We know that relationships within our families can affect our mental health. The people we love and who probably know us better than anybody else are also the ones who can trigger our less desirable emotions and qualities.
Thus, we invoke the aid of family lawyers when treading on sensitive issues. Therapists and counselors are there to help us talk through problems in a safe space and mediate constructive conversations.
But relationships with parents, siblings, spouses, and children also play a significant role in our physical health. This influence can be passive and constant, therefore hard to recognize. And if it has a negative impact, it can’t be ignored, especially during the age of the pandemic.
A determinant of health
Individual levels of health and fitness are tied to several factors, termed ‘determinants’. Throughout our lives, these determinants interact with one another, creating a complicated and unique picture of our personal health.
Some of these determinants are innate qualities and can’t be changed. These include your heredity, as well as the circumstances in which you were raised.
Your parents’ choice of where to live was likely based on opportunities to earn a living. Their income, as well as neighborhood circumstances, would have determined your access to recreational areas, as well as proper nutrition while growing up.
Familial ties continue to exert an influence as you mature. Some people move out to live with a partner and raise their own kids. Others live in the same house as their parents or grandparents, increasingly taking on caregiving responsibilities.
In either scenario, you’re still spending a lot of time around family members. And as the saying goes, you are the sum of the people you spend the most time with.
This effect ties in to your habits. It can be positive or negative. And in many ways, as you become an independent adult, health and fitness come to be more heavily affected by your habits.
Determinants that are beyond your control will continue to have an influence. But mature adults often have the potential to exert far greater agency in their lives than they usually do.
When we fail to take ownership of our health habits, we typically fall into lockstep with the people around us. It’s simply easier to mirror elderly parents, for instance, when it comes to physical activity.
If they would rather stay at home all day, we can justify doing the same and becoming sedentary ourselves. Someone has to watch over them, after all.
The same goes for raising kids or living with a partner. If we indulge them on occasion by ordering pizza or having a midnight snack, we usually dig into the meal as well.
Living in the new reality of pandemics and lockdowns only places added emphasis on the influence of our household relationships. A survey by the New York Times in April 2020 provides a variety of responses that reflect this.
Families aren’t used to spending so much time together. Being able to travel and interact with people from other social circles served as an outlet.
With more adults working from home, kids taking online classes, leisure options closed, and travel restrictions imposed, that outlet has largely disappeared. It amplifies the effects of bickering and nagging, turning them into greater distractions and arguments.
And as you know, feeling stressed around the home is hardly conducive to healthy behaviors. It can ruin your mood for going through with your daily exercise routine. You’re more likely to feel tempted to eat junk food or abuse substances that will make you feel good temporarily, but hurt your body in the long term.
Thus, our families can exert a profound and growing influence on physical health and well-being. We tend to imitate their practices, and deal with additional stress in those relationships by seeking out unhealthy behaviors.
Of course, the ideal solution would be targeted at the root cause. Healing relationships and resolving conflicts would be preferable. But as Tolstoy once wrote, “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Everyone would be well-advised to seek a personalized approach to resolving issues around the home, perhaps with the help of a professional. But as far as your physical health is concerned, you can also strengthen your resolve and practices to resist those negative effects.
Make sure you create your own space and time each day for working out and eating healthy. This will ensure that disapproval or temptations don’t interfere with your ability to do what’s best for you.
Beyond that, try to convince the people you live with to embrace healthy nutrition and a physically active lifestyle. By doing so, you can turn a negative feedback loop into a positive one.