Why are family gatherings such a wellspring of anxiety?

It’s that time of year again when everyone gathers with their loved ones to celebrate the holidays. Family reunions are the type of venue where you catch up, re-energize, laugh your brains off, and just take a breather from your routinely individual insanity. However, it is not an easy task for everyone. Family gatherings are anything but a vacation; they’re more akin to the most difficult exam you’ve ever taken in college. Shhh, this can trigger so much stress, especially if you haven’t studied for the exam in question hence anxiety. 

Despite the fact that these are the individuals with whom we spend the most of our upbringing, they may not know who we are at some point, particularly if there are walls or disagreements lurking somewhere. During family get-gatherings, there are a lot of expectations and memories to tell. We set ourselves up to be disappointed in one another because we have high expectations of one another. And we invent stories to explain why the individuals in our lives either meet or fall short of our expectations. Many (if not all) people develop their own way of looking at the world, values, beliefs, and so on when they are away from home for a period of time, such as while attending college. We create our own cultures that are distinct from that in which we grew up, and these cultures may or may not be in agreement with what our parents know or have taught us. For this reason, we have a tendency to move more distant from them, despite the fact that they remain close to our hearts. For some holidays, though, it is simply impossible to avoid these pounding head scenarios. You only return home for a little period of time each year to check in, and even then, there is a great deal of apprehension upon your arrival. When this dynamic is combined with the customary holiday health pandemonium, the result is a tremendous amount of stress on the body and the mind.

There is always that one person of the family, whether it is Uncle Sam, Auntie Karen, or perhaps that sibling who has always followed the rules or something– who is invariably digging up dirt on someone. Perhaps they are still inquisitive about whatever remained hidden for a while– they are now ready and eager to poke some faces. It could be that adorable little niece or nephew who recalls your age and wonders why you are still single compared to the rest of your family members. Then everyone looks at you with this curious eye, and the room, which had before been filled with noise, is now filled with silence– and you’re thinking, “Pretty face, just shut the fuck up.” You know that favorite family member to whom you confide practically everything– until they become tipsy or intoxicated and begin spilling some of your secrets, sometimes unknowingly. Well, welcome to the world of family gatherings.

Perhaps they are still inquisitive about whatever remained hidden for a while– they are now ready and eager to poke some faces.

Prior to going, personally, I tend to take it easy in order to prepare for anything that may come up. I take a deep breath and mentally situate myself in that zone where I am prepared for anything—more like the armor necessary to maintain my sanity. I’m not going to lie; I’m rather adept at pitching for myself. For instance, if someone said, “Oh, when are we going to meet your partner?” or possibly asked me directly, “When are you getting married?” I’ll go over all of the data about how things have changed in our present generation, including the fact that the average age for getting married is approximately 28/29 (is that correct, by the way?). To keep my sanity, I can make up figures on the spot if necessary. No kidding, on the following question, I tend to continue my numbers higher until someone stops talking about it. 

To be honest, if attending a family gathering will ruin your week or month and temporarily wreck your mental health, it is perfectly acceptable to grant yourself permission to skip family gatherings and celebrations. If you can act as your own advocate in the midst of never-ending disagreements and possible triggers while maintaining your sanity–go ahead, rock it and emerge with your head held high like a giraffe. My view is that they eventually tire of it and cease bothering you and that you eventually tire of it as well, knowing that they will never mentally ruin you or something like that. When you establish your own boundaries and advocate for them, others are forced to respect them. You should be aware that things are more difficult when dealing with family members than they appear on the surface. However, that does not imply that you are unable to thrive through the wilderness. How do you deal with anxiousness that arises during family gatherings?

Always keep in mind that your mental health is vital and that you should look after yourself.