Anxiety & Family Gatherings
My family does not get along and it is very stressful. It causes me to have severe anxiety. I have tried tuning them out, but it does not work. I find myself in between warring family members. My question is about how I can manage my anxiety over the upcoming holidays. I really cannot handle the conflict. I am already seeing a therapist and am on meds but I am dreading going into the “war zone.” Just writing this is giving me anxiety.
We are getting anxious just reading your question! Perhaps this is because we understand from firsthand experience that family conflict is both painful and anxiety-provoking.
We are getting anxious just reading your question! Perhaps this is because we understand from firsthand experience that family conflict is both painful and anxiety-provoking. This is true for obvious reasons—it’s hard to watch people you care about hurt each other and feel powerless to stop the conflict. In fact, trying to mediate or “keep the peace” is in itself a very anxiety-inducing activity. We don’t recommend taking that role—especially during a holiday gathering.
Ok, this may not be the advice your therapist or even a mature Anxiety Sister would give, but is it possible to get “pink eye” or a “sinus infection” (or anything contagious and/or gross) and duck out of the whole thing? We ask because we have done it a time or two (hopefully nobody in our families is reading this) when we just couldn’t face the family get-together. A mental health day from our families here and there can be quite soothing and self-protective.
If bowing out is not possible—and we know it isn’t an option in many instances—there are other steps you can take to protect yourself.
- Expect the conflict. This sounds silly, but sometimes, we hope things will be different this time; then, when things are not different, we are disappointed and anxious. So go in expecting the worst.
- Let yourself feel whatever emotions come up—sadness, anger, frustration, the desire to smother your siblings with pillows. All of it is human and real and appropriate. Staying in touch with how you are feeling will keep you from focusing on how others are feeling. Remember, your role is to take care of yourself.
- Bookend the gatherings with rewards.
- Bring a Spin Kit.
- Bring a friend who is calming and easy to talk to for support.
- Take a time-out by going on a long walk or napping in an upstairs bedroom or watching a favorite show on your Netflix app. Don’t be hesitant to “take an important phone call outside” when the conflict starts to escalate.
- Find out if your therapist can be available for a quick phone call before or during the time you are with your family. If not, ask a supportive friend to be a substitute.
- Write down some helpful thoughts such as “This too shall pass” and bring them with you. You’d be surprised how helpful those reminders can be. Abs has two she swears by: (1) Soon, I can leave and (2) At least there’s pie.
Last but not least, Abs and I will take turns being online all day on Thanksgiving and Christmas to be there for any Anxiety Sister in distress. So come to our Facebook page and hang out with us for a while if you need a break from the craziness.
Much love and peace,
Mags & Abs