This year, I chose to stay home over the holidays. I didn’t choose to stay home because I don’t love my family or because I didn’t want to see them. I chose to stay home for the sake of honoring my emotions.
As someone who struggles with mental health issues, being around multiple people at once can have a tremendous effect on me—and not a positive one. My family is aware of my conditions, but they don’t always know how to respond to my emotions, let alone understand why I feel the way I do. So before large gatherings, I tend to become anxious, panicky, and overwhelmed.
This year, I’d already been feeling an increase in my anxiety before the party even began, and that was the only indicator I needed to make my decision. Some guilt arose while I was in the process of deciding to stay home, but I knew I would only benefit in the long run.
Here are the three key things I told myself to help curb the guilt I experienced as a result of choosing to stay home rather than participate in holiday celebrations with my family.
1. I don’t owe anybody anything.
I have always been a people-pleaser. Now, I know there’s nothing wrong with wanting to do something that will make another person happy or looking forward to seeing someone’s face light up with joy when you do something kind. But I’ve learned it’s important to draw a line when we begin to sacrifice our own peace and comfort for the sake of someone else’s happiness.
If you know going to a family function or a party with friends is going to make you an anxious mess, I feel it’s best to practice honoring and acknowledging your body and mental health by making the decision that will be best for you, which might be to just stay home.
When I was in the throes of my people-pleasing days, I was always under the impression that if I said, “No,” or did something when I didn’t really want to do it, it would be rude, unkind, and selfish. But I’m here to tell you that it’s not! It is everything but that. By making the best choice for you, not someone else, you are cultivating self-compassion and being loving and kind to yourself. Your body and your mental health will thank you every time you make a decision that is based on how you truly feel.
2. I can’t take the reactions of others personally.
I will be honest and say I am still working hard on this particular part. But I am pretty proud of myself that I stuck with my choice to stay home this year without letting fear of my family’s reaction influence me.
If you know that going to a family function or a party with friends is going to make you an anxious mess, I feel it’s best to practice honoring and acknowledging your body and mental health by making the decision that will be best for you, which might be to just stay home.
The reality of life is, no matter what we do or what we say, we cannot make anyone feel or react a certain way. How other people choose to react to our personal decisions is solely on them—not on us. We can only control how we feel and what we say and do. The rest is completely out of our control. And part of truly honoring ourselves is to not take the things we can’t control personally.
Thankfully, my family wasn’t upset with my decision to stay home, but I still had to prepare myself—just in case they were. I told myself over and over again that if they were mad or upset with me, I could not control that. All I could do was what I needed for myself, what was right for me. By choosing to honor my boundaries and stick with them, no matter how others reacted, I was able to support my own well-being.
3. I need to trust my gut.
As I mentioned, I was already experiencing anticipatory anxiety about having to go to my family’s house. From the moment I woke up, I had the gut feeling that I really didn’t want to go. My body and mind were both telling me it would be a healthy choice to lie low at home and take it easy. I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea to put myself in a situation that would only provoke my anxiety.
All three points have one major theme in common: Honor your thoughts and emotions. Listen to them. Accept them.
I had to learn it was all right to put myself first. In fact, many times when I honored my emotions and said “No” to an obligation, I found that people actually responded with more respect and understanding because I was so truthful!
Learning to honor my emotions, trust my gut, and not take things personally didn’t just come naturally, though. Seeing a therapist regularly has helped me tremendously with all three of those things, and there is no shame in needing one if you feel like you’re having trouble honoring your emotions and/or if you struggle to say “No” to obligations, even when you wish you could. My therapist has supported me as I learned to find my own voice, and my work in therapy has empowered me throughout the years to utilize my voice every chance I get. Your voice is your truth, and no one can take that away from you.
If you aren’t feeling well when you have plans, and deep down, you really do not want to go out and do something, I encourage you to learn to be truthful, with yourself and with others. By doing so, you will likely learn, just as I did, that it’s perfectly all right to say no if you aren’t feeling good about something.
If you are struggling with how to begin, seeking support from a mental health professional might be a good place to start—doing so helped me a great deal. By finding your voice, you may not only find yourself opening up the door to self-empowerment, and you might also encourage others around you to do the same.
Julia is a college student and mental health advocate coping with borderline personality. She is currently studying psychology in order to become a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC).
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