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When Gloria Chavez planned to go home for the holidays for the first time since moving away at age 18, she worried about sitting in the living room of her childhood home, surrounded by family members she wasn’t. saw after some time.
Once there, Chavez, then 20, felt like he had traveled back in time, reacting defensively to inappropriate comments and even getting emotional, as he had done as a teenager.
“I don’t see my family very often, so, you know, around the holidays I see everybody,” Chavez said. “It feels like all the hard work and all the years of going to therapy and stuff like that has gone. I let the 15-year-old me control everything when I’m around certain people that kind of reinforce those feelings.”
For many, “hometown anxiety” is a common occurrence for those who have to return home for the holidays. In addition to making travel arrangements, packing, and finding a housekeeper, returning to your hometown for the holidays also means mentally preparing to see friends and family you haven’t seen in a while.
It could be the unsettling thought of running into someone you knew from high school, or the thought of your parents treating you like a little kid again, or relying on certain family members to make inappropriate comments about your weight. regarding relationship status or relationships. career
When going home for the holidays means putting yourself in your childhood home surrounded by the people you grew up with, falling back into old habits is a common experience and even has a name: holiday regression.
Often, people affected by the phenomenon don’t realize it at the time, says clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone, director of research and education at the Glendon Association, a nonprofit that focuses on mental health advocacy in Santa Barbara, California. Emotions arise from implicit memories—memories that exist in our subconscious—and cause us to act in ways we were used to growing up in that space.
“We can change in our adult lives because we have new relationships and a new sense of ourselves,” Firestone said, “but going back on vacation and being with your parents and sleeping in the old room, that’s what it can do. you and bring back all those old feelings. Not on a conscious level, but it can definitely put you in that frame of mind, and put your parents in that frame of mind too.”
In therapy settings, family units are often referred to as “systems.” From the moment most people are born, they are put into a system between themselves and their parents or guardians, and if they have a sibling, it’s a different system between siblings. No matter how old a person is, they will always be a child in their parents’ system, says Stephen Graves, a licensed mental health counselor and program director at Loma Linda University’s Center for Health Behavioral Medicine in Redlands, California.
Some dynamics are ingrained in families from birth, Graves said. If you are the oldest sibling and were usually the one making the decisions, you will most likely still be that way now that you are with your siblings. A youngest sibling will still be treated by their parents as a younger sibling no matter how old they actually are. Graves is in his late 50s, but when he comes home for the holidays, older relatives still refer to him by his childhood nickname of “Stevie.”
“If you’ve been to this dance with your parents or your family, where you’ve been dancing tango since you were 4 years old, and you’ve been dancing tango with your family for 40 years, and you say, “I’m not going to do it anymore,” that’s easy to say, but part of the system wants to be in homeostasis,” Graves said. “It seeks to draw members who are not doing the same dance back into the old dance.”
The anxiety you feel when planning to return to a stressful environment is often unavoidable, Debbie Missud said. licensed mental health counselor and psychotherapist specializing in relationships, anxiety and depression. But there are ways to cope.
Missud recommends planning for situations that may arise. if the conversation begins to turn to unwanted topics, prepare a response that you have prepared in advance.
“Remind yourself that you don’t have to stay in situations that negatively affect your mental health, and you don’t have to have conversations that you don’t want to have,” Misoud said.
Falling into old patterns often happens without us realizing it, but you can remind yourself to take regular breaks to think about your mental state, such as going for a walk, going to the bathroom, or moving to another room away from the crowd. Firestone said:
Sometimes, finding a family member you feel most comfortable around or a home where you feel most content can help with anxiety, Missud said.
Now that Chavez, who is 25 and runs a TikTok account that provides mental health tips for her followers, heads home for the holidays, she reminds herself not to react to the inappropriate comments she already predicted might happen. to have
“I remind myself who I am and what I stand for. Those comments and those jokes are not who I am and I’ll just move past them because it’s not always worth reacting with anger,” Chavez said. “Also, it’s temporary and I’ll be right back home as soon as I get there.”
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