Everyone gets stressed at some point in their lives and, if you’re like me, it happens fairly frequently. Between work, money, friends, making sure I’m legal to stay in this country, and trying to figure out what I actually want to do with my life, I’m pretty swamped. I’m sure all of you reading this have to deal with some of these things along with others that I couldn’t even imagine.
So what do we do when we’re stressed? We turn to family and friends to help us cope––a reasonable response to how we’re feeling. But then, what happens when your family is your main source of stress? How do you cope then?
There, I said it. My family is my main source of stress. It’s always been a hard thing for me to admit because I’m not trying to be mean and I’m not trying to place blame and I’m not upset with anyone. It just happens to be the way it is.
My parents divorced when I was just two years old. The fact that I don’t remember this actually happening is great for me because I never had to go through a transition period. The current state of affairs in my family is the only thing I’ve ever known. This is good – because I never had to experience the change. But this is also bad – because a toxic family environment is my “normal.”
Let’s get straight to the point. My parents had a pretty nasty split and immediately I was hearing things about the other from both sides. You can imagine how confused my two-year-old brain was. This trend continued until, well…. Today. Seriously. It’s been 22 years since the whole thing went down and it still hasn’t stopped. My family is still my main point of stress even though I don’t live in the same country as them anymore. Of course I come home to visit and I love seeing them all, but at the age of 24 I’m still getting questions like “so whose house are you staying at tonight? No pressure I just want to know so I can make my plans.”
So yes, they are my main source of stress. How do I cope? Well, I’ve pretty much become an expert after 2 decades of experience, so let me tell you:
Make your friends into your family.
“Blood is thicker than water,” they say. “Family comes first,” they say. Well, I say they’re wrong. Yes, family is important and needs to be a priority. However, I believe that best friends are the family you choose, and so they are just as important.
If you’re lucky enough to have found good friends, then you have a family completely separate from your blood relatives where you can feel at home. My friends have gotten me through basically my entire life. Without them, I probably would have gone insane.
They distract me, they let me vent, and they give me some much needed time away from home. I would do anything for my friends and I’m certain that they would do the same for me. There is an unconditional love within my friendships and I truly can feel at home––and that’s what family is all about.
Throw yourself into something.
When I was growing up, I was really into school. Like really into it. I never questioned it because everyone said I was a good student and I got good grades and lots of adult things like “she knows how to apply herself” were said about me. So I was proud.
It wasn’t until college when I realized that I really didn’t care a lot about school. The reason I was so good at school when I was younger was because I was looking for a distraction and schoolwork took up a lot of my time. When I was working really hard on school stuff, I didn’t have to think or really interact with my family.
It was a noble cause I was working for in their eyes, but somewhere deep in my subconscious mind, I think I needed it. And if your family stresses you out, you need something too. Pick up a new hobby, or learn a new language or instrument. These are things that will not only improve who you are, but they will also take your mind off it and no one will shame you for spending so much time on them when you’re at home. Throw yourself into something productive and watch your mindset change little by little.
Cry if you need to.
Sometimes you just can’t help it and you’ve got to let it out. Don’t fight those moments because they will happen, and that’s okay.
Faced with the pressure of a seemingly monumental decision? Cry about it. Nasty argument with a sibling? Cry about it. Parents not understanding you? Cry about it. It’s okay! Most people think crying is a sign of weakness but being willing to cry, especially in front of other people, is actually a sign of strength.
Whether you’re alone in your room sobbing into your pillow or going to someone for comfort, crying provides a nice release from whatever you’re feeling. I can guarantee you that after your sobbing session is over you’ll feel much better and you’ll be able to tackle whatever challenge lies ahead with a clearer head.
Call them out.
When someone in your family is being ridiculous or childish, don’t be scared to hand them the truth. If you approach them with respect, confidence and understanding about the way they’re acting and the way they’re making you feel, they’re much more likely to hear you out. If you appeal to them reasonably, they will be more inclined to listen and try to make things better.
Don’t let them make excuses or try to talk you out of how you’re feeling. Give it to them straight and let them know you’re not going to budge in your opinions. When you stand your ground, you teach them how to treat you. It’s important that you let it be known what you will and won’t tolerate, because otherwise people will continue to walk all over you and unfortunately, this includes family members sometimes.
Don’t be afraid to walk away.
Familial relationships can sometimes be so toxic that nothing else helps. If this happens, give yourself time to cool off before approaching the situation again or, in more extreme cases, cut contact with the family member altogether.
Sometimes it’s the only way to make them realize that something needs to change and it’s the only way for you to keep your sanity. If you have to resort to this, then you’ve already done all you can and it has to be up to them to reach out.
During the time that you’re not in contact with your family, try to work on improving yourself so that you are ready for the next interaction with your family, no matter what it may hold.
I have used all five of these tips at one point in my life or another, and I continue to do so in my daily interactions with my family even from thousands of miles away. Just remember to be respectful through all of it, even when you want to explode in anger. Easier said than done, I know, but all you have to do is try.
Do you have any other tips to add for dealing with a stressful family life? Leave them in the comments below.