“You can pick your friends; you can’t pick your family” – this statement might be playing in your mind over and over if you’re feeling stressed out because of your family. And, familiarity doesn’t help the cause. You might also be at an age where you can’t really tell if you’re stressed or if the family is the reason behind it. In fact, you may have clicked on this article out of curiosity (as a child or as a parent).
Differing views, emotional baggage, or even too much of proximity can lead your stress to flare up. It happens to the strongest of us. Our parents are only trying to make us feel comfortable from their perspective. All they want is you to be perfect. However, their actions may have a negative impact. You might start feeling overwhelmed, guilty, ashamed, anxious, and most of all, stress. At times, that stress crosses the red-alert mark, the emotional burnout, but we keep going because we are unaware of the signs.
Physical manifestations of stress
Stress, when extreme or for a long duration, many times manifests itself as physical symptoms like headaches, chest pain, and fatigue. Low energy, chronic unexplained pain, and a compromised immune system resulting in frequent sickness are known effects of stress. Other symptoms include shaky hands, muscle tension, palpitations, and increased blood pressure. However, if you begin experiencing these symptoms more when your parents are around and start to feel better as soon as they leave, then, unfortunately, they are to be blamed.
There’s nothing wrong in accepting that watching your parents leave feels like a weight lifted off your chest. Identifying your anxiety triggers and stressors can help you build a strategy to deal with them better without making you feel gross about it.
Here are a few signs to know if your parents are the cause of your stress or contribute to its worsening:
Sign #1: You avoid them as much as possible
An avoidance behaviour – taking on any excuse to get out of the sight of your parents or avoid them – is a tell-tale sign that your parents’ presence (stimulus) is distressing. Having to spend time with them alone, after school or office, is probably your worst nightmare. Therefore, you keep yourself shut in your room or busy with friends and hobbies. On your worst days, you even contemplate cutting ties with them.
Fixing it: In extreme circumstances, cutting ties with the family can give way to self-healing. However, sometimes this can stress you out even more. Remember, you’re trying to escape the tension, not their love and care. So, rationally and mindfully, make a list of what you’ll get and what you’ll lose if you distance yourself, and see, how setting physical boundaries can help emotional uplifting.
Sign #2: Seeing them makes you anxious
Are your parents guilty of comparing you to your friends or siblings? Do you find their expectations unrealistic? Are they critical of your choices and pressurise you to do things you don’t want to? If yes, then feeling anxious when they are around is completely normal. You may have distanced yourself from them, but you still dread the moment they’ll knock on your door. Sitting through the dinner or family gathering seems like a monumental task. This nervousness is expected as you’re constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Fixing it: Your anxiety stems from their disappointment. So, it’s important to remember that you are happy with your place in life. Their disappointment is their problem. Write yourself reminders and quick pep-talk and keep it in a place you can access easily as soon as you feel stress building up. Keep a good friend informed and on speed dial.
Sign #3: You get into pointless arguments with them
We all get agitated and enter pointless arguments now and then. However, when your fuse goes off in the presence of your family and that too, frequently, you should know that that’s a clue – they are a trigger! It’s time to step back and reflect on what’s irritating you. Irritability, mood swings, and defensiveness are the most common signs of severe stress, says research.
Fixing it: If your family is indeed a source of your stress, then you must talk to them about it. They might be seeing your yelling and lashing out at the drop of a hat as just that – mood swings. Therefore, either verbally or through a letter, share your thoughts and annoyances with them. If required, you could all go to counselling together to work out the differences in a more calm and compassionate manner.
Sign #4: Your eating and sleeping pattern disrupts in their presence
It is scientifically proven that anxiety could lead to restlessness and make falling (or staying) asleep difficult. It’s normal. But, if you lose your appetite or binge on comfort food, start pacing up and down the room, and notice a drastic shift in your sleeping pattern when your parents are around, then they are most likely the source of your stress.
Fixing it: A good place to begin is jotting down the incidents that trigger stress. Then, try to find out ways you can bring your stress levels down on your own; for example, taking up a hobby or looking for a different living arrangement. You should also talk about this with your parents to mutually find ways to manage things within the house.
Sign #5: You can’t concentrate around a certain someone
At times, your stress erupts from your estranged relationship with certain someone in your family. So while you’ll laugh and joke with everyone, entry of a certain someone will force you to pull back into your shell. All of a sudden, you might find yourself fidgeting, talking gibberish, mishandling things, etc. – your focus has fled! And you’re worried about what they’ll say and whether they’ll approve of you. When the stressor is just one person, the chances are that that person has had a judgemental attitude towards you or that you look up to them as an authority figure.
Fixing it: Both cases make you focus on the person’s (or yours) negative traits. Therefore, try to see the positive side. Take cue cards with you to refer. If nothing works, excuse yourself from the conversation and wait for the negativity in your mind to fizzle out.
Over to you
When coming from the point of concern, we all have a tendency to overstep our boundaries. Some families do not even discuss boundaries and thus, end up harming each other more out of love.
Suffering in silence is not a solution, and neither is lashing out to cutting ties off completely. It will do your entire family good if you open up and convey how you are hurting. The pressure of expectations or emotional unavailability, everything can be discussed with an open heart and compassion. Together, you can set healthy boundaries with your family or parents.
Your collective mental health will thank you for it!