Gender dysphoria is the term used to describe when your physical body doesn’t align with your gender or sexual orientation. It can present a challenging internal conflict, especially if you’re trying to navigate it on your own. The discomfort that accompanies the disconnect between one’s identity and physical qualities can lead to other internal distress.
Gender dysphoria can have a significant impact on mental health. It can hinder your sense of self-worth, how (or if) you can reach a place of contentment, and your ability to trust or love. If you or someone you love is trying to learn how to deal with gender dysphoria, use the tips we’re sharing here. We’re discussing ways to cope, and we’re explaining why it’s so important to learn how to deal with dysphoria in the first place.
Keep reading to learn more about simple techniques you can use that might help you manage and cope with your gender dysphoria, and how an LGBTQIA+ therapist can help you. Below we’ve listed tips to cope with gender dysphoria.
Use what you have to conceal certain parts of your body
It can be those moments when you’re alone, like lying in bed during the night or when you’re in the shower in the morning, that you feel the most dysphoric. Being face to face with the physical reality of who you are according to your body can be difficult at times.
Try using the things closest to you — they might actually be your best aids. Simple acts like holding a blanket or pillow from your bed against your chest or genitals might help you find relief. When you’re in the shower, try using a large cloth or body sponge to cover your genitalia. Tactics like these might help release you from thinking about the parts of your body you’re most uncomfortable with.
Buy or find gender-affirming clothing and make up, get a haircut or a wig
Some people find that creating an appearance that’s more aligned with how they feel can be helpful. How you look might greatly impact how intense your dysphoria may be on any given day. Gender presentation can be an effective tool if you’re looking for how to cope with gender dysphoria.
“You may also want to experiment with new hairstyles, clothing, and accessories for changes to your appearance. Use everyday items to conceal the parts of you that you want to be less prominent.”
Any of these might be beneficial and help you feel better about the gender you’re presenting. These tips might even relieve some anxiety.
- Clothing: Consider buying clothes that are more aligned with what you’re feeling.
- Hair and Makeup: You can also do simple things like buy a wig, get a specific haircut, or learn how to put on makeup.
- Gear: Consider finding gear designed specifically to help you change the appearance of your physical body. A binder, packer, padding, or other garments can help you become more confident and comfortable when you’re in public settings or at social events.
Admittedly, you might not be ready to take this step of gender expression, and that’s OK. If openly wearing gender-affirming items in public is too much right now, sometimes even just wearing something under your clothes or dressing in a specific style when you’re alone at home might be able to help. Let this become a therapeutic or meditative routine you establish for yourself.
Use affirmations to reaffirm your gender
Affirmations can be a wonderful way to establish a positive mentality and center yourself every single day. Affirming your gender can help you remember that being true to who you are is the most important thing you can do for yourself.
“Be patient with yourself. Some individuals will change their pronoun and name several times before they are comfortable with their identity. You might want to come up with daily affirmations to help you stay positive when you’re feeling anxious or vulnerable. Finally, while you are going through these changes you may want to consider meeting with a gender affirming therapist.”
Even if you’re not ready to admit to the world how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking just yet, using some of the following affirmations and phrases might help you build confidence so one day you’ll be ready to do so.
- I am here and I am true to myself.
- My body does not dictate my gender or who I am.
- Regardless of what my body looks like, I know who I am.
- I am valid and worthy of living my life.
- My gender is valid.
Spend time with people who support you and your gender identity
Regardless of what’s going on in your life, everyone needs support. This is especially true if you’re trying to learn how to deal with gender dysphoria. It can be challenging to first tell someone whether it’s a family member or friend about your gender identity or gender nonconformity. You might be worried about the responses you’ll get. It’s one of the reasons why finding support is so crucial.
If you’re finding that certain people in your life tend to have very negative reactions, try to limit your time with them. You want to surround yourself with loving, caring, supportive people who make efforts to validate your gender and who accept you. It is also one of the first steps on how to come out.
Try to let go of relationships with people who seem to be having a difficult time accepting you. You definitely can, and should, establish boundaries for anyone in your life who’s actively trying to change you. Investing in the right relationships is one of the most important parts of your life right now.
Studies show that there’s a direct correlation between suicidal thoughts and attempts and transgender youth or adolescents who don’t have the support they need in their life. Surrounding yourself with friends, loved ones, and family who support you is critical to your mental health and well-being. Read our guide on gender dysphoria support for parents for more information on how to help children experiencing this condition.
Go to therapy or find a support group
Therapy and support groups can be great resources if you need help learning how to cope with gender dysphoria. Therapy can teach you how to best-manage your gender dysphoria or better express your gender nonconformity, and support groups will allow you to find other transgender people who might be experiencing dysphoria as well.
You can find a therapist or support group online or through your local LGBTQIA+ center — check the postings and listings available on their website to find groups and meeting times.
“First of all, it’s important for you to remember that what you’re going through is natural and it is a process. It will take some time for you to get used to your identity and to explore who you are. It is important that you surround yourself with people who support you and your identity, make sure your friends and family know what to call you and what pronouns to use to address you. Mypronouns.org is a useful website for exploring the use of gender pronouns.”
What Happens if You Don’t Address Gender Dysphoria
An important thing to understand about gender dysphoria is that it can be lessened when you seek out supportive environments. The more you know about treatment options available to reduce the conflict between your assigned gender role at birth (or your physical sex characteristics) and your inner gender identity or sexual orientation, the healthier and happier you’ll feel.
If you don’t address your gender dysphoria, you may experience mental and emotional distress as well as other mental health conditions. People with gender dysphoria who don’t get the help they need and deserve might begin to experience anxiety, depression, self-harm, substance misuse or abuse, and other mental health conditions that can be difficult to manage.
“Not addressing gender dysphoria can be psychologically dangerous for the individual. There can be psychological distress such as depression, anxiety, and feelings of worthlessness. Many people who experience gender dysphoria but are not in a position to live their true and authentic selves can fall into a downward spiral. This can lead to substance use thoughts of suicide and even attempts. For individuals who are not experiencing gender dysphoria it can be confusing.”
Research has shown us that people with gender dysphoria have a higher risk of suicide. In fact, nearly half (more than 48%) of participants in one study reported having suicidal thoughts or ideation. Another nearly 24% said they have attempted suicide at least one time.
Transgender people often experience harassment and discrimination that can lead to worse feelings and significant distress that are associated with their dysphoria. The good news, though, is you don’t have to live without support. There are healthy ways to cope with gender dysphoria and improve your mental health.
García-Vega E, Camero A, Fernández M, Villaverde A. Suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in persons with gender dysphoria. Psicothema. 2018;30(3):283-288. doi: 10.7334/psicothema2017.438. https://doi.org/10.7334/psicothema2017.438. Accessed December 9, 2021.