It’s That Time of Year…. Again!
The holidays are upon us, which could mean a lot of family time for you. Family can bring up a plethora of feelings from sheer joy to immense stress, to anxiety. Let’s take a minute to discuss the latter. Do you ever get completely burnt out from seeing family?
Anticipatory Anxiety is Real
In the days or weeks leading up to the family gathering you may be feeling more on edge, worried, irritable, distracted, or having trouble sleeping. Additionally, the days or weeks after the family gathering you may be feeling down, tired, depressed, or just overall exhausted. Yes, this is a real occurrence and these feelings are very normal for a lot of us. Going home again has a way of impacting us in ways no one really talks about. You move out, maybe begin a family of your own, and establish an individual identity separate from being your parents’ child or a sibling. But somehow, once you step foot in the door and are surrounded by your parents and siblings, you become a child again. Old habits resurface and old feelings are triggered. Maybe your parents always said something to you that made you feel less than, like “Why is it so hard for you to follow directions? You never do anything right!” which triggered a sense of incompetence and anger or sadness during childhood. Now, going back home to visit, your parents might jokingly say “Yeah you could never really figure out how to follow directions!” and that sense of incompetence and anger or sadness floods right back in. Instead of being that independent adult with accomplishments of your own, you regress back into a child that may have felt belittled by a parent or sibling.
What You Can Do
How did this happen? You may think to yourself, “I’m a grown adult with my own life, why am I feeling so small?” Let’s identify a few things that can help you cope with these emotions. Notice I said “cope with” and not “get rid of.” We may not be able to change our families’ treatment of us, but we can change how we perceive and react.
- Identify and accept that this is happening. Be aware going home is what is stressing you out and accept these feelings are real. Be kind to yourself; tell yourself it is “okay” you are feeling these emotions. In other words, don’t judge yourself!
- Be sure to remind yourself of your strengths and accomplishments. You are no longer 13 years old, live in that house, or expected to follow all of your parents’ rules. You also don’t have react as you have in the past.
- Be mindful of your triggers. For example, simply seeing a family member can trigger intense feelings. If someone is going with you, such as a friend, a romantic partner, or your older child, ask them for some help. Make a secret code for when you start feeling anxious, angry, or sad. For instance, you can say “pineapple” or perhaps give them a wink so they’ll know to help you. Plan ahead for what that help might look like (if you see me wink, that means we should go outside or head upstairs.)
- Get grounded. (No not like “in trouble” grounded,) but “bring yourself back into reality” grounded. Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself what day it is, what year it is, or look in a mirror and bring yourself back into the present.
- If all else fails exit the situation. It is perfectly okay to tell yourself or others around you “I need to get some fresh air” or “how about I run to the store and pick up some snacks.”
Lastly, coping should also extend to when you return to your individual life. Always remember to be kind to yourself. If possible, take it easy the few days after coming home from a family gathering. You may need some time to decompress a bit!
Nikki Ancona is a Marriage & Family Therapist Intern, under the supervision of Dr. Traci Lowenthal. She has immediate openings and would love to help you navigate through the struggles you may be facing. She can be reached at Nikki@creativeinsightscounseling.com