My family gives me anxiety and depression
Family relationships can be complicated. For some people, family dynamics lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. This article explores potential causes and solutions for family-related mental health issues.
Understanding the link between family and mental health
Family relationships shape our lives profoundly. Healthy family bonds provide love, support, and stability. Unhealthy family environments can negatively impact mental health. Common family issues that contribute to anxiety and depression include:
Lack of emotional support
- Not having family members that listen, validate feelings, and provide reassurance can lead to loneliness and low self-esteem.
Criticism and high expectations
- Frequent criticism and pressure to meet high expectations can create persistent self-doubt, perfectionistic tendencies, and chronic stress.
Conflict and instability
- Growing up in a volatile, chaotic, or violent household causes a continual state of uncertainty, fear, and walking on eggshells.
Role reversal and parentification
- Being forced into a caregiver role as a child leads to missed developmental needs, resentment, and quicker burnout over time.
Genetics also play a part – anxiety and depression disorders often run in families. Trauma can even leave epigenetic changes that make future generations more vulnerable.
However, a hereditary predisposition does not guarantee someone will develop mental health issues. Protective lifestyle factors and secure attachments can often prevent genetics from being expressed.
My personal experience
I grew up in a pretty turbulent family environment. My dad had anger issues – he would have frequent emotional outbursts over minor things which created an uneasy home life.
My mum struggled with anxiety and depression. She had difficulty handling stress. Any sort of conflict or problem would send her spiraling. She spent a lot of time withdrawn in her bedroom.
As the oldest daughter, a lot of responsibility fell on my shoulders from a young age. I helped out with housework, cooking, grocery shopping, getting my siblings to school, etc.
My mum would also lean on me heavily for emotional support. She would vent to me about problems with my dad or just life in general. I felt like I couldn’t be a normal carefree kid.
This dysfunctional dynamic took a toll over the years. I internalized blame and guilt over my family’s issues. I started struggling with my own anxiety and depression in high school.
I still battle mental health challenges today tied to negative thought patterns and emotional wounds from my childhood. I have trouble asking for help or setting healthy boundaries. And I obsess over mistakes which feeds imposter syndrome thoughts.
Breaking the cycle
With therapy and self-work, I’ve made a lot of progress in managing my anxiety and depression. I’ve set firmer boundaries with my family – I control how much I share about my personal life and try to limit complaining or venting sessions.
I also move meetups to neutral locations to minimize tension. And I usually bookend visits to keep them short and sweet.
Practicing self-compassion has helped temper my inner critic. I remind myself I was thrust into an unfair position as a child. I accept I cannot single-handedly “fix” my family’s issues.
I tap into self-care regularly – getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, exercising, enjoying hobbies, etc. This makes me more resilient to stressful situations.
And I surround myself with positive people. Having friendships where I feel accepted and supported has been invaluable.
I still get triggered being around my family sometimes. Old habits and dynamics creep back in. When this happens, I need to take a step back and recentre myself afterwards with affirmations and calming activities.
Tips for coping with a dysfunctional family
If you grew up in a similarly dysfunctional household, know that you are not alone. Many people come from less-than-perfect families – even if not openly discussed.
Here are some suggestions to help you find more peace:
- Let go of fantasies of the “perfect supportive family”. Accept family members as flawed humans doing their best. Lower expectations help minimize resentment.
- Get clear on specific people/behaviors/situations that tend to reactivate anxiety and depression. This allows you to better emotionally prepare.
- Protect your mental health by limiting time with triggering relatives if needed. Say no to requests that overstep your limits.
Build a “chosen family”
- Surround yourself with a strong network of supportive friends. This “found family” can provide stability lacking in biological relatives.
- Make YOU a priority – not other’s needs and problems. Engage in regular activities like healthy eating, exercising, hobby pursuits that recharge your battery.
- Speaking to a professional can help unpack childhood baggage, acquire coping skills, reduce symptoms/flare-ups and improve self-esteem/resiliency.
You cannot control other people. The only person you can change is yourself. Implementing healthy boundaries and habits helps alleviate the burden extended family can place on your mental health.