Updated: Apr 13, 2021
My friends have been posting a lot lately about the stress of spending LOTS of time together with their families since our world has been revamped. It makes sense! Our “new normal” is not the norm and everyone is going through some type of loss and stress.
This does not mean you do not love your family or do not enjoy spending time with them, it simply means this is all NEW.
So, how am I supposed to survive this?
Most “stress tips” focus on reaction to being stressed, so we will call them stress relievers -- tips like breathing, mindfulness, meditation/prayer, and a myriad of other short-term reactions to stress. These tips are great and I recommend them to patients all the time. But, something more proactive may be more helpful, because stress will always be a part of our lives.
There is so much information about the physical impact of stress on the body. But think about stress and the behavioral impacts. Stress often leads to some of the worst behaviors on the planet. Financial stress may lead people to a life of crime. The stress of not feeling loved or accepted can lead to someone connecting with people who influence them to do things they might not normally do.
Can you think of a time when you were feeling stressed and it killed your sleep? Or, when you were feeling stressed and lashed out at your spouse or kids? These experiences make you feel horrible and you are left wondering, “Where did that come from?” or “Why did that happen?” Well, they actually came from built up stress.
We need to make sure stress does not build up by:
Increasing our awareness (most people are unaware)
Figuring out why the stress is happening
Being aware of how intense it is
Here is a quick practice to help you evaluate and becoming better aware of your stress.
Ask yourself 2 questions:
Where am I being stressed?
What is causing it?
Research shows us that when we become more aware of something, it immediately changes. With stress, when we start becoming aware of its existence and get clarity about why it is happening, we then start to feel some relief. It can seem too good to be true, however, I see it working in myself and my patients a lot.
Think about this. Have you ever had that week where things were different than your norm and then you had a revelation and thought “Oh, that’s what was going on with me?” Did you then notice calmness or relief set in? That’s what I am talking about—clarity.
Increasing communication about expectations
I’ve heard people say things like, “I just don’t have expectations of other people, then I don’t get disappointed.” Here is where I call the B.S. card. We all have expectations, otherwise known as desires or wants. We cannot shut them off. We have expectations and they include other people generally in some way. So, instead of trying to shut off expectations, how about clarifying them? This does not mean every desire or want will become fulfilled. but t does mean you can do some negotiating and possibly find a suitable middle path.
A friend of mine loves Disney, so I am going to use this as an example. Let’s say you and your family are going to Disney World and you have decided you can afford to go for x number of days. On those days, let’s say you are going to be spontaneous and just go wherever within the park. This would be okay, if you are checking in with everyone throughout the day and asking what each’s expectations are (what they want to do or see). However, have you ever gone somewhere with four other people and someone ended up getting angry or sad because they did not get to see the one thing they wanted to see? This is because the expectations about the day were not talked about.
As a family, expectations need to be talked about regularly. Whether it is about how days are going to be spent, when we need to schedule in time for ourselves, how the internet is shared (okay, maybe just in my house!), who is doing what chore and when, how people are feeling about changes or missed people/events, what’s for dinner and who is cooking it, expected behavior (like not coloring the wall with Sharpies), clarifications about what is needed for work/school, or about experiences you want to share together (playing board games, going hiking, etc.)
These are just a few examples about happenings in the home and potential pitfalls leading to stress. Start talking about the things going on in your home before things blow up, before having to unravel a mess (back to non-proactive stress relieving). It might even mean sitting down on Sunday and talking about all the needs of the upcoming week. Get creative.
Pre-emptive stress reducing practices
Here is another practice for heading stress off before it builds:
Make sure you are starting each day with effective strategies, so your day starts out with less stress.
Here are a few suggestions:
Start the day with time in prayer/meditation/alone time
Affirmations – look at what you are telling yourself at the front end of the day. If you tell yourself, “I can’t do this” or “it’s going to be a horrible day,” then it will be. Give yourself encouragement or words which orient you to the goals of the day
Visualization & Validation – visualize yourself doing, acting, feeling the way you want to be
Exercise & Eating – start the day out with movement and a breakfast suited for you
Read & Write – fill your brain up with things to encourage you. Journal out your thoughts to help you “get out” the stuff you need process
It is also helpful for you to being doing “check ins” with yourself throughout the day to ensure stress is not building up. Teach the other members of your family to be doing the same. Maybe you have a quick sesh at lunch to address anything. The more you are catching things, the less stress can build.
You do not have to do it all
This is the one many people get stuck on -- especially parents. Please stop thinking you must be the super parent. Stop thinking you have to be your kid’s cruise director. Stop thinking you have to be the schedule keeper for everyone. Just stop.
It is important to model behaviors you want your kids to emulate. This means teaching them how to ask for help and to get out of the mode of perfectionism. Talk as a family about dividing out tasks like menu planning, organizing activities, the cleaning schedule, etc.
Ask yourself the questions,
“What is important right now?” and “How can we ALL achieve this?”
You are a team, let’s keep it that way.