Navigating Difficult Family Dynamics
I cannot believe I am saying this... but I miss the library. I miss having a place designated for studying, surrounded by like-minded college students living off of Yerba Mate and the desperate Subway sandwich meal that they’ve probably had 4 times that week. One of the challenges brought forth by COVID-19 is the displacement of several students into uncomfortable living situations, where it may be difficult to find a place to study or even relax.
If you are experiencing difficult family dynamics while living at home during this time, you are not alone. Some students may now experience an increase in responsibilities that they didn’t typically have during the school year, such as caretaking. This can be incredibly hard, especially while being a full-time college student and trying to complete other remote work from home. College also acts as a safe haven for many students, giving them physical distance between them and their family members. Now that they share the same physical space, many people feel like they have less independence and less control over their familial relationships. A few examples of some difficult situations that one might face while home are having a family member with a mental illness, difficult financial situations, lack of space, or just not feeling understood by your loved ones.
Also, underlying tensions can be magnified because of the stressful, unusual, frightening circumstances brought on by the pandemic. Family therapist Helen Park of Manhattan’s Ackerman Institute for the Family, a mental health clinic, says that “the climate for everybody is such an acute, pervasive level of anxiety. That kicks up the sympathetic nervous system; the fight-or-flight fear responses are very much always on. That's where you get problematic cycles of interactions, which are so difficult to interrupt if you're in a heightened state." Many people (myself included) have noticed that squabbles occur more frequently and often tend to escalate. This emotional distress coupled with a persistent feeling of anxiety can be overwhelming at times, so it’s important to pay close attention to your well-being.
Some things that may help us when we are in these situations is:
I’ll admit it has not been easy adjusting back home. Even though it’s week four, each day feels like I am starting all over again. Today was the first day I woke up before 10:00 am, and I’m excited. I know that I have a long road ahead of me before I’m back on track, and at least the situation we are all living in is giving me a chance to practice. I don’t win everyday, but each day is a battle I learn from.
As a senior, I am angry and frustrated that our graduating class had to be during a pandemic. I know folks who lost job opportunities, community, and family members during a time where we are supposed to be celebrating. But, I am hopeful. I am hopeful of our generation to survive and take on this situation with courage. We are the generation that grew up watching our parents fight during the Recession. We are the generation that grew up learning what it meant to take responsibility. I’ve been watching a lot of School of Life videos on YouTube. If you have time, Jordan Peterson gives great words of wisdom that have helped motivate me.
“To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open. It means deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order” -Jordan Peterson
- Laic, Mental Health Peer
I feel uprooted. I feel like the rug has been pulled from under me. I feel like I should panic, but I feel like everyone needs to stop panicking. I feel sad, then I feel guilty because others have it worse. I feel scared, but I don’t want to acknowledge that fear. I can’t fall asleep at night, then I either sleep in until 2 pm or I wake up overwhelmed with my own thoughts. And emails.
[CLASS 1] ZOOM lecture now posted on gauchospace!
[CLASS 2] read, respond ASAP: difficulties with ZOOM…
[SA ANNOUNCEMENTS] COVID-19 Response
[CLASS 1] ZOOM link: updated
[CLASS 3] syllabus update: READ THOROUGHLY!!!
[Henry T. Yang] COVID-19 Update
There’s so much to do, but also nothing to do. I should do my class work, but why should I when the days feel like they’re blurring together? I’ll just do it tomorrow. Or the next day. I’ll just go on Twitter.
[Timeline] Coronavirus: Latest news and updates
[COLLEGE FRIEND] ur stupid if you leave ur house during a pandemic…
[VIRAL TWEET] this is a picture of my grocery store right now…
[FRIEND FROM HOME] everyone chill lol ur stupid if ur still panicking…
[CHRISSY TEIGAN] *animal crossing video*
Honestly though… I’m tired. I’m tired of ZOOM, of not seeing my friends, of not knowing how long this is going to last or what the future holds, of worrying about my basic needs, of being shamed every time I have to leave my house, of not being able to celebrate birthdays in person or go to events, of having no sense of stability or organization, and most of all, of worrying that this is what my post-grad life is going to be like. This is what my LIFE is going to be like. What am I going to do with my life?
Let’s slow down…
Take a breath….
And show ourselves some self-compassion.
Over the past month and a half, my anxiety has been at an all-time high. It’s been really comfortable for me to fall back into unhealthier coping techniques, like spending hours scrolling through social media, not taking care of my needs, or completely isolating myself. While it’s okay to indulge in those types of behaviors occasionally, it’s important to take care of ourselves and do what we can to navigate our anxiety in a healthy way, especially during this unusual time. Here’s what’s been helpful for me so far!
The main affirmation that I’ve been reminding myself is… it’s okay. Everything you’re feeling right now? It’s 100% okay. We as a society are experiencing a collective shock, and that can lead to feelings of fear, exhaustion, numbness, anger and irritability, lack of motivation, and more. It’s absolutely normal and healthy for us to experience a whirlwind of emotion, or to feel like we’re unable to process it all at once. (However, if you or someone you know is experiencing warning signs or thoughts of ending one’s life, please connect with CAPS or Student Mental Health Coordination Services, or call 911 in case of an emergency.)
Can I Be Kind to Myself? (Spoiler: Yes)
Try to acknowledge these feelings through the lens of an observer rather than a critic. For example, instead of judging yourself harshly with negative self-talk such as, “Why am I so unmotivated? I’m such a failure,” try the following:
If accessible, I highly recommend therapy to anyone and everyone. I started therapy about a year and a half ago, and I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions I could have made for myself. I didn’t realize how much processing I still needed to do to heal from my past traumas, and through therapy I’ve been able to become more aware of my own patterns and learn about ways to navigate my anxiety. It also feels really comforting to know that I’m able to consistently see someone who will listen to me and support me! To learn more about on-campus and off-campus therapy options, visit caps.sa.ucsb.edu.
Thought Diffusion: Visual Metaphors to Help with Unwanted Thoughts
For those looking for techniques to help diffuse negative thoughts as they arise, I highly suggest trying the following:
How Do I Find Resources???
Although it can feel like everything is on pause right now, most campus departments are still open! Here are a few options for those looking for some at-home self-care:
Remember, you are the master of your own mind. While there may be times where it feels like anxiety is uncontrollable, it is crucial to remember that we all have the ability to practice self-compassion and manage our thought patterns. You’re not alone in this! ☺
I hope that this blog post was helpful for y’all! Stay tuned for more blog posts by my lovely coworkers, and please follow @ucsbmentalhealthpeers for more mental health resources.
- Jasmine, Mental Health Peer
Mental Health Peers
We are the mental Health Peers from UCSB Counseling and Psychological services.