During the holidays, you watch television commercials, people getting ready for a family gathering; getting gifts ready, dressing the kids, everyone in the car, you see the family at the door, knocking and Grandma answers it. She gives everyone a hug and kiss and everyone goes inside to see all the other family members. That’s what people think really happens. What about those with anxiety or depression or both? It is NOT like that.
My father lived with manic depression and anxiety, family gatherings were not his favourite. We would go to family gatherings, on my mom’s side, and there were a lot of relatives. Only a few family members knew my father lived with manic depression but back in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, not a lot was known so there was a lack of understanding. My father would become anxious about going but we did go. We never knew if anyone would comment about his behaviour, what he would do, what he would say; sometimes we did leave early after something was said and he would end up being hurt. After a while we did stop going. There would always be someone who didn’t want my father there because of something that happened in the past. The past would be mentioned; even just a small mention and it would grow into a huge ball of anxiety, frustration, anger, embarrassment and humility.
Family gatherings are meant to be fun, memorable and getting closer to one another. When a loved one lives with anxiety and depression, it becomes a very stressful event. Things are said and done by others and causes anxiety and eventually the feeling of being trapped occur, which can result in a panic attack.
When a loved one has anxiety or depression, the anticipation of the event can sometimes be worse than actually attending the event. Thoughts enter your head days, sometimes weeks before the event, wondering what is going to be said or done, how you would react to it, how the other person would react, then you think of the consequences of it. Sometimes just the preparation of the event can be stressful as well. If it’s Christmas, gifts have to be ready, if you have pets, they have to be taken care of before leaving, if there are children, they have to get ready. All the preparation has to be done within a certain timeframe and can cause the anxiety to heighten.
At times you won’t be able to control your surrounding during a gathering but as a loved one you can help reduce the anxiety at any gathering….
Find an ally – if there is a relative who is positive and comforting, go with your loved one and begin a conversation
Set limits – you cannot control what someone says or does but you can help your loved one; reassure them it’s okay to say something but know when to walk away
Bring a distraction – at times, it can become overwhelming. You can prepare a bag with comforting items for your loved one; a book, mp3 player, anything to help your loved one calm down
Focus on the good – within the anxiety-provoked situation, you need to help your loved one see the good; there will be something positive that can be a calming distraction. You cans suggest talking to a relative who has a positive, understanding energy, read stories to children, playing with animals or assist with the meal. Doing something positive will calm your mind and reduce the anxiety/depression
Understanding what is happening and having a plan to make it through can increase the sense of control and decrease your anxiety as well as your loved one.
Anita Levesque is a web and graphic designer, a mental health advocate with lived experience through loved ones; father – bipolar; brother – PTSD, depression, anxiety; mother – PTSD; boyfriend – clinical depression, severe OCD, GAD, personality disorders. The goal with my website, http://mentalillness-doyouknow.com is to focus on personal experiences rather than articles by doctors and medical professionals who haven’t experienced mental illness. Anita writes articles for several websites on topics such as OCD, Addictions, Suicide, PTSD and more. She resides in Stoney Creek, Ontario and interests are photography, reading, music, learning, spending time with her family.