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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.

As our society evolves and understands that behind the concept of awakening hides, in fact, our truth and the only path to mental health, more and more people dare to share their stories. Stories that shatter prejudice and stomp over social constructs meant to imprison them. Stories that enlighten and open minds. Stories that start conversations!

One of the most recent conversations that may have raised some eyebrows but allowed individuals to share their truth is about polyamory. Polyamorous individuals have pleaded for their right to live outside the norms of monogamy and find happiness in their own way, even if this means going against traditional beliefs and a rigid view of love.

Social constructs like monogamy and marriage, deeply rooted in our culture and mentality, should no longer be universally accepted truths. They are not and never have been the only way to achieve emotional fulfillment and sexual satisfaction. They are just two choices on the vast spectrum of types of relationships. Polyamory is simply another choice, not an exception from the rule. Polyamory is another possible path individuals can choose in their journey to find themselves and experience a fulfilling union with other people.

holding hands

What is polyamory?

Polyamory comes from the Greek word “poly” which means “many or several” and the Latin word “amor” which means “love”. Included under the umbrella term of “consensual non monogamy,” polyamory is a type of relationship that involves loving more than one person at a time. A polyamorous person is in consenting relationships with multiple people with the full knowledge of all parties involved.

Polyamorous individuals can be heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Polyamorous relationships can include combinations of married and non-married couples, as well as people of different sexual orientations. While polyamory is not considered to be a sexual orientation per se, thus polyamorous families can’t benefit from the protected statute provided to protect against employment and housing discrimination, some polyamorous individuals claim they identify polyamory as their sexual orientation.

Seen as a lifestyle choice by many polyamorous couples, polyamory should not be confused with polygamy, which means having more than one spouse, nor with swinging in which monogamous couples have casual sexual experiences with people in other couples. Furthermore, polyamory is not an “open relationship” where partners are allowed to have other sexual partners without necessarily disclosing information regarding their sexual activity outside the couple.

women smiling

What are the rules of polyamory?

Since polyamory is a form of expression of one’s true self and a way to establish a rewarding and fulfilling emotional connection with other individuals, there are no set rules for polyamory, just like there are no rules on how to love someone. While monogamy is fulfilling for a lot of people and marriage perfectly encapsulates their idea of love, these constructs may seem daunting, boring, or unattainable to others, simply because some persons need more than one sexual and/or romantic partner to feel fulfillment.

If there would be one rule polyamorous people should follow, it is the absolute need for honesty. Polyamory does not base itself on cheating, infidelity, adultery, or deception. It is a form of ethical non-monogamy founded on love, respect, and honesty. Polyamorous relationships can be as unique as the parties involved are, and every polyamorous relationship can have its own approach.

With more than 21 percent of people in the United States reporting they have engaged in consensual nonmonogamy at some point, it is fair to say that polyamory is not an extravagance or whim. Nevertheless, although it may be a life choice for some, for others it may be just a phase that allows them to better know themselves, understand their needs and expectations from their partners, and improve their monogamous relationships.

couple who love each other

Types of polyamory relationships

Since polyamory is a concept meant to allow individuals to go beyond the misconceptions of love’s “best practices”, polyamorous partners can shape their relationships as they wish. The polyamorous community has no models of what the perfect polyamorous partnership should look like. Polyamorous individuals can shape their romantic relationships to echo their needs and psychological well-being, as long as their partnership is based on honest communication and the relationship agreement is clear for all parties involved.

That said, polyamory can take various forms that may change in time as individuals evolve and want to readjust their relationship style. While most poly relationships involve a married couple who openly and consensually start independent or joint relationships outside their primary relationship, some polyamorous individuals have independent, separate relationships. Below you’ll find some of the most common types of polyamory:

Hierarchical poly – a hierarchical polyamorous relationship between a “primary” couple and “secondary” partners.

Triad – a relationship with three people where two people are dating a third one or just one of the people is dating two different people.

Throuple – a form of a triad where all the three people are involved with each other intimately; they may or may not live together, but they are committed to each other.

Quad – a relationship with four people that may involve two polyamorous couples or simply four individuals having romantic or intimate relationships with one another.

relationship of four

Kitchen table polyamory – all parties are emotionally connected in a family-like network without all being necessarily romantically involved.

Polycule – a network of people who are romantically connected – different combinations between primary and secondary partners.

Solo polyamory – an individual who has multiple emotional connections and/or sexual relationships with multiple partners but wants to keep their single lifestyle and prefers not to have a primary partner.

What challenges lie ahead for polyamorous individuals?

The reasons people abandon monogamous relationships and explore the world of polyamory are varied. Some may choose consensual non-monogamous relationships as a way to grow and find their voice. Some may feel fulfilled only when involved with multiple partners. Regardless of the reason, polyamorous relationships just like monogamous relationships come with their own shares of challenges.

relationship of three

There is no correct way of being in a polyamorous relationship, as there is no right way to be a polyamorous person to achieve the desired emotional intimacy and sexual connections you are longing for. However, the need for clear boundaries and open communication for all parties involved has proved to be essential for both the individuals’ well-being and the success of relationships.

Nonmonogamous and polyamorous relationships may prove to be more complex than expected, and some individuals may struggle and experience emotional challenges. To ensure a healthy polyamorous relationship and promote an emotionally-balanced environment for all parties involved to find happiness inside the relationship, polyamorous individuals would benefit from:

Setting boundaries

Emotional and physical boundaries help shape the dynamic of the relationship(s). The parties involved should establish their polyamorous status with others, decide on the amount of time they spend with each other, and agree on what they divulge about their relationship with the outside world. Furthermore, boundaries should address the type of intimacy allowed, as well as the limits of each partner’s sexual freedom.

Communicating effectively

Communication is key for polyamorous people looking to get the most out of their emotional relationship with their partners. Any relationship expert will insist on the importance of communicating your needs, feelings, and expectations to your partner, and this applies to all types of romantic relationships. Jealousy is a real feeling, and it will, at times, appear in a poly relationship. Instead of hiding it and allowing it to turn into resentment, you need to express it and manage it in a healthy way. If this can’t be achieved on your own, a relationship therapist may provide the right tools to channel it into more productive thoughts.

happy relationship

Supporting each other

People who enter polyamorous relationships should do so with an open heart and mind. Their relationship will benefit greatly from learning how to support one another and showing respect and courtesy. Talk openly and honestly with each of your partners. This will allot for vulnerability and greater connection.

 

As many around the world are becoming aware of inclusiveness in our society, there is more awareness to be spread, especially when it comes to the importance of the International Transgender Day of Visibility.

This day in particular not only brings awareness to those who identify as transgender but is also an event that allows the world to hear the stories of transgender people who have dealt with significant challenges. These stories include instances of discrimination and violence against trans people.

If you or someone you know may be transgender, the International Transgender Day of Visibility is an important and significant day. While some may not be supportive of those in the LGBTQIA community, fortunately, many are.

Let’s discuss the International Transgender Day of Visibility further.

March 31 is International Transgender Day of Visibility

The first-ever International Transgender Day of Visibility was held in 2009. Since then, the event has taken place every March 31. This is a day of recognition of the achievements of the transgender community, as well as one of the annual events that bring awareness regarding the struggles transgender people face daily.

Transgender flag

It is also a time to celebrate those who identify as transgender or non-binary. Transgender folks and gender non-binary people should be included in all of society. Even today, members of the transgender community still face discrimination and stigma.

Thse individuals carry the burden of discrimination and stigma in multiple facets of life, from employment and education to housing opportunities and so on.  International Transgender Day of Visibility is a day where those in the LGBTQ community and cisgender allies encourage our government officials to pass legislation that will raise awareness around discrimination against trans people and protect the transgender community.

It’s also a time to remember those who lost their lives due to violence because of their identity as transgender individuals. Many of those victims are transgender women of color. Advocates from around the world are continuing to become the voice for those who continue to fight for equality for transgender and non-binary individuals.

Love conquers hate

Transgender people continue to face harassment and violence for their identity. It is important that society mobilizes to help these individuals lives without fear of discrimination and violence.

Unfortunately, the epidemic of violence against transgender people continues. We must do our part to make sure they are protected accordingly. It is also important that every transgender activist do their part to stop anti-transgender bills that are being discussed by state government officials.

transgender community

If you are transgender or know someone who is, remember that there are therapy services   available to help trans* and gender non-binary indivuals  Wile you may feel scared, alone, and ulovable, I want you know you matter.  You’ll find a compassionate, understanding, and nurturing therapist here. My aim is to help you embrace who you are and feel well cared for. 

A Proclamation on International Transgender Day of Visibility, 2021

On March 31, 2021, President Joe Biden officially declared March 31 as International Transgender Day of Visibility. The proclamation stated that it celebrates the achievements and resiliency of transgender individuals. It also stated the challenges that transgender individuals still face including harassment, discrimination, and even deadly violence.

The Biden-Harris Administration is advocating to stamp out discrimination and provide freedom and equality for all. It remains to be seen what kind of work will be done. Until then, it is important that we continue to speak in favor and advocate for the trans community. Trans people must and should be a part of society as citizens and nothing less than that. They need to be treated with dignity and respect.

Wear and Show Your Pride of the Trans* Community

Whether you are a member of the transgender community or an ally, it is important everyday but especially on March 31 that you show your pride and support of the trans* community.  Allies of the trans community must call their local legislation and advocate for the removal of anti-trans bills. They must also be vocal about their support of the trans community anywhere from their social circle to their work to their families.  The trans* community needs the cisgender communities support and advocacy.  

transgender couple

HRC Honors International Transgender Day of Visibility

Every year, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) honors the transgender community on the International Transgender Day of Visibility. The organization hosts an annual summit aimed at providing justice and advocacy for those in the transgender community.

Their goal is to ensure that no anti-transgender bills currently discussed across several states get passed. The HRC believes that these bills are not at the request of their constituents but rather used for political purposes to further an agenda of hate.

They are often created by government officials on the far right. Many people – including many supporters of former President Donald Trump – have voiced their disapproval for such legislation to be passed.

In about four states, such bills have been sent to their respective Governors. The fate of these bills is yet to be known. For the time being, many hope the executives make the right choice and reject the policies that would lead to further discrimination and pave the way for more invisibility in the transgender community.

transgender day

Final Thoughts

International Transgender Day of Visibility is a day where we celebrate the transgender community. It is also a time when we remember those who have lost their lives in senseless tragedies because of their identity. Take a moment to listen to the stories of the people in the transgender community.

You can do that every day of the year! You too can do your part to make sure transgender individuals live a life where they can be free of fear and enjoy the same rights as everyone else.

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.

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.

psychologist

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.