Anxiety around coming out as LGBTQ+
These days, it’s not unusual to see people on TV shows telling others about their sexual orientation or gender identity, and coming out is often portrayed as a largely positive experience. For many, it will be – but that doesn’t mean you won’t feel anxious about taking the step. There’s a lot to think about: who to tell and when, how to do it, how much to say, what questions they’ll ask. You may be concerned that people will see you differently, or react badly to your news.
Feeling nervous or anxious about coming out is normal. This is a really big moment in your life, and it requires courage even if you’re surrounded by supportive friends, family and colleagues.
Anxiety is a natural response to a potentially stressful situation. It can have both physical and emotional aspects – you might notice you have a racing heart, shaking legs or rapid breathing for example. This is our body’s way of making sure we’re ready to take action if we’re faced with a challenge or danger; the brain floods the body with stress hormones, including adrenaline, and tells the heart to pump more blood to the muscles. This can make our breathing speed up, so we’re taking in enough oxygen.
Symptoms you experience in the mind might include overthinking, excessive worrying, fear, and agonising over what might happen.
If you’ve decided you want to come out, here are some tips for dealing with any feelings of anxiety.
Don’t block your feelings out. Trying to ignore them or brush them off could actually make them loom larger. If someone tells you not to think about a pink elephant, what pops into your mind? Examine your thoughts, feelings and emotions, and accept them. Sitting with your anxiety like this could help to take some of its power away, whereas trying to fight it can make it worse: it’s like being in a tug of war, with anxiety pulling at one end and you at the other.
Avoid the temptation to keep putting it off. This may seem like a simple way of avoiding stress, but the more you procrastinate the worse your anxiety is likely to get. Ask yourself: what would the impact be of putting it off? Would this lead to more stress and unhappiness? If you postpone, are you likely to feel just as apprehensive again beforehand? Remind yourself why you made the decision to come out – for instance to live more authentically, to get support, or to enjoy life to the full.
Prepare yourself. Think through in advance how the conversation might go with the different people you plan to tell. Decide how you want to tell them; some people find a phone call, email or social media post is easier than a face-to-face encounter. It’s harder to figure out what someone’s thinking or feeling when you can’t see them, however, which could trigger more anxiety about how the news is landing. Consider rehearsing an encounter you think could be tricky with a trusted friend.
Challenge any negative thoughts. If you’re being troubled by negative assumptions or beliefs – for example that people won’t take you seriously, will like you less, or will judge you harshly – look at them in detail and try to come up with more balanced thoughts to replace them.
For instance, based on what you know about this person, how likely is it that they’ll criticise you? Is it more probable that they’ll feel honoured that you’ve shared this with them? If you do get a less than positive response, does this mean they don’t want anything more to do with you, or might they just be a bit shocked, and processing what you’ve told them?
If you’re concerned about coming out and you’d like to talk it through with someone, contacting a support group might be helpful. You could try: • The LGBT+ Switchboard Helpline: 0300 330 0630 • The Terence Higgins Trust: 0800 802 1221 • The Mix Helpline: 0808 808 4994 • Mindline Trans+ Helpline: 0300 330 5468
Anxiety responds very well to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which provides practical strategies and techniques for managing the symptoms. You can find out more about how CBT is used to treat anxiety here.