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Family dynamics are complicated. No matter if you’re close enough with your family to see them all daily, dread seeing them during the holidays, or somewhere in between… everybody’s got feelings about their family. 

The emotional roller coaster really gets going as we approach the holiday season. This year, concentrate on being mindful of your thoughts, feelings, and actions.  

Recently, we talked about the recurring cycle of emotions that mental health entrepreneurs often experience as they begin their private practice. Well-intentioned ambition leads to overwhelming anxiety, which then simmers through apathy to eventual acceptance and growth (and on and on). This emotional gymnastics routine is similar to what we humans experience in regards to interactions with our families and the complex nature of those relationships. 

We thought it fitting, then, to take a moment before the joyful yet strenuous chaos of the holidays sets in to acknowledge this cyclical journey of mental health. Obviously, we advocate for spending time with a therapist to work through all the layers and discover the best behavioral modification practices for you to really set yourself up for success.

But we hope by shedding some light on this complex and nuanced experience we all go through that the approaching holiday season will be one of peace and joy for you and your family. Sometimes simply identifying and addressing specific thoughts and feelings is just enough to help move through them instead of being overwhelmed by them.

Think about a family gathering. It could be a birthday party, graduation celebration, or even traditional holiday dinner. In the moments leading up to that event, feelings of anxiety often sneak up behind us and settle somewhere between our lungs and our throats, and it makes for a less-than-ideal time with loved ones. But where did the anxiety come from in the first place? It probably started with a bit of ambition.

Ambition for The Best Family Moments

Maybe you set out to bake the best version of the secret family recipe for this year’s holiday party, or you’ve hand-made a sentimental gift for your auntie’s birthday that you hope she adores, or perhaps you are the one graduating and you know your whole family is going to show up and want to put you in the hot seat and ask a million and one questions that you have no inkling of an answer to.

Regardless, the ambition is there, and it’s good. And it has opened a deeper level of awareness within yourself. We all innately want to succeed and be noticed and valued and celebrated, and research even shows that feelings of connectedness greatly help struggling adolescents. We are communal creatures after all.

Anxiety from Complicated Family Moments

After ambitious desires, anxiety is able to wriggle its way into our thoughts, and it gets overwhelming when we start thinking about all the ways everybody may think or react or respond. 

Our family often makes up our closest connections in life, and this highly significant status of relationships causes us to be deeply, deeply affected by the state of that relationship. Even as we grow older and want to do anything that will set us apart and differentiate us from our family, this deep-seated connection still digs up very real, raw emotions. The psychological depth of parent-child attachment and childhood traumas all strike very deep emotional chords in us all, and all across the spectrum of emotions.

And this is daunting, especially when layered on top of the already stressful season of the holidays and all the out-of-the-ordinary disruptions to regular school and work schedules and daily routines. 

Apathy as a Response to Overwhelming Family Moments

And it is from that place of heightened overwhelm that apathy sets in. A very normal, human response to feeling overwhelmed is the fight-or-flight defense mechanism. Even though it is often detrimental to long-term health, this is the body’s natural survival instinct kicking in.

Whether the family event went swimmingly or not, all of those expectations and emotions drain us and leave us wanting to give our thoughts and emotions to anything at all besides the family relationships that deprived us of emotional energy in the first place. And so the cycle repeats…

Unless, of course, the final piece is allowed to alter the course of the emotional rollercoaster.

Acceptance of Family Moments However They Come

Acceptance of the chaos of life and its dynamic relationships, some of the most prominent being with family, is key to overcoming the cycle of negative mental health moments. But what does that acceptance actually look like? It really depends on your individual context.

Again, this is where spending time with a professional mental health clinician will do you wonders as they are trained to help you navigate through your own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in situations like this. Our tip is to start with awareness of the notion of acceptance, and from there, navigate through the cycle of emotions that permeate in and through our relationships with family.

Just remember, you cannot control everything, and especially not the thoughts, actions, or feelings of someone else. You only have control over yourself. Accept this truth, lean into it. This is how you release family members of expectations, thus freeing yourself up from becoming driven down by the ambition-anxiety-apathy train. It’s a great place to start. 

If you’re interested in learning more about mental health care providers in the Fort Worth, Texas area, we’ve got a list of partners at www.FeelBetterFortWorth.com to help you. Check it out!

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