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Managing Anxiety for The Holidays During The Time of COVID

The sooner you realize that pacifying the family conflict during the holidays is not your job- the better your experience for the holidays will be. Imagine getting all worked up with anxiety, excessive worry- rumination, and even possibly paralyzed at the mere thought that getting together at Tio’s house would result in utter family chaos. It would make or break your holiday experience- and in this example, break it.

The sooner you realize that the holiday experience is a collective responsibility and not an individual’s, the quicker you’ll realize that the holiday experience, in particular during the COVID pandemic is not your responsibility.

Ask yourself, whose anxiety is it that the holidays have to be perfect? Chaos free? Conflict free? (You’ll soon find out that the answer will be “mine”)- and the holidays can be chaos-free, for me. Right? So take it easy and continue reading through this blog to find out how to increase your insight and thoughtfulness to better tackle excessive worry and anxiety. This blog will touch on Murray Bowen’s concept of chronic anxiety and provide tips on how to be able to manage your own anxiety during this holiday season, during a time where anxiety may already be elevated for many of us. Brief Introduction on Murray Bowen Dr. Murray Bowen, a psychiatrist, originated this theory and its eight interlocking concepts (i.e. triangles, differentiation of self, nuclear family emotional system, family projection process, multigenerational transmission process, emotional cutoff, sibling position, and societal emotional process.) He formulated the theory by using systems thinking to integrate knowledge of the human species as a product of evolution and knowledge from family research. A core assumption is that an emotional system that evolved over several billion years governs human relationship systems. People have a "thinking brain," language, a complex psychology and culture, but people still do all the ordinary things other forms of life do. The emotional system affects most human activity and is the principal driving force in the development of clinical problems. Knowledge of how the emotional system operates in one's family, work, and social systems reveal new and more effective options for solving problems in each of these areas.

Bowen Theory Bowen's focus was on patterns that develop in families in order to defuse anxiety. A key generator of anxiety in families is the perception of either too much closeness or too great a distance in a relationship. The degree of anxiety in any one family will be determined by the current levels of external stress and the sensitivities to particular themes that have been transmitted down the generations. If family members do not have the capacity to think through their responses to relationship dilemmas, but rather react anxiously to perceived emotional demands, a state of chronic anxiety or reactivity may be set in place. (Kerr & Bowen, 1988). Chronic vs Acute Anxiety Anxiety is normal. "Anxiety can be defined as the response of an organism to a threat, real or imagined. It is a process that, in some form, is present in all living things." ( Kerr, Bowen 1988) According to Family Systems Theory, there are two overarching types of anxiety: Acute and Chronic anxiety. Acute anxiety is that uneasy feeling you get when a car speeds by you on I95 and narrowly avoids hitting you, this is an example of acute anxiety. It's the acute anxiety that prompts you to jump back out of harm's way and perhaps slam on the brakes or swerve out of the incoming car. It's a good kind of anxiety; a naturally occurring alarm in your body that lets you know you're in danger. When the stressor ends (the car speeds off and you realize you're safe) so does the acute anxiety. Unlike the causes of acute anxiety, chronic anxiety is primarily generated within relationships. According to Kerr and Bowen, "Acute anxiety is fed by fear of what is; chronic anxiety is fed by fear of what might be." Worry, which is almost always about what might be, can be one clue to how much chronic anxiety a person is dealing with. If you are experiencing chronic anxiety due to the holidays it may appear as common anxiety, see below:

Anxiety is commonly experienced as intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Fast heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, and feeling tired may occur. However, due to COVID running rampant, and our nation (and the world) seeing a second (and perhaps a third) wave, additional fear may be creeping in. Are we going to be able to travel? Will there be enough money for the holidays? Will I even have a job? Will I have my health? What about my parents? And these concerns are valid and true. However, we can only manage whatever is within our reach— and that is US. Our self-care, our own health, our mental health.

Self-Care Tips in Preparation for The Holidays: If you find that you or your loved one is struggling with excessive worry, concern, rumination, and/or anxiety due to the upcoming holidays and find that COVID has magnified this stress, feel free to use these tips to help manage symptoms and #BeTheDifference for yourself this holiday season.

  1. Plan ahead. Take a few hours to organize your schedule and to-do-list for the coming weeks. When you write everything down and develop a plan, you can help manage feelings of fear of the unknown.

  2. Find your support system. Talk to and spend time with people you trust, whether that is family, friends, faith communities, or people who have also experienced similar anxiety. If you’re nervous about attending a large holiday gathering, take that person with you for support and companionship.

  3. Make time for self-care. Even though the holiday season can be busy, try to make time for yourself and your mental health. Even just a few minutes every day to practice self-care strategies can help manage symptoms of anxiety. Therapies with scientific evidence for effectiveness with anxiety disorders include relaxation training, exercise, self-help books based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and meditation.

  4. Ask for help. Remember that it’s okay to feel anxious and ask for help. A variety of health professionals can provide additional support and resources, including primary care physicians, mental health professionals, certified peer specialists, and psychiatrists. If you don’t know where to start, talk to your primary care physician first about how you’re feeling.

Additional to these tips, Dr. Claudia Caprio from CMC Therapy and I have a real treat for you all- as we have curated an individualized e-book called Home for the Holidays and additional resources that will be available for purchase starting this week. These resources in particular will benefit those that are struggling to manage their anxiety and mental health throughout these times and will help make welcoming the holidays a more enjoyable and communal experience. Stay tuned for additional information.

"Anxiety can be defined as the response of an organism to a threat, real or imagined. It is a process that, in some form, is present in all living things." (Kerr, Bowen 1988) Stay safe and well everyone. Thank you for tuning in and I hope to hear from you all soon.

And remember, strive to be present, grateful, and kind, be your whole unapologetic self.

With love, Dr. Nicole Linardi Be sure to follow me on Instagram @bewholewithnicole for more daily reminders, affirmations, concepts, and resources that will shed light on many concepts I touch on in my monthly blogs. Feel free to reach out to me directly and/or comment on my posts for additional needs and requests. Thank you!

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