When I was a kid, the holidays were my favorite time of the year. The season was a time of celebration, belly laughs, delicious roast turkey, and going sledding until dark.

I loved decorating the house with glittery accessories, blasting the radio as I hung up the lights, and sneaking warm sugar cookies (meant for a later party) while they cooled.

Back then, I thought the holidays would always be magical, but things changed.

After I came out as Queer and finally started living my truth, I wasn’t met with understanding. Mom gave me the cold shoulder, my aunt called me a sinner, and Dad couldn’t find many words to say at all.

Coming out was hard, but the grief after facing heterosexism during what used to be my favorite time of the year was even harder.

As a Queer woman who’s the older sister to a transwoman, I’ve had to differently navigate the holiday season more than once. This year, it’s going to be different.

For the first time, I’m opting out of seeing certain family members who refuse to respect who I am.

My experience is just one of many — many Queer folks navigate tough emotions and situations around holiday time for varied reasons. According to The Trevor Project, while call rates dip on days like Christmas Eve, they’ve noticed a spike in call volume for the two days immediately after a holiday.

I won’t lie, it’s tough. But, there are ways to cope and thrive, including creating your chosen family — a group comprised of people we decide to spend time with because they make us feel valid in who we are and provide us with a tremendous amount of support and joy.

One of the most beautiful things about being a part of LGBTQIA communities is that we get to decide who’s within this group, and it can be a blend of related family members and friends, like mine happens to be.

Here are the five ways I’ve chosen to thrive with my chosen family during the holiday season.

Over the past four years after coming out, I’ve tried navigating my family during the holidays in a few ways, including having shorter visits and seeing fewer people.

But this year, I only want to be around people who accept me for who I am. I’m choosing me and spending my holiday season celebrating instead of feeling like I’m stepping back into the closet.

One of the first ways to do this is to set boundaries. It can feel scary, but there are a few ways to effectively approach doing so.

Choose How You’d Like To Communicate Your Boundaries

Think about who you’d like to discuss your boundaries and needs with and the best to do so.

Should you send a text? Talk in-person? Write a letter?

Any of these options could be viable depending on who’s on the receiving end. For example, I’ve found that my mom often talks over me. I try to share with her and I end up listening to her talk about herself instead.

So, my plan is to make a phone call, and make a list of what I’d like to ensure I say prior to. At the beginning, I’ll respectfully ask her to let me get my points across before she responds.

Set Time Constraints

Holiday gatherings can be all day (or even several day) events. It’s easy to feel guilty for ducking out, but it’s totally okay to shorten your trip.

Consider only staying at grandma’s house for a couple of hours, or going over during a time when fewer people will be there.

Last year, I only went by my parent’s house on Christmas Eve for a few hours. It helped me feel like I had an exit plan, which FOLX Health recommends creating if you do decide to go.

Decide On Comfortable Locations

Revisiting places that we experienced hurt or trauma can be triggering. For a lot of Queer folks, these places often include places in your hometown, including where you grew up or where family currently resides.

If you’re making plans to travel but this may be the case for you, try to make arrangements to stay elsewhere. Family may want you to stay with everyone else, but it’s okay to make decisions based on your own comfort and well-being.

Map out your plans ahead of time, and consider staying at a hotel or at a friend’s house nearby the place you’re visiting.

Choose Who To Spend The Holidays With

You already know who you don’t want to see this holiday season. Take some time to figure out who you do want to spend the holidays with.

Maybe it’s friends who are traveling on Thanksgiving day, for example. Plan a Friendsgiving with them the week before.

Have a partner you’ve been seeing for a little while? Talk to them about what their plans are and come up with a plan that leaves room for you to celebrate together.

And, if sitting by the fire with a hot chocolate for some quiet by yourself is what feels right, it’s okay to make time for that too.

When it comes to separating yourself from previous traditions and relatives, there’s no expectation to be without tough feelings, even if you know that taking a step back is what’s best for you.

You might have days where you’re content with spending the holidays with your chosen family, but you may also have moments when you feel crushed that you won’t get to spend the holidays in the house you once called home.

It’s okay to go through some moments of grief connected to not seeing your family in the same ways, regardless of how long you’ve been doing it.

If you do spend time somewhere you aren’t comfortable, you might feel sad about having to hide parts of yourself you’ve come to love.

When it comes to my mom not wanting to be a part of my Queer joy, I often feel like I’ve accepted that’s where she is right now. But, there are other times when I feel lost and disappointed because my mom used to be my best friend.

Whether it be guilt, grief, anger, or sadness, whatever emotions you’re experiencing are valid.

Let yourself feel them instead of pushing them away or trying to change them. You don’t have to rush through the grief acceptance process — motions come in waves, and that’s okay.

This could be a great time to lean into your chosen family and share what you’re feeling. I like to talk to my partner or sibling about what I’m feeling because they get it.

Process What You’re Feeling

If you’d rather opt to process the experience with folks outside of your friend group, especially if it’s connected to previous trauma, you could reach out to a mental health professional.

They can support you in not only naming what you’re going through but how to navigate the feelings the next time they arise.

The Trevor Project recommends creating affirmations to repeat to yourself during times of stress and discomfort — they can help remind you why your boundaries and choices are necessary.

Other options for processing include journaling, making art, listening to music, or moving your body in a way that feels good to you.

When you have a quiet moment, take time to reflect on your accomplishments.

Coming out and dealing with heterosexist family members is hard — you deserve to celebrate who you are and how far you’ve come. Even when you feel less anxious about seeing judgmental family members or opting to stay at home, your heart might still feel heavy.

Think of those who unconditionally support you and love you for who you are. This could be those chosen family members, other friends, partner(s), or your therapist.

You can reach out to your support system whenever you need a reminder about the importance of centering yourself.

Centering yourself and making choices about how and who to spend your holidays with can be great first steps to thriving this holiday season.

These choices can include boundary setting and allowing yourself room to feel all of your emotions, in addition to giving yourself room for things to shift and evolve.

I try to remind myself that my decision not to spend time with certain family members this year doesn’t have to be a decision set in stone.

Allow yourself some flexibility. There’s no obligation to keep people who have harmed you around, but if it feels okay to you, it’s okay to keep an open mind to the possibilities of people and circumstances changing.

Consider these steps to help make your yuletide gay and lead you to all the cheer you deserve this year.

Ready for a calm and stress-free holiday? Check out Healthline’s Season of Self-Care, your go-to destination for the latest must-have health and wellness gifts for your loved ones – and you!