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Ask Ainsley: Coming home for the holidays

Dear Ainsley,

I’m dreading going home for the holidays and seeing my family again, and this fear has been hanging over me since midterms. My parents can be really strict and critical, especially about my weight, grades, and struggles with my mental health. The prospect of seeing them again and facing that criticism is daunting, especially since the holidays are already unusually stressful and triggering for me.

How should I cope with this while studying for finals, and how can I prepare emotionally for being back home?


Not So Sweet Home (NSSH)

Dear NSSH,

It is natural to feel anxious when awaiting the judgement of your family. After all, they are likely very important to you, and their opinion will always matter. Remember  that because they are critical, your parents may focus on the negative. However, you shouldn’t let reminders of your errors make you forget your successes.

If you are worried about your parents putting pressure on your academic performance, a good strategy is to remind parents of your achievements. Start conversations with anecdotes about the courses you were passionate about or extracurricular activities you excelled in. At the end of the day, your parents want to know what you enjoyed about your university experience, so let them know how you made your time at school worthwhile.

It can be very difficult when parents are critical of weight. Firstly, it is important to remember that your parents have not seen you in a long time, which means any bodily changes may come as a surprise. Recognize that any comments will most likely be exaggerations. Additionally, bear in mind that  you are still growing. It is natural to grow into your late teens and 20s—in fact, some medical professionals consider adolescence to last until 24. Finally, embrace any changes. Try your best to be confident with your body and acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with a change in weight. With holidays coming straight after finals, your stress levels could cause temporary weight gain, and this fluctuation is normal.

Finally, criticisms of your struggles with mental health can be especially triggering. As with anything that requires a high level of empathy, it is important to be in constant communication with your family about how you feel. Nobody should trivialize your mental health struggles. If your parents do not understand your challenges, confront them if you feel safe to do so. When in doubt, speak to your peers; you may find that you are not alone in your situation, and there are others who are suffering similarly. You may find comfort in the fact that mental health struggles are common at university: According to the American Psychology Association, 41.6 per cent of college students suffer from anxiety, and 36.4 per cent suffer from depression. Tell your parents about how specific reactions make you feel, and how these feelings can sometimes be overwhelming. If you have the resources, seeking professional help can be useful to give your parents insight into your mental health struggles. 

Ultimately, your family should always want the best for you. Keep in communication with them and let them know how you feel. Try to get their support. However, sometimes your parents may be too critical, and that is not your fault.

Good luck!

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