Keep a gratitude journal to thrive during stressful holiday gatherings

With Heidi McBain

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

Keep a gratitude journal that you write in at the end of the day, so you can keep track of the positive things that happened (even if you were surrounded by negativity).

I had the pleasure of interviewing Heidi McBain. Heidi is a Texas Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Professional Counselor and Registered Play Therapist, as well as a published author. She has a therapy private practice based out of Flower Mound, Texas where she offers counseling to women living throughout the state of Texas via online video counseling. Heidi specializes in women’s issues, grief and loss and maternal mental health.

Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! What is your backstory?

I’m happy to help! I’ve been married for 16 years and I have two school-aged children and one sweet Labrador retriever (my morning running buddy!). I love to travel to new places, and have lived all over the world, including France, Peru, California, Illinois, Maryland, and New Mexico. We now live in Flower Mound, Texas, outside of Dallas/Fort Worth.

With the holiday season upon us, many people are visiting and connecting with relatives. While family is important, some of them can be incredibly challenging. How would you define the difference between a difficult dynamic and one that’s unhealthy?

A difficult dynamic can been seen as one where people generally have good intentions, but the family interactions can still be hard with differing parenting styles, different personality traits, etc. You may leave a situation like this feeling drained, but happy you went knowing that people’s intentions were positive.

An unhealthy dynamic is one where people generally do not have good intentions, which means that interactions can be very difficult at these family functions, as people can be mean, angry, verbally attacking, etc. Their comments can be very hurtful towards you, with the intention of hurting you. You may leave a situation like this feeling sad and attacked by others, and wondering why you went when the unhealthy people in your family can be so negative.

Families have a large part to play in our overall mental health. While some members may be champions for wellness, others may trip triggers. In families where celebrating separately is not an option, what advice would you give about engaging both types of relatives?

Family members who are champions for wellness are often pretty to easy to be around because they typically see the positives in you and work hard to build upon these positive personal traits.

It can be so very hard to be around people who trigger your “issues” such as feelings of unworthiness, not being enough, not being good enough, etc. It helps to expect that these people will trigger you. Then, try to set your boundaries with them where you are still nice and polite, but when they try to make you feel badly about yourself, you can let them know that you’re not okay with what they are saying, and you can give yourself permission to leave the room as well.

We often hear about “toxic relationships.” Do you believe there is a difference between a toxic family and an unhealthy one? If so, how would you advise someone to handle a toxic family member?

Toxic family members are often the ones who are intentionally trying to make those around them feel poorly. Why? Often it’s because they are feeling so badly about themselves. Set and maintain good boundaries with them, but if they go too far, give yourself permission to leave the situation.

Can you share about a time where you helped someone overcome a challenging family member?

Grief and loss come up a lot this time of year, especially when there has been the loss of a loved one in a family. People are often surprised to find how much their family dynamics change when their loved one is no longer with them. We talk about the new dynamics and how they personally fit into them, and how they would like their personal legacy to look within these different dynamics.

Managing mental health in high stress situations is challenging and although holiday gatherings are only a few days a year, they can make a major impact on overall wellness. What 5 strategies do you suggest using to maintain mental health when faced with an unhealthy family dynamic?

  1. Have a daily self-care routine that helps you to be more present and grounded in the moment- meditation, mindfulness/focusing on your five senses, exercise, journaling, reading, etc.
  2. Have a family member or friend that you can vent to if need be, without them judging you for how you are feeling in that moment.
  3. Keep a gratitude journal that you write in at the end of the day, so you can keep track of the positive things that happened (even if you were surrounded by negativity).
  4. Have clear expectations before you see family as to what you will and won’t put up with emotionally. Set and maintain good boundaries with them. Give yourself permission to leave the situation if need be.
  5. Talk to a therapist so you can get a clear sense of your family dynamics and how to break these familial patterns. Therapy can also help you get to a deeper level of healing, so you can still be you, even when surrounded by unhealthy people within your family.

What advice would you give to family members who are allies of someone struggling with mental illness at these gatherings? How can they support strong mental health without causing friction with other members of the family?

Sometimes simply letting them know that you understand what they are going through and you’re not judging them for their illness can be so very helpful.

What is your favorite mental health quote? Why do you find it so impactful?

Don’t let yourself get so busy that you lose sight of what’s most important in your life –Heidi McBain

This is actually one of my mantras. In our society today, there seems to be a badge of honor that people wear regarding how busy they are in their everyday life, which just seems to get worse around the holidays. I’d rather that people more were intentional about their time, doing the things that truly make them feel happy and filled with love. Focus on what matters most, and the rest will fall into place in your life.

If you could inspire a movement or a change in mental wellness, what would it be? How can people support you in this mission?

I own an online video counseling business, and my hope is that this mode of therapy will break down the barriers to treatment like finding a babysitter, drive time, taking time off of work, etc. It’s a great set up for new moms suffering from postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, it’s great for moms with young kids that don’t want to also have to pay for a babysitter (because their kids can be home during their sessions!), it’s great for the busy professional woman who wants to meet on their lunch break, and so many other women. We need to be thinking outside of the box on how to reach more people, especially those who truly wouldn’t get services otherwise, but people who could truly use extra support from a mental health specialist to live a better life.

What is the best way for people to connect with you on social media?

Facebook: @heidimcbaincounseling

Instagram: @heidimcbaincounseling

Author of the book, Life Transitions: Personal Stories of Hope Through Life’s Most Difficult Challenges and Changes

Thank you so much for joining us!

Thanks, this was fun☺

    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    fizkes / Shutterstock
    Thriving in the New Normal//

    How to Talk to Your Kids About the COVID-19 Outbreak

    by Leah Campbell
    Emilija Manevska/Getty Images

    Dealing With the Holidays When a Loved One Is Sick

    by SheKnows
    Arun Katwe / EyeEm / Getty Images

    10 Signs You Aren’t Interested in Your Relationship Anymore

    by Lauren Schumacker
    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.