In an ideal world, family conflict would not exist. However, the world is full of people who make mistakes or who make choices that you don’t like or agree with. This then puts you in a position of needing to make difficult choices about how to engage with your closest relations.

Whether dealing with narcissistic parents, siblings who always bring the drama, or the full political spectrum of aunts/uncles/grandparents, family can become a source of anxiety for many. You are not the only person who feels panicky around the holidays, or when anticipating a family gathering.

As an individual focusing on your mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being it is important to recognize when your family has a negative impact on you. Family plays a crucial role in your development as a child and young person. Now as an adult you are working through the good, the bad, and the hard from that influence.

Generational trauma, socio-economic changes, religious affiliation, moves, and lifestyle choices; all of these may be factors that have given you and your family some form of crazy dysfunction. The realization of this may be a new experience for you to work through. Dysfunctional families might make for a good tv comedy, but the realities of living in a dysfunctional family are far from comedic.

Tips for Dealing with Anxiety from Family

Identifying that family triggers anxiety in you is a hard pill to swallow. There is often shame that comes with that knowledge. As you work through the process of healing your anxiety, know that it does not diminish your love for your family, but interactions with them may need to change for you to heal. Creating healthy relationships is an ongoing process that starts with you.

The only person you can change is you.

As you experience growth, healing, and even work through trauma, you cannot and should not expect anyone else to change. You can hope and pray that your family will also be open to change and healing, but you should not expect it. Understanding that you cannot change others is an important step in being able to manage the anxiety you experience around your family.

Take time to pray for the people who give you anxiety. Pray that they will be able to work through their problems. Pray that you can forgive them for the ways that they hurt you. Part of the Lord’s Prayer says, “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Lifting up those hurts to God helps you release control of the situation. God knows your heart and their hearts, and you can trust Him to do His work in His timing.

You are on a journey of hope and healing, and most likely you want others to also experience the freedom that comes with that. The timing of your journey and healing is unlikely to coincide with someone else’s. Even though you want good things for your family, they may not be able to hear the truth from you. Setting aside any expectations that you can change your family is valuable.

Set healthy boundaries, with support.

This may involve hard conversations, and possibly a mediator. When you realize that being around certain family members causes you stress and anxiety, then you need to put limits on interactions with them. Does having your mom or dad over give you panic attacks? Do phone calls with your brother lead to heartache? Did your sister bring up unpleasant and unnecessary drama at the last family gathering?

You may think that being the bigger person means that you must put up with cruel behavior. Do not tolerate unkindness or cruelty. They are making choices, perhaps out of habit, which hurt you, and you have the choice to step away.

If you are a people pleaser, then you may need some support to pull back from these painful relationships. You might need to block phone calls, or text a trusted friend for encouragement. Perhaps you have a spouse that can help you set up and stick to the boundaries that will protect you.

If you need to have a hard conversation with a certain family member, it may be easier to write out what you want to say. The chance to clearly write out your feelings may help you process what needs to be said, and what is better left unsaid. It is like a trial run for the conversation.

Choose a safe and neutral place to have conversations. If you don’t feel comfortable in the home of a relative do not go there. Maybe you feel safer in your own home. Maybe you feel safe from a distance, having a phone or email conversation. Perhaps meeting in a public place will give you a sense of control, or prevent an unwanted scene.

Learn healthy coping skills.

If you decide to continue in relationships, or if your difficult family still pushes themselves into your life, you need to learn healthy ways of managing your anxiety. One of the simplest and best things is to take slow, deep breaths. Step into the bathroom and take a few deep breaths. Go sit in the car for a few minutes when you feel overwhelmed.

When you know that you will be in a stressful situation in advance, prepare with some quiet prayer time beforehand and personal time after. Have a safe person to express your feelings to afterward. Ask a trusted friend to pray for you during the difficult gathering. Plan something fun and relaxing for later. Meet up with a friend to pray, journal to work through your emotions, or take a long walk in a quiet place.

When there is a situation you are not prepared for, learn to be slow in your responses. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Heightened anxiety is a fight or flight response. Being gentle with yourself and your family will prevent a spiral of negative interactions.

Give yourself a lot of grace when recovering from anxiety-laden situations. You do not need to shame yourself for eating cookies or having extra coffee. Be kind to yourself when you feel sad or angry. These emotions need to be acknowledged to prevent an ongoing cycle of problems.

A word on toxic families

Much anxiety around the family comes from a history of toxic, unhealthy behaviors. Sadly, these behaviors are deeply rooted in habit and are incredibly hard to overcome. As you identify the people and situations that give you anxiety it will come with the sad realization that parents are not perfect and often fail their children.

This does not mean that all things are unforgivable. However, there may be times that your well-being is best served by removing toxic people from your life. This should be decided with prayer and counseling from faithful individuals who can see things more objectively than you may be able to. When the people you love have caused a great deal of hurt this is hard. You may need to spend time grieving over the loss of relationship with family.

Finally, remember that if you are a Christian, your Father in heaven calls you His child, Jesus calls himself your brother, and there is a host of fellow Christians you can call family. John 13:34, 35 says, “A new command I give you: Love one another.

As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Your family is rich in love and broad in scope, and there will always be a place where you are made to feel loved, welcome, and safe.

Photos:
“Forest Boardwalk”, Courtesy of Lee Vue, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Autumn Leaves”, Courtesy of Chris Lawton, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Weed”, Courtesy of Kolya Korzh, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Out of Focus Lights”, Courtesy of Sharon McCutcheon, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

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