How to Cope with Transgender Stress

CopingBeing transgender is hard.

It is no surprise that transgender individuals experience a kind of stress that cisgender (those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) individuals do not. People who identify as transgender can and often do experience stigma, discrimination, violence, and internalized homophobia/transphobia. People who are transgender also are at higher risks for “loss pileups.” Family, friends, and romantic partners may not understand the transition and not be able to provide the needed support. There is also a danger of job loss or financial loss, especially for transgender women. Some researchers believe this discrepancy is related to the greater difficulty transgender women have passing, as opposed to transgender men, as well as greater male privilege for transgender men.

There are many ways of dealing with the challenges that come with transitioning and living as a transgender individual, some healthier than others.

How do you deal?

There are two primary coping styles that people use to deal with difficult things in life: Emotion-focused and problem-focused, also known as facilitative and avoidant, respectively.

These are fancy terms for a simple concept.

Simply put, avoidant coping is when you…(drumroll please)….avoid the problem. It occurs when you avoid dealing with the emotions and thoughts that come up when you experience discrimination or loss by:

  • Minimizing the issue: “I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”
  • Becoming emotionally detached: “Whatever. I don’t even care.”
  • Over-intellectualizing: telling your friends how the socially constructed discourse of gender and the rigid constructions of gender stereotypes are contributing to an unfriendly work environment and not adding, “It really hurt that my boss passed me over for a promotion after I started the transition from male to female.”
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to dull your emotions or thoughts
  • Isolating yourself from social support

Ironically, the more you try to avoid a problem, feeling, or thought, the bigger and more anxiety-provoking it becomes.

How to develop better coping skills

As you can probably guess, facilitative coping is the style we are recommending. Facilitative coping is all about adaptation. It is taking whatever we are given in life and transforming ourselves or the situation to deal with it in a positive manner.

Some ways to develop facilitative coping include:

Seeking Social and Professional Support
Seeking out social and professional support is the number one factor in decreasing anxiety and depression in transgender individuals. Discovering friends and family that are supportive of your transition, locating a local (or virtual if you live in a rural area) support group, and finding a transgender-affirmative therapist can make a massive positive impact on your experience.

BelieveAs cliché as it sounds, believe in yourself! Early in the transition process, many transgender individuals experience a sense of hopelessness about the future, believing that transitioning is an impossible, daunting task. As people move further along in the transition process, these feelings begin to change as they realize they do, in fact, have the power to follow through with their transition.

Reframing is looking at your situation in a new light. For example, reframing the difficulty one experiences while transitioning as a source of personal strength and resilience.

Acting “As if”
No one feels confident all the time. However, if you walk out the door with a smile on your face, putting out the confident air that you don’t necessarily feel in the moment, your emotions will often eventually catch up with your actions.

Learning a new skill or hobby (or reviving interest in an old one)
Cognitively challenging yourself by learning a new skill, such as a language or instrument, has been shown to decrease anxiety and depression. Additionally, it provides an opportunity to expand your social network and find a new passion. In the same way, reviving an interest in an old hobby can be immensely fulfilling.

Education and Advocacy
Many transgender individuals find great joy and meaning in doing education and advocacy work for the transgender community. Someone further along in the transition process can find a new source of meaning in helping someone new to the process talk through the initial anxiety and offer them hope for the future.

Being transgender is hard. AND it was the best decision I ever made.

All of this talk about the difficulties of being transgender can begin to sound a little bleak. It is important to note, in that studies cited, every individual expressed that they did not regret transitioning and felt like they were finally living as their true self. They also expressed that all of the hardship was worth the payoff and that the best times in their life were being honest about who they were through their gender transition.

Budge, S. L., Adelson, J. L., & Howard, K. S. (2013). Anxiety and depression in transgender individuals: The roles of transition status, loss, social support, and coping. Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology, 81(3), 545-557. doi:10.1037/a0031774

Budge, S. L., Katz-Wise, S. L., Tebbe, E. N., Howard, K. S., Schneider, C. L., & Rodriguez, A. (2013). Transgender emotional and coping processes: Facilitative and avoidant coping throughout gender transitioning. The Counseling Psychologist, 41(4), 601-647. doi:10.1177/0011000011432753

About the guest blogger

Team_RenaRena McDaniel, MEd is the Director of Outreach and Operations and a Staff Therapist for IntraSpectrum Counseling, a group private practice in Chicago that specializes in the LGBTQI community. Follow IntraSpectrum Counseling on Twitter and Facebook.

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14 Responses to “How to Cope with Transgender Stress”

  1. Thank you so much this article really inspired me and helped a lot!

    Posted by Brenda | October 13, 2014, 10:41 pm
  2. None of this worked for me, but thanks for trying. No matter what I do I feel trapped, and it’s all I think about whether I’m awake or asleep. This body is better after HRT, but it will never feel like mine. I don’t know what to do. I just want the pain to stop. FML

    Posted by Ashlie | January 23, 2015, 4:12 pm
  3. I was able to step out of my comfort zone in 2009 and start dressing as a woman. In 2010, my neighbor attacked me and yet i continued. 2 Months later, my best friends told me that they didn’t want my transgender “issue” to confuse their child or mine, and as a result, i decided to hide it. I was arrested 2 weeks afterward, (not going into details) and the duration of my incarceration, i dreaded my release because i knew the feeling of not being accepted by my friends or family would accompany me should i return to that life.

    After my release, i chose to r
    Remain the gender assigned at birth, so as not to confuse my (then) 6 year old. Sometimes I’m able to convince myself that i made the right decision out of the benefit of my family’s stability. I know that should i return to that lifestyle, many people would be hurt emotionally by that decision, and causing them pain is the last thing i want to do.

    As i said, i am able to believe sometimes that i made that decision for the right reason, but how can i continue on with my relationships with family and friends, knowing that they feel that my transgender “issues” Were selfish of me and were just a phase?

    Many times i wanted to end my life because i was feeling unwanted, unloved, and devalued. My life wasn’t. Mine anymore… And sometimes i still feel this way.

    Any help or comments would be appreciated.

    Posted by Jason | April 24, 2015, 7:26 am
  4. I am due to transition in my workplace in November. I can totally relate to the comment that transition seems impossible in the early days, and I suffered from extreme stress up till this time last year. But by taking small steps and developing a strong support network I not only believe I can live as the woman I have always been, but I am actually very excited. But I must emphasise I have an amazing set of friends at work, and my wife and three children are highly supportive.

    Posted by Jen Cash | October 2, 2015, 3:19 pm
  5. I to experience some stress from my transition. I cope with it by eliminating the source. Everyone in my life that had a negative issue with my transition I simply stopped all contact with them (mother, brothers, twin sister and some friends) I have but one life to live and I’m going to make it the best. I live in a state that has no discrimination laws for transgender people so I don’t parade around work telling people I’m trans. (It help that males and females wear scubs). There is a common neural wellbeing if your willing to put in the work. Male to female transition does not have to be extreme, like coming out the next day at work with a mini skirt, high heels and prosthetic breaths after years of wearing male clothing. Take it slow and enjoy the ride.

    Posted by Morgan | October 16, 2015, 7:36 am
  6. Frankly, none of this is helping at all. I’ve been trying it for months now, and it’s all still awful and suicide-inducing. I should NEVER have come out as trans and started transitioning, it’s done nothing but lead to more stress and unhappiness and loss than I can deal with. In fact, if I don’t reply to this, I’m either dead or in the hospital. Congratulations world, con fucking gratulations to my aunts and uncles and “friends” who now hate my guts for being alive. You’ve killed me, you’ve bullied me, you’ve torn me up inside, and my death is entirely YOUR doing. Fuck you all.

    Posted by Amy English | December 30, 2015, 2:19 pm
  7. @Amy, have you tried seeking out a transgender support group? They can help.

    Posted by K | January 3, 2016, 1:06 am
  8. @Amy, you can also call the Trans Lifeline:

    US: (877) 565-8860
    Canada: (877) 330-6366

    Posted by K | January 3, 2016, 1:11 am
  9. I don’t care about discrimination, it doesn’t matter to me what other people think. I’m blessed to not have to worry about things like violence, and for that I’m grateful, but I can’t stand not being old enough to transition. I hate myself, and everything about myself. I can barely look in the mirror without crying, knowing I’ll probably never get the one thing I’ve ever wanted. My boyfriend is super supportive, but he’s not gay. I love him to death, but as soon as I’m old enough, I will gladly let him break up with me. At this point, I am doing anything I can just to hold on to any bit of happiness I have left, because it’s all I can do to cope. I’m depressed, I have anxiety, I’m exhausted, and recently it’s been taking physical energy not to walk into traffic.

    Posted by [ ] | January 9, 2016, 1:25 am
  10. I have had this page bookmarked for such a long time.
    Almost every comment made me want to cry…
    1. Yes, I feel lost. I worry all of the time that my best years (I am 39) are behind me and I shall never see a beautiful woman in the mirror looking back at me.
    2. I still have no clue has brought me to the conclusion of feeling transgender…I was molested by an older brother right at the beginning of my adolescent years. This molestation has “screwed” (pun intended) with my mind since day one. I remember everything. Within the first week after being molested, I found a Hustler magazine that contained an article that has forever changed me. “I Married a Transvestite” was the name of the article. I read and re-read that part of the magazine countless times. The molestations continued for years and I found myself looking forward to them. In many ways, I HATE myself for feeling that way. Here we are in the now, and I think, I’ll never be happy.
    By the way, my brother who had molested me; now says I will confuse his children (who are both growing teenagers) if I continue to transition and “do my thing”.
    3. I had a wife and two children. I am not permitted to see my children and my ex-wife enjoys this fact. (Just another thing that I am not supposed to be upset about, in any way, shape or form).
    4. I met someone after the ex-wife that LOVED everything about me, even the fact that I was trans…neither of us knew the extent and she didn’t care, (so she said). We spent only six months together, but it was the happiest I’d ever been. I had that ripped away because I’m trans and she didn’t want to deal with it anymore after her child found photos of me en femme in her email.
    5. Friends have called me out on my mannerisms for being too feminine.
    6. I have not felt comfortable in my own skin for as long as I can remember, but being in another skin has not made me feel comfortable either.
    7. I continuously believe I am no more than just some deviant. I enjoy everything risque and picture myself in every possible scenario.
    8. Family…I have a family that says they support, but you never feel the support from them. (They make their little comments about how I wish you wouldn’t do it). Meanwhile, I think; are you living my life? Are you the one that has to feel inadequate every day you get out of bed?
    9. I think about suicide (on the average) around four times per week. I think about it, I’ve never attempted. I feel like if I were to take that step, it would be one more way for my ex-wife to stick it in my backside and twist the knife.

    I know each of us must walk our own path and I wish nothing but good fortune to all on this site.

    To be honest, I don’t even know why I’m posting on here. I think I just want to be heard, as we all do.


    Posted by Christina Kyer | May 1, 2016, 8:04 pm
  11. I’m trans and it is killing me

    Posted by Lindsey | June 11, 2017, 12:59 pm
  12. I remember my persistent transgender ideation since I was a 4 year old that was expediently gender policed by my parents and older brothers and was redirected to some man training. My older brother even nicknamed me moose and insisted he teach me how to fight. By the time I reached the beginning of puberty I started my secret life of cross dressing and persistent sexual fantasies of being a woman. Cross dressing was not sexual but it was purely comforting and affirming. I was however romantically socialized as a hetero sexual male and developed an obsessive idealization and romanticizing of feminine beauty and sexuality. I loved women so much I craved to be one.

    over the next two decades I had a series of intense Love relationships and two marriages which all invariably failed with women who began in love with me becoming totally disillusioned and repulsed by me. In between these relationships I lead a shadow life based around transgender ideation. My daughter was born during my second marriage. When my wife divorced me she did not want me to see my child so a long protracted court battle ensued for my parental rights. By this time in my mid thirties I had come to terms with my transphobia, new what I was, and was prepared to actively transitioning to the woman I had always been and known since I was four years old. Unfortunately, the need to support two households, the fact that transitioning would end my parental rights, and my care taking for a very sick elderly mother, my responsibilities and guilt trumped me coming out as a trans woman.

    Now I am over 60, although very young looking and athletic, needless to say over the hill. I raised my daughter well, and I have been living with a woman for well over a decade. Six months ago my dysphoria became overwhelming and I got a what the fuck notion come over me, so out of the blue I began transitioning with FMT HRT. I have already been through laser and half way through electrolysis. I have had my consults for FFS surgery, top surgery, and butt augmentation within the year. I am preparing to retire from my job of 35 years. I came out to my girlfriend and she wants to stay together and is afraid I will leave. This has been a whirlwind transition, very complex, with lots of roadblocks but the intense and persistent power of gender dysphoria has finally made me take the plunge and the power of my transexual affirmation has taken a life of its own. I pray that when I get through all this that I land somewhere beautiful and sustainable. My only sadness is that I allowed my own transphobia that my parents and brothers imposed upon me cheat me out of a potentially beautiful life and many life affirming experiences as the woman that I am. I only hope I transition in a passable manner and get a few years of relative youthfulness and vitality to as many affirming experiences as I can experiencing the remainder of my life as the woman I have always been.

    Posted by Michelle | November 4, 2017, 10:10 pm


  1. […] Being transgender is hard. AND it was the best decision I ever made. All of this talk about the difficulties of being transgender can begin to sound a little bleak. It is important to note, in that studies cited, every individual expressed that they did not regret transitioning and felt like they were finally living as their true self. They also expressed that all of the hardship was worth the payoff and that the best times in their life were being honest about who they were through their gender transition. — Rena McDaniel, How to Cope with Transgender Stress […]

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  2. […] TO COPE WITH TRANS STRESS How to Cope with Transgender Stress | The L Stop This article had a few good ideas, so thought it might be helpful to some of you […]

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