. This major step marks the beginning of their new life outside a controlling environment or religious figure and opens the door to freedom, but also to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Finding themselves in a world without an “official” leader and guidance, where they need to rely on their own independent thinking, people with RTS are often exposed to a roller-coaster of emotions where the beatitude and excitement of being free alternate with an overwhelming state of fear, grief, rage, panic attacks, and depression.


The effects of religious trauma

Religious trauma can emotionally paralyze an individual and significantly impact their mental health. Authoritarian religions equip individuals with a set of negative beliefs that have no practical use in the real world. Furthermore, religious beliefs founded on emotional and physical abuse may continue to impact lives for a long time after the individuals have found the strength to release themselves from the yoke of damaging spiritual beliefs and traumatic religious experiences.

The effects of religious trauma may make their presence felt in different aspects of life. From the feeling that they don’t belong in the real world and the belief they are detached from everything that happens culturally around them to the constant guilt, shame, and fear that rule supreme. People who have experienced religious trauma may face an avalanche of emotions.

trauma syndrome

While people suffering from RTS may feel relieved and hopeful to be free of the religious dogma, they may continue to feel ostracized by the community they left behind and experience a constant fear of being punished by the superior being they used to worship.

The impact of religious trauma on LGBTQ individuals

The contradictory emotions brought on by religious trauma are often experienced by members of the LGBTQ community. The members of this community who have been raised or exposed to toxic religious beliefs may find themselves stuck in shame, rejection, and fear of divine damnation. Some folks may even be forced into conversion therapy which can cause long damaging effects. It has been proven that this unethical treatment is ineffective and harmful. Toxic indoctrination can be overcome with the help of mental health professionals, but it requires work and the belief that while the road ahead is long, you have the tools you need to conquer all obstacles.


Some LGTBQ people find a way to overcome fear and shame by rejecting organized religion and learning to accept and love themselves exactly as they are. Others find different faith communities that cherish their individuality and refrain from judging or using fear and shame as weapons. Whether they choose to lose their faith or embrace healthy spiritual beliefs, the damage of religious trauma will continue to linger if they do not take the time to process it accordingly.

If you need help processing the nightmares, fear, and guilt associated with the negative conditioning left behind from religious trauma, working together with your therapist can be immensely helpful. It will give you access to the necessary tools to learn to internalize love, detach yourself from dogma, overcome mental illness, and find a new path towards emotional, mental, and spiritual balance.

Resources for Folx Wanting Support and Community

Books on Religious Trauma written by White authors:

Books on Religious Trauma written by BIPOC authors:

Books on Religious Trauma written by Queer authors:

Books on Religious Trauma outside of Christianity:

Books on Religious Trauma and Sexual Healing:

Books on Religious Trauma and pursuing non-religion afterwards:


  • Latter-Day Lesbian: an ex-Mormon gay woman who tackles religious trauma and later-in-life LGBTQ issues with her friend.
  • This Little Light of Mine is an LGBTQ+ tale of terror (growing up as a closeted Gay Christian in the Evangelical church) that led to trauma (cPTSD, religious trauma, spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, addiction) to what I intend to become triumph.
  • Marie, Myself, & I: Marie LePage D’Elephant talks about neurodivergence, ethical non-monogamy, sexuality, religious trauma, secular spirituality, and all things deconstructive.
  • Heal Religious Trauma: Religious Trauma Syndrome is real! And with it comes symptoms of PTSD and CPTSD, ranging anywhere from mild to severe. Join Advanced Life Coach, NLP Practitioner and Hypnotherapist Stevie Noah (a religious trauma survivor) as she navigates the challenges and helps other survivors heal and reinvent their lives!
  • Queer After Religion: The QAR Podcast seeks to celebrate the incredible stories of queer people who have left authoritarian religion and are finding a new way. Ex-religious and former fundamentalist host, Derek Matthew Miller, offers up intimate questions and topics for his guests as they discuss the intersection of religion and queerness, life lessons, and how to find peace, love, and progress through it all.
  • Dirty Rotten Church Kids: Millennial dads figuring out life, art and culture on the other side of the evangelical bubble

Anxiety per se is not a mental health issue. It is a human feature that has helped humanity survive and evolve as a species. Anxiety has often proven to be a useful emotion that helped us be cautious, identify potential threats, and avoid being deceived. It is important to remember that anxiety, as a primary emotion, is not a bad thing or a fault. Society is actually benefiting from wary people who think about what could go wrong and come up with adequate measures to prevent potential tragic situations. However, things change when we are talking about anxiety disorder. Anxiety left unchecked can easily take over our lives and snowball into a profound mental health issue.

How do people with anxiety feel?

Anxiety disorder is a mental health issue that can consume the individual. People with anxiety disorders may feel irrational fears and anxious thoughts that can transform into obsessions. Furthermore, they can often experience panic attacks that can eventually prevent them from living normal lives.

Whether we are talking about, social anxiety – when the person has an overwhelming fear of embarrassing themselves in social situations, or health anxiety – when the person is obsessed with the idea they may develop health problems, a person with anxiety finds it very difficult to take control of their emotion and rationalize their thoughts and fears.

anxiety feel

The most common forms of anxiety include:

  • generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) – constant worry, fears, and emotions related to everyday activities; it lasts for at least six months.
  • panic disorder – recurrent unexpected panic attacks that manifest as intense fear or discomfort and last for a few minutes.
  • social anxiety disorder – the intense fear of being judged or rejected in a social situation.

No matter how you may feel, change is possible!

We'll work side by side to uncover the challenges and patterns that keep you from living the life you desire.


What are the symptoms of anxiety disorders?

Many people fail to notice if their friend or loved one is struggling with an anxiety disorder because the anxiety symptoms may be misinterpreted. However, upon a closer look, you will be able to notice clear signs when anxiety is a constant presence in someone’s life.

Physical symptoms include sweating, nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue, and a persistent feeling of restlessness. When talking with anxious people, you’ll often notice they are overwhelmed by excessive worry and always believe the worst will happen. Individuals with anxiety have often an all-or-nothing approach to everything and tend to overgeneralize.

Moreover, their worries and fears contribute to an anxious behavior that leads to the avoidance of the situations they fear the most, as well as increased frustration and irritability. People with anxiety tend to be consumed with indecisiveness and may fall into the trap of compulsive or obsessive behavior or phobic behavior.

What to do if you want to help people suffering from anxiety?

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in the United States which means chances are you already know someone struggling with its effects. While it may not seem as dangerous as depression or other mental health conditions, anxiety can significantly impact someone’s life and can open the door to more serious mental health issues.


Learn about anxiety

First and foremost, it is important to educate ourselves regarding anxiety disorders and the toll they may take on our loved ones. Take the time to learn about the different forms of anxiety and try to identify the type of anxiety your friend or family member is trying to overcome. Familiarize yourself with the signs of anxiety and start recognizing them to better understand what triggers the fears and when it is the right time to intervene.

Be there for them

Telling someone you have noticed their struggle and want to be there for them may make a world of difference to them. People with anxiety often welcome help because this means they are not alone in their battle with their fears. The burden they have been carried up until that point suddenly feels lighter. Talk to them and express your concern and availability to listen.

Provide the support they prefer

Talk to the person who needs your help and see what type of support they prefer. For example, anxious people who struggle with an avoidant attachment style respond better to strong displays of practical support, while those who battle the fear of being abandoned may need emotional support. Understand their needs and patiently respond to them.

Encourage self-help and/or professional help

Calmly discuss the appropriate help they think they need. If the person wants to try and overcome their anxiety on their own, you can suggest meditation, self-help books, exercise, or relaxation training while encouraging them to always ask for help when they feel overwhelmed. Whether they ask for help from their loved ones or a professional, they need to feel validation and find that their feelings are acknowledged and treated with sensitivity.

What not to do if you want to help people suffering from anxiety?

Learning what is not helpful when you try to be there for anxious people is just as important as the things you do to help them heal.

Don’t encourage their anxious behavior

While helping people with anxiety plays an important part in the healing process, taking over for them and allowing them to rely on their avoidance behavior can do more harm than good. Stop doing things that may enable their anxiety and avoid providing constant reassurance. This will only make their anxiety worse and encourage them to remain stuck in their anxious pattern.

Don’t force them to face their fears

While anxious people need to face their fears and break the avoidance pattern, this needs to be done on their own terms or with the help of a psychologist or therapist. A person with anxiety will not react positively when forced to deal with a difficult situation if they haven’t taken the time and necessary steps to properly prepare mentally and emotionally.

Don’t judge or stigmatize them

One of the most frequent reactions anxious people get from their friends and family is the trivialization of their fears and worries. Even if you feel like their fear is not a big deal, avoid telling them that. This will only belittle their emotions, affect their self-respect, and will amount to nothing constructive. Also, avoid defining them only through their anxiety and reassure them that your opinion about them hasn’t changed even if they are now struggling with a mental health issue. Remind them about the positive aspects of their identity and spend time with them doing what they like and helps them feel better about themselves.


Do not let their anxiety take over your life

Helping someone with anxiety may have an impact on your mental health too. You may from time to time feel frustrated, tired, or even scared, and these emotions may affect your well-being. Set clear boundaries and try to deal with all these emotions rationally, so you can avoid turning them into your own anxiety. You are there to help them, but the healing process needs to be supervised by a health professional who can prescribe appropriate treatments for anxiety.

Depression is a serious mental health condition that may affect anyone at some point in their life. It doesn’t discriminate and has no favorites. It can affect young and old people, and no one is really immune to its symptoms. However, depression can be treated, and friends and family can make a difference for those suffering from this disorder. But only if they educate themselves and understand the toll depression can have on the mental health of their loved ones.

How do you know if a friend is suffering from depression?

Depression can impact a person’s everyday life and cause sadness, pain, and tremendous suffering. While associated with numerous symptoms, at times, it may feel like an invisible cloud looming over a person without them even being aware of its presence. There are different types of depression and different symptoms that betray its presence in the life of someone you love. A person suffering from this condition may exhibit common warning signs like:

Loss of interest in everyday tasks

They have lost interest in their work, hobbies, or any activities that used to bring them joy.

Social isolation

They avoid spending time with friends or family and have withdrawn from social activities.

Constant feelings of sadness and hopelessness

They are feeling sad all the time and seem to have lost their hope or become critical or irritable and adopt a pessimistic attitude regarding life.

woman sad

Changes in appetite

They eat more or less than usual, and you can notice a significant change in their weight.

Changes in their sleeping pattern

They either sleep more or less than usual and seem to always be disoriented, indecisive, and not really present anymore.

Increased alcohol consumption or substance abuse

They start to drink or rely on sleeping pills or painkillers to numb their pain.

While some people struggling with depression may exhibit symptoms like the ones mentioned above, others may simply feel unhappy or sad without any reason in particular. Children suffering from depression rarely manifest their depression through sadness and are more likely to exhibit it through irritability.

No matter how you may feel, change is possible!

We'll work side by side to uncover the challenges and patterns that keep you from living the life you desire.


What you need to understand about depression

Depression is a serious mental health condition and not just a rough patch someone is going through. It will not eventually pass on its own. The person going through this experience has no control over their state of mind and mood, and their emotional health is severely affected by this disorder. They find it hard to fight it on their own and, most of the time, especially when dealing with clinical depression, they need therapy to understand what they are going through. It is not enough to make them aware of their condition for them to start the healing process. Depression often overcomes the force of will.


Persons dealing with depression cannot be held accountable for everything hurtful they might say. They are struggling with an avalanche of emotions and find it very hard to find anything positive around them. This can only lead to increased irritability and frustration, often materialized as criticism and anger. Try to understand where they are coming from and don’t hold this against them. They still love you and this is not about you. Don’t take it personally.

The same goes for persons suffering from depression who have no interest in going to work, doing their chores, or engaging in any social activities. You shouldn’t label them as lazy, and you should try to understand they can barely find the energy to get out of bed. Depression is often accompanied by feelings of extreme tiredness and lack of motivation.

What you shouldn’t do if you want to help a friend with depression?

Ignoring a friend with depression is never the way to go, nor is helping them hide their issue. This can only drag them deeper into an unhealthy pattern and “legitimize” their behavior stripping them of any intention to ask for help or discuss their problems with a therapist. The person suffering from this condition needs to get treatment as soon as possible to prevent their mental health concerns from getting worse and prolonging their dark times and even the risk of suicide.

A friend with depression is not a broken person in need of fixing. You do not need to come with a solution to their problems nor take upon yourself the burden of their depression. You cannot be responsible for a person’s happiness, thus you cannot consider yourself responsible for their depression either. What you can do is be there for them when they need support and love them. Finding the path to recovery from depression is a personal journey that only the person battling the condition can find and walk on.

girl crying

What can you do if you want to help a friend with depression?

If you think your friend is suffering from depression, you can start by paying attention to common signs that may indicate this condition. Observe their behavior and see if you can notice any symptoms of depression. Keep an eye on their mood changes and notice if they complain of unexplained pains and aches, like back pains or headaches.

Be there for them when they ask for help but avoid telling them depression is not a real problem or that it is natural to feel sad at times and everyone is going through tough times. Avoid giving them advice or serving them cliches about how they should focus on the positive or that it is all in their head. This will only make them withdraw even more and avoid your presence.

Be compassionate and show you care about them and that their friendship is important. Depression is never someone’s fault and can’t be fixed overnight. Listen to everything the person has to tell you, and don’t make any judgments. Sometimes, listening to someone is enough to make them feel better and lighter.


Offer to help them with daily tasks and create a routine for them to feel more in control and at ease around you. Encourage them to respect their treatment, take their medication, and participate in meetings organized by support groups. Explain they are not alone in this journey and that you are going to be there for them every step of the way. Discuss the beneficial effects of eating healthier and spending time outdoors.

People with severe depression may contemplate suicide. You need to understand the suicide risk and be aware of the fact that it is possible for your friend to think about taking their own life. If you believe this to be true, act immediately and talk to them about your concern. Ask for help from a mental health professional and let their family and close friends know about the risk. Create a safe environment around them and make sure they don’t have medications or weapons at hand. If the risk for suicide is high, call 911 and do not leave the person on their own.

Often the holiday season is seen as a wonderful time of the year, however that doesn’t have the same joyous impact on everyone. People struggling with mental health issues and unaccepting families may find the holiday season quite difficult to manage and at times, triggering. The media portrays the holidays as a magical season where families get together around the tree, sing carols, and share laughter. The pressure to rise to the expectations of the season combined with the stress of family gatherings may bring mental health struggles to the surface.

Additionally, people who spend the holidays alone may experience increased feelings of loneliness and sadness when faced with society’s “demand” to have a joyous time. While many enjoy making holiday plans, 64% of people living with mental health conditions report that the holiday season makes their mental conditions worse.


Spending time with family can turn into a very stressful time and become a source of anxiety, especially for members of the LGBTQ community. Many LGTBQ and non-binary individuals are exposed to homophobic and transphobic sentiments and rejection by family members throughout the year and may be exacerbated during family reunions. Family time may become a reminder of feeling “othered” by your family. Feeling “othered” by family can increase feelings of loneliness and depression. And even if members of the LGBTQ community choose not to return home for the holidays, the expectation of spending the holidays with family in a cheerful setting may loom over them which can increase feelings of anxiety and depression.

Even people who have no history of mental health challenges may at times experience anxiety, frustration, sadness, fatigue, and loneliness around holiday time, particularly when associated with the COVID-19 crisis. Whether you are living with a mental health challenge or not, the holiday season can bring an immense amount of stress. Here are some helpful tips on how to manage through the holiday season:

No matter how you may feel, change is possible!

We'll work side by side to uncover the challenges and patterns that keep you from living the life you desire.


Acknowledge your feelings

Every holiday season has a different emotional charge. Take a step back and analyze your emotions. Listen to your mind and soul and see what they need to feel better. Is the holiday spirit reservoir empty? That is fine. Accept that this year you lack the enthusiasm and capacity to get all caught up in the traditional cheeriness. Happiness can’t be forced! Embrace your emotions and remember that you are not alone in feeling this way.

Bring a Reminder with you

If you are at a family event that may bring added stress, bring something with you. This could be a picture of a loved one, an essential oil to ground you when overwhelmed, a piece of paper with a mantra on it, a funny animal video online, etc. Step away at times and look at these reminders.

woman in therapy

Communicate with your partner ahead of time

If you are bringing someone with you to a holiday event create a plan ahead of time regarding the type of support you may need. It’s important to strategize in order for you to feel support, connection, and security. Remember that you are on the same team as your significant other. If you feel you need to leave an event early or buy one less gift it’s important for your partner to be supportive and attuned to your needs.

Be realistic about shopping and hosting

Ask others to help with the burdens of holiday shopping, decorating the house, and cooking meals. Spend only the money you can afford to avoid the stress of having to think about ways to save money next year to cover the debt. Don’t sacrifice your mental health for the sake of appearances. Admit if you can’t afford to buy presents this year. No one will judge you. And even if they would, your mental health is more important than anyone’s opinion.

woman sitting drinking coffee

Be honest with yourself and connect with a safe community

If possible, try to avoid forced celebrations that you do not feel comfortable attending. Be gentle and kind to yourself, and don’t force unrealistic expectations. Connect with your loved ones, your support group, a therapist, or simply start a conversation with some of your friends. A simple walk with a friend can plant the seed of hope and joy you can experience in the years to come.

Avoid alcohol consumption

Alcohol may make you feel better in the moment, but it is known to be a depressant. Try to not rely on alcohol or drugs to make it through.. Both may only make your mental health condition worse. Numbing your feelings is not the only way to work through the holiday blues and manage your mental health needs. Alcohol can worsen your anxiety and depression.


Prioritize self-care

Include healthy habits in your schedule, and do not sacrifice them to make time for others. Your physical health is very important. Exercise, eat healthy meals, and try to relax as much as possible. If you need a break from all the merriness, take a break. Set healthy boundaries and take care of yourself. You can go out for a walk, watch a movie, practice deep breathing, or meditate. Whatever takes you back to yourself and helps you soothe your feelings of anxiety or stress! Remember that winter also comes with less sunlight and this may have an impact on your mood. Try to include outdoor exercise in your routine to get your share of natural light.

Be assertive (if safe to do so)

No one feels comfortable during tension created by conflicts and sometimes we avoid confrontations but sometimes, especially for LGBTQ and non-binary individuals, assertiveness may be necessary. CAUTION- assertiveness is only healthy to utilize if there are no safety concerns, please assess for any safety concerns first. If there are no safety concerns, here some helpful ways to be assertive. Speak up for yourself if you feel hurt by certain comments or you believe to be the victim of microaggressions, such as snubs or insults, regardless of whether they are intentional or unintentional. You do not need to change for anyone, and this should be your mantra. Set gentle yet firm boundaries to stop any potential toxicity. Repeat to yourself whenever necessary that you have the right to be who you are and you deserve everyone’s respect.


The concept of gender identity refers to how individuals perceive themselves, how they express themselves, and what terms they use to identify themselves. An individual in our society can identify as male, female, both, neither, or something more nuanced. Some societies around the world have even more options! Gender identities outside the binary may appear as a relatively new concept in Western society, but many societies and indigenous cultures have embraced more than two genders as well as their associated behaviors and expressions for many generations.

Gender identity has found its place in our contemporary vocabulary because of the urgent need for western societies to differentiate between biological sex – the one assigned at birth, and gender identity – the way people see and express themselves. One person might accept that their sex assignment and gender identity are the same (cisgender), or they might accept that these could be different (transgender). And that is natural!

In a society that sees beyond the gender binary system, there would be more terms that better express people’s lived experiences and they wouldn’t have to rely on big and ambiguous categories like gay or straight, transgender or cisgender, in daily life. These limiting terms were designed to enforce multiple binary systems that only allow for two sexes (male and female), two genders (man and woman), two gender expressions (masculine and feminine), and one sexuality (heterosexual, with homosexuality considered as an illness until the 1970s in the U.S.).

gender identity

Recently, western nations have had to accept that they could not erase or exclude people who exist outside of the binary forever, as advancements in technology have aided people in finding peers and communities all around the world. While the controversy over expanding the concept of gender identity seems rather new in the United States, and the need for accepting people who identify with alternative genders is dividing the so-called “progressive” countries of Europe and the U.S.A, other cultures have recognized more than two genders for centuries. However, many people do not know that. When colonization and imperialism started sweeping the globe these more nuanced and expansive categories of gender began to be oppressed and started to disappear.

Historically, western countries that were colonizing the world passed laws to punish individuals who did not fit neatly into the binary system of gender and sexuality used in many Christian/Catholic countries. More recently, as these nations have “progressed” they have had to pass new laws to confirm and protect the existence of genders outside the binary system, proving what many global communities have known all along! At the same time, they are also sending the message that non-binary genders now require protection because there are people refusing to accept them as societal norms and behaving in ways that are harmful to these communities.

The binary gender system is not a universal concept, and many cultures both contemporarily and historically had no issue embracing different genders and even bestowing high positions and elevating the status within their societies of non-binary individuals. Let’s take a quick trip around the world to learn about some of these gender identities!

No matter how you may feel, change is possible!

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The Two-Spirit people of North America


Native American cultures had found a place for non-binary individuals in their world many hundreds of years ago. The Guardian explains that in Native communities, people who identify as a different gender than the one attributed at birth are included in the category of two-spirit individuals. This is a word used to define intersex, terms that are roughly translated to mean half-male and half-female, female-male, and male-female. A two-spirited person is often considered to be a good omen. They can assume any of the social roles of men and women. In many Native communities two-spirit persons were well respected, considered divine, and often held ceremonial positions, conducting marriage ceremonies, peace talks between tribes, and carrying ancestral knowledge to share. It is normal for male-females to marry women and female-males to marry men.


We might see these marriages as gay marriages, but Native Americans do not consider these unions as such because of the existence of the two-spirit gender category. Contact with colonizers beginning as far back as the 15th century led to the ostracization of two-spirit people who were discriminated against and oppressed by Christian missionaries, who refused to negotiate or even acknowledge their existence as people and tribal representatives. Many two-spirit people lost their lives due to hostile interactions with colonizers. The term used to define two-spirited persons varies depending on the tribe where the individuals are born. The Zuni tribe, one of the many Native American tribes that have embraced this gender, calls a two-spirited person lhamana. The most famous lhamana was We’wha. We’wha was born in a male body, wore both men’s and women’s clothes, and performed mostly female roles, like cooking and gathering food.

Muxes in Mexico

Most muxes live in Oaxaca, Mexico. Muxes are individuals born in a male body who identify as neither male nor female. They may dress as women and adopt a “feminine” social role working, for example, in embroidery, hairstyling, or cooking, but there are also muxes who decide to pursue office careers or other professions. The Zapotec people recognize muxes as a third gender. Their name is derived from mujer, which means woman in Spanish, but muxes refuse to be identified as women or as gay, transgender, or bisexual.

In the Zapotec language, muxes is a gender-neutral noun, which makes it a bit more complicated when it comes to writing about them in a different language. Muxes are part of a culture with ancient traditions and are respected and celebrated in Oaxaca, during the Vela de las Intrepidas festival, as well as in Los Angeles, a city that has its own Muxe Vela.

Sekrata in Madagascar

The third gender of sekrata is widely accepted by the Sakalava people of Madagascar. A sekrata is a boy raised as a girl from a young age. Parents who notice their child exhibits feminine behavior decide to raise them as a girl and will not intervene in any way to contradict their behavior or personality. Sekratas are considered to be women in a man’s body due to their predominantly feminine characteristics. They identify, talk, and act like a woman, usually having long hair and wearing make-up and jewelry.

Sekrata in Madagascar

The sekrata are considered a gender category of its own – people who have a male body and identify as a female. The Sakalava people of Madagascar understand that having a third-gender child is natural. Sekratas usually avoid male associated roles like joining the army, often performing as dancers in tribal ceremonies. Moreover, they are believed to be sacred and have magical powers and they may be feared by people who follow the tradition associated with their existence.

Hijras in South Asia

Hijras have been considered a third gender in India for thousands of years and are mentioned in sacred Hindu writings. Moreover, the hijras have their own ancient language (Hijras Farsi) and were often associated with sacred powers. Hijras are individuals born males who don’t identify with the sex attributed at birth. Hijras have been legally recognized as the third gender in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

However, following British colonization, penal law changed in 1897, classifying hijras as criminals, and they have been marginalized by society. Many of them have abandoned their communities and have gone underground. Unfortunately, they continue to face discrimination in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh even after the British left. Society considers them outsiders and excludes them from various economic activities, while doctors refuse to treat them and police officers harass them. Despite their marginalization, the hijras continue to speak their own language and demonstrate that gender diversity is and has always been a natural part of society.


Fa’afafine and Fa’afatama in Samoa

The island of Samoa has males, females, and it also has two fluid gender roles: fa’afafine and fa’afatama. Samoan culture recognizes assigned at birth males who identify as females as fa’afafine and assigned at birth females who identify as males as fa’afatamas. The term “fa’afafine” is quite representative of the concept it defines since fa’a means “in the manner of” and fafine means “woman”.

The fa’afafines do not approve of being described as transgender or homosexual because these terms are often used to describe categories in binary systems, whereas there are four categories historically in Samoa. Fa’afafines assume the gender and sexual roles associated with women. In addition, they can have relationships with women, as well as other fa’afafines. The Samoan culture is open to many gender identities. Whether you identify as a fa’afafine, fa’afatama, male, female, neither, or fluctuate in your identity and/or expression, the Samoan culture accepts you as you are.

These are just a few examples of the many welcoming and diverse expressions of gender that exist around the world. You might see communities with three, four, five, or more recognized gender identities as you do your own research into the wonderful and nuanced world of gender.


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

Our world is incredibly diverse. No two humans are alike, and we do, after all, refer to each of us as individuals because we are unique! And this is a wonderful thing. Limiting this extraordinary world of uniqueness and individuality into only two categories simply isn’t enough anymore. We are becoming more in touch with our inner selves, and, fortunately, we are no longer afraid to speak out and be proud of who we really are. And that is why everyone should become familiar with the use of gender pronouns and integrate them into our “normal” everyday lives. Because being normal means being yourself and accepting others as themselves!

What are pronouns?

Gender pronouns are a linguistic tool that individuals use to communicate and describe others. You might say he loves to cook when talking about your dad or she is a great mechanic when talking about your mother. Pronouns help us accurately describe the people in our lives to others.

Before we get further into our discussion of pronouns, let’s start by focusing on the difference between biological sex and gender. Biological sex is based on physiological characteristics – or physical anatomy- that we often associate with our ideas of gender. Society tends to label people born with vaginas as female, people born with penises as male, or people born with a combination of physical traits as intersex, and this label is assigned at birth based on what genitals the doctor can physically see.

Gender is a spectrum

Gender, on the other hand, is a social construct, or the labels society uses to explain the expectations of the social and cultural roles assigned to biological sex and anatomy within a community. So, unlike biological sex, which is based on genitalia, physical development during puberty, and chromosome composition, gender is the way a person identifies or is expected to identify in relation to socially constructed roles and as a response to their environment. People who identify as the gender assigned to their anatomy are known as cisgender and people who don’t identify with the label society assigns may identify as a member of transgender or gender-nonconforming communities.

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Because many Western cultures and the English language have been using these terms interchangeably, it’s no surprise that gender is thought of in a binary way, becoming just as binary as biological sex to our society. However, we know this is not true; gender can be defined on a broad spectrum and is more complex than the binary labels society has been using. A person may identify within this gender spectrum or outside it at any point in their lives. For example, you may have heard the terms “tomboy” or “girly girl”, which society has used to describe different types of femininity. Or you might look at a bodybuilder and think he looks more manly than someone with less muscles. These words and thoughts let us know that there are many ways to express our gender, showing us that there are more than two ways to express ourselves.

LGBTQ progress flag

Gender is no longer a prisoner of the societal realms of “man” and “woman” that are based on genitalia. People are finding the words that work for them, some people may identify as nonbinary, transgender, genderqueer, gender fluid, or even gender-neutral. They can even change their gender identity over time, in a matter of hours, or over months or years. Gender identity is a combination of how we feel, how we see ourselves, and how we express ourselves to the outside world.

In other words, people can identify more closely with society’s expectations of being male or female, or even in between the two, or they may identify more with conventionally masculine expressions, feminine expressions, both, or in the middle, and simply switch between the two. Some people won’t express themselves in any way society can label, and that is a natural and healthy expression of identity too.

Persons who identify outside of society’s gender binary roles may prefer to use third-person pronouns or gender-neutral pronouns like they/them/their as singular, ze instead of she/he, and hir in place of his/him/her, and the list can go on with ve/ver, xe/xer, xie/xem, ze/zir and many more. These newer pronouns, like xe, ve, and ze are called neopronouns because they are new ways to help people be more accurately described. So, you may have a person in your life who wants you to use gender-neutral pronouns when you describe them or xem to others.


humans restroom sign

Why do pronouns matter?

Millennials and Gen Z are more open towards all forms of gender expression and they need society’s support to help develop and grow into healthy and happy human beings. Pronouns matter because they help people position themselves in their communities to be seen as they truly are. Using the correct pronoun encourages inclusion and makes people feel seen, respected, and valued. Our gender identities are important parts that help us build our self-confidence and self-worth, so it’s only natural for us all to grow as individuals when everyone else respects the way we see ourselves.

The Center for Suicide Prevention reports that nonbinary and transgender people are 2x as likely to think about suicide than the general population. And that’s, in part, because of being misgendered and/or misnamed, having a significant and serious impact on one’s mental health. It is very important for workplaces, educational institutions, and organizations to include and support the use of self-identified pronouns and first names. In California, a person’s pronouns are protected in the workplace under Title IX and employees have the right to expect appropriate pronouns will be used by colleagues.

Furthermore, it is healthier for people to never make assumptions about how people identify. The appearance or behavior of a person is not enough to make the correct assumption about a person’s gender in every situation. It is best to always ask people about their pronouns and in some cases, maybe even how they identify.

However, it also is important to respect people’s privacy, so it’s best to refrain from asking questions about one’s body and medical history without permission. According to Science Direct, using a person’s pronouns can and will significantly reduce their risk for depression and suicide, so our society should speed up the process of embracing all gender identities and give everyone a chance to be vocal.


youths on the phone

Why social media invites people to share their pronouns?

Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest have understood the importance of pronouns and in keeping up with the times, have rolled out profile features that allow their users to share their pronouns.

Instagram has a dedicated space for pronouns that gets displayed next to the user’s profile name. The feature is optional but has been welcomed by gender-neutral identified users. There are 41 pronouns on Instagram’s list and the company is planning to expand it. Their list was discussed and compiled following consultations with various LGBTQ organizations. Users also have the option to mix and match the available pronouns to better reflect their identity.

Facebook changed its options from just “male” and “female”, now offering users more than 50 different gender options to choose from, including non-binary and gender fluid. Moreover, users can choose the pronouns they identify with.

Another social media platform that respects its users and has understood the value and importance of gender identity is Pinterest. The platform allows users to add two sets of pronouns to their profiles from an extensive list that includes neopronouns.

Social media plays an important part in our lives and is often used as a way to express our originality, creativity, and uniqueness. It is only natural to allow users the possibility to also express their gender identity and offer them a space where they can be authentic and true to themselves. Consider sharing your pronouns on social media, and who knows, you might help someone finally feel like they can share their own.


girl on social media

The world has already changed. We’re just waiting for our language to reflect that!

It is no longer uncommon to see personal pronouns in email signatures of employees and social media bios; this can only lead to more inclusive cultures and hopefully, the end of harmful gendered language. It costs absolutely nothing to add your personal pronouns in your email signature and it takes little time, but for gender minorities, that pronoun line can make a big difference. This is one step towards crushing the ignorance and fear that attempts to diminish and further marginalize gender minorities in our society.

The presence of gender-neutral pronouns in social media and organizations encourages discussion around gender identity and, more importantly, normalizes the idea that the world has room for everyone and not just cisgender people.

The world has always had more than two genders. and many societies around the world have historically welcomed and embraced transgender and nonbinary members of the community. The faster we accept this as a norm in our society, the sooner we will be able to build a healthier world where everyone is included and appreciated regardless of their gender identity, gender expression, or s. A world that treats gender minorities with respect and encourages everyone to tell their story is a happier, healthier world with fewer mental health risks.

As current generations open the dialogue about mental health issues, the word trauma keeps popping up in conversations. We keep hearing it so often that, I’m concerned at some point, most people will get used to it and trivialize it. We should never be dismissive of trauma. Unfortunately, 70 percent of U.S. adults have experienced trauma, of which, 20 percent developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With this prevalence of trauma, it has become for many, an unseen life companion casting a shadow over their wellbeing.

Undiagnosed and untreated trauma ravages people’s mental health despite an appearance of high functionality and an “everything is fine” facade. They may be a seemingly innocuous occurrence away from having all the emotions associated with past traumatic experiences resurface. Without any warning and usually without explanations.

What is trauma and how do you identify it?

Psychological trauma is an emotional response to a stressful event or events that interfere with one’s sense of security and safety. Trauma is the consequence of terrible events like sexual assault and other forms of abuse, accidents, natural disasters, or wars. It can cause a variety of emotional symptoms like:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Confusion
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Nightmares
  • Lack of trust
  • Inability to focus

But it can also trigger physical symptoms, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Digestive issues
  • Body aches
  • Nausea

Woman crying

It is important to remember that not everyone who experiences traumatic events develops trauma. Nevertheless, different types of trauma can manifest in a variety of ways:

Acute trauma – the result of a single distressing or potentially harmful event that creates a long-term impression and manifests itself through one or several trauma-specific symptoms.

Chronic trauma – the result of repeated or prolonged exposure to toxic stress and highly stressful events, such as bullying, domestic violence, and childhood abuse. Untreated acute trauma may develop into chronic trauma.

Complex trauma – the result of constant exposure to multiple traumatic events, usually negative experiences within interpersonal relationships, such as neglect, domestic violence, childhood abuse.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will experience rape at some point in their lives, and 12% of these women and 30% of these men were younger than ten years old when the aggression happened. The impact of trauma in children can last for a lifetime. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and addictions, and it can prevent people from accessing proper healthcare services. That is why the need for trauma-informed care is imperative and essential for patient wellbeing.

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What is a trauma-informed care approach?

Trauma-informed care acknowledges that the patient may have suffered trauma in the past and creates a safe environment when providing the necessary healthcare services. Healthcare providers need to build trauma awareness and create a deep understanding of trauma at each organizational level, including employees that don’t have a medical role but still interact with patients. The goal of trauma-informed care is to allow the medical establishment to provide optimal treatment strategies while preventing any possible re-traumatization that may stop patients from seeking care in the future.

When treating a client in a trauma-informed environment, healthcare professionals focus on understanding what happened to the patient instead of what is wrong with them. The therapist, nurse, or doctor doesn’t necessarily ask the patient to talk about the traumatic events they have experienced or adverse childhood experiences, but when in the presence of symptoms of trauma, they should assume the patient may have a history of trauma and act accordingly. Healthcare professionals need to create an environment that exudes emotional safety and inspires trust.

sad face

Trauma-informed systems may improve patient engagement and treatment adherence to encourage better health outcomes. When treating patients in trauma-informed organizations, the medical care team considers the complete picture of a patient’s life and provides a treatment process that centers around comprehensive healing.

What are the principles of trauma-informed care?

Trauma-informed care demands broad organizational culture change. It needs to be adopted at clinical and organizational levels and offer staff access to knowledge about trauma and the effects of trauma. Everyone from the front desk workers to the medical staff should familiarize themselves with the principles of trauma and work together to provide a safe environment for patients. The foundation of trauma-informed care has six principles:


Patients should feel physical, emotional, and psychological safety when they are in the care of medical professionals. Both the interior and exterior of the medical organizations should inspire safety (e.g., enough space for patients to avoid sitting too close to strangers, well-lit parking lot, security guards close by to offer protection, nurses open to interact and address concerns).

Trustworthiness and transparency

Nurses should create a transparent environment and build a relationship based on trust. Decisions and the reasons behind them should be discussed and made openly and the care process should be explained in detail to patients.

Peer support

The medical staff must learn and understand various traumatic conditions and the effects of trauma. They need to acknowledge that their patients may have suffered exposure to trauma that prevents them from being open about their health issues and understand their needs. Medical professionals who have experience with certain types of trauma may be able to establish a connection with patients with similar trauma and approach the patient as a “peer”.


Patients should be a part of the conversation when it comes to their healthcare. Therapists, nurses, doctors, and medical organizations should work together with the patients to deliver the best treatment plans. In an environment of trauma-informed care based on mutuality, patients get to participate in healthcare decisions and feel a sense of security that enables them to trust the treatment and follow it through in their daily life.


An organization that delivers healthcare services based on trauma-informed principles gives patients a voice – a voice to tell their stories and have a say in healthcare decisions that concern them.

Cultural Issues

For trauma-informed care to be efficient, the medical professionals and staff members need to identify and eliminate any potential cultural, racial, or gender issues. Biases and stereotypes based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc. should be recognized and addressed to create a more comfortable environment for patients who have had traumatic experiences. The patient’s cultural needs should be accommodated so that they feel seen, heard, and understood.


Trauma-informed care encourages getting proper healthcare and achieving healing through compassion and open-mindedness. Trauma-informed organizations treat all patients as individuals with a past and present and personalize their care approach to echo their unique needs encouraging them to return to benefit from proper healthcare.

“Take a deep breath!” How many times have you heard this whenever you were feeling anxious, stressed, worried, or even annoyed. So many people around us encourage us to take deep breaths, but why? Why is deep breathing important for our emotional health? How does deep breathing help us calm down and regain control over our minds? Can deep breathing really help us with our emotions?

We breathe in and breathe out all day, every day. We’re not thinking about it and we surely don’t see breathing as a self-care activity. It comes naturally because it is our source of life. But how many times do we stop to take deep breaths? Deep breaths have the power to help us through the claws of tension, stress, and anxiety.

Why is deep breathing important?

Deep breathing practice is one of the tools humans have to improve their mental and physical health. Deep breathing techniques can help us reduce our stress levels, combat anxiety, lower our blood pressure, and even improve our posture. No drugs, no expensive aids involved or required. Just deep breaths!

breathing practice


Also known as diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing, deep breathing is often connected to meditation and relaxation techniques. Even though it is one of the ways to work on various mental health conditions and a powerful tool against stress, deep breathing is rarely used to its full potential.

When you take a deep breath, you breathe in air through your nose, fill your lungs, and your lower belly rises. Not many people enjoy the feeling of having a belly full of air. However, chest breathing to maintain a flat stomach limits the diaphragm’s range of motion. This deprives the lower part of the lungs of oxygen and can lead to shortness of breath and higher levels of tension and anxiety.

When we take deep breaths, we increase the amount of oxygen we take in and the amount of carbon dioxide we let out. And this has numerous benefits for our mental and physical health.

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How can deep breathing help your mental health?

The main benefit of deep breathing is the impact it has on our stress level responsible for so many of our health problems. Harvard Health explains that stressful thoughts are usually associated with the “fight or flight” response when faced with what our brain interprets as danger. The stress response results in an adrenaline burst that creates increased blood pressure and heart rate. This may often result in shortness of breath and shallow breathing.

man taking deep breaths

While the stress response has its purpose in times of real danger, when it appears often as a result of generalized anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, it can cause harm to your body. That’s because your body doesn’t know the difference between real and perceived threats, and it always reacts as if it were in real danger. This leads to daily adrenaline bursts and an increased level of stress.

Deep breathing techniques can help you reverse the stress response by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. Moreover, it calms your mind and induces a relaxation state.

How can deep breathing improve your physical health?

People who master the art of deep breathing enjoy a series of physical health benefits. Deep breathing helps improve core muscle stability and allows the body to better tolerate intense exercise. It’s an important tool for athletes who learn various deep breathing techniques to improve their stamina and increase energy levels.

Deep breathing can also lower the chances of your muscles wearing out. Breathing exercises help with the release of the air buildup in your lungs and allow for more oxygen to get to your blood. Moreover, studies show that deep breathing triggers the release of endorphins that help alleviate pain and, according to Smithsonian Magazine, can even improve immunity and digestion due to healthier blood flow.

couple doing breath exercises

Deep breathing is often recommended for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The disease decreases the diaphragm’s efficiency and affects oxygen intake. With the right breathing exercises, people suffering from COPD can strengthen their diaphragm’s muscle and help the lungs regain their elasticity. More elastic lungs facilitate diaphragmatic breathing and combat the tendency to stick to shallow breathing.

What are the most popular deep breathing techniques?

Deep breathing may feel unnatural at first. We are used to shallow breathing, and we’ll need to practice to learn how to allow the air to fill our lungs and belly. The most popular type of deep breathing requires you to breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth.

Sit in a comfortable position. Put a hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Breathe in calmly, through your nose, for about five seconds. Feel the air traveling through your nostrils to the abdomen. Allow for your stomach to expand outward while trying to keep your chest still. Hold this breath in for three seconds and then slowly release the air through your mouth for five seconds or more if that feels comfortable. Follow this breathing pattern five times or more.


Woman doing yoga


The 4-7-8 breathing technique adds counting to the steps mentioned above allowing you to gain more control of your breathing. Inhale while counting to four, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then exhale while counting to eight. Use your hand to push the air out of your stomach. Repeat the pattern for as long as you consider it to be necessary to achieve a calm state of mind.

You can also try rib-stretch breathing. For this exercise, you need to stand up straight with your back arched. Breathe out until you get tired, and then inhale the air slowly and gradually. Breathe in as much air as you can. Hold your breath for 10 seconds. Release the air slowly through your mouth.

Deep breathing should always be slow and gentle. Don’t be afraid to fill your abdomen with air. Keep your hands on your stomach and chest. Make sure your stomach is rising, and pay attention to your breath and heartbeat. Be aware of everything that happens in your body.

Remember though that sometimes deep breathing may not be enough for your mental health in order to feel better. Sometimes they need guidance from professionals who can help them externalize their most intimate fears and manage their emotions. This is when deep breathing techniques should be associated with therapy and counseling. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! You are not alone!

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

Access and adherence to medication also known as antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV/AIDS has allowed for people diagnosed to obtain undetectable viral loads, stay healthy, and live long fulfilling lives. Sadly, there are still many who are unable to access life-saving medical care and medication due to potential cost, fear, and potential lack of education or awareness around access.

In the United States, Health Care Providers can be very expensive. When contemplating the cost of a treatment plan and treatment services, most individuals will turn to their insurance provider. If you have insurance, it’s a great option for staying current with your health care provider. But sometimes insurance doesn’t cover all types of medical interventions.

It’s for this reason that we’ve compiled a list of important resources you can use to pay for the various types of care you might need if you are living with HIV/AIDS.

HIV Medical Care

Medical care (Medical Appts)

If you have insurance through an employer or purchase insurance on your own:

Health Insurance Premium Payment

  • Obtaining insurance on your own– If you’re eligible for insurance and make above the federal poverty level you can apply for Obama Care/Covered California and obtain an HMO or PPO insurance. If you make under $64,400 as a single you qualify for OA-HIPP through ADAP (AIDS Drug Assistance Program) which can assist with monthly premiums.
  • Obtaining insurance through your employer- If you make under $64,400 as a single you qualify for EB-HIPP through ADAP which can assist with monthly premiums.
    • Your employer is not required to know your status. Your portion of the insurance premium payments are sent directly to the employer on a monthly basis.

To find an agency that helps with ADAP enrollment Visit
To obtain additional information about ADAP visit the California Department of Health here.

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State and federally funded medical insurance programs:

Medi-Cal (California)

Making under the federal poverty level- you qualify for Medi-Cal insurance and all medical appts, specialists, and medications are at zero cost. As well, Medi-Cal is free. Medi-cal enrollment can be done online or through a benefits specialist.


If you are over the age of 65 or have certain disabilities before the age of 65 you qualify for medicare. To find out more about Medicare go to or go to your local Social Security Office.

Ineligible for Medi-Cal, undocumented, or Underinsured

  • If you are undocumented or do not have access to medical insurance but are HIV positive, you qualify for Ryan White (AOM), which pays for all medical appts related to HIV and specialists if related to HIV. Assistance with applying for Ryan White can be found on FindHivCare.
  • If you are uninsured or underinsured and need a specialty referral, you may qualify for Los Angeles County CHAIN, Medical Subspecialty Services Referral Program, which covers certain outpatient specialty consultations and outpatient surgeries and procedures for patients with HIV/AIDS-related health conditions. For more information, visit CHAIN.


Financial assistance with Medication to keep your viral load undetectable

  • ADAP: If you are only eligible for Ryan White services, you may sign up for ADAP to help cover the cost of medication. HIV medications are covered through ADAP as well as other classes of medications not necessarily related to HIV.
  • Patient Access Programs – These are programs for people that do not qualify for ADAP that assist with medication financial assistance. Ask at your pharmacy. Most pharmaceutical manufacturers have co-pay cards to assist with high co-pays to medication, or patient support programs for those who are ineligible for ADAP or may be lapsing medication assistance for whatever reason.

Additional information about HIV medication coverage can be found at

Mental health care for HIV

Mental Health Support for HIV/AIDs Patients

Clearly, having access to the medications you need is a major priority, but your medications alone don’t constitute the complete care many individuals might need. HIV can also take a toll on your emotional well-being. The National Institute of Mental Health states that people living with HIV/AIDS are at higher risk for mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and cognitive disorders. It’s important to remember when looking for a therapist to make sure they are HIV/AIDS affirming in how they work with clients.

I have compiled a list of agencies in the Los Angeles area that are well educated and HIV/AIDS affirming and offer no charge or sliding scale therapy. Many of these agencies have been working with people diagnosed with HIV for over twenty years. It’s imperative that you work with a clinician or agency that has inclusive health care services. Many of these agencies assist with applying for ADAP and Medi-Cal.


As with any disease, getting the care you need is paramount. The financial challenges can be significant, but as you can see there are a plethora of resources that can help reduce out-of-pocket costs. Being diagnosed with HIV is understandably overwhelming. With the diagnosis come a lot of new responsibilities, conversations, treatments, and decisions. At times like these, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. There are many organizations in this article brimming with people who have answers and are happy to help. In the end, you’ll see that though it might seem initially overwhelming, you’re not alone, you will get through this, and likely meet new and amazing people along the way. If you have any other questions about the services, resources, and organizations listed here, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d be happy to help you any way I can.