What is stress? Stress is the common, nonspecific response to the demands and the wear and tear of whatever happens to a living being. It is a generalized physiological and psychological reaction to anything that threatens a person’s survival. Traumatic events are certainly stressful. Even relatively happy events, like weddings and vacations, carry elements of stress for us.
Picture yourself as a target. When you live and work in harmony with your body and the demands around you, you function well. You are in the center of the target. You are creative, productive, and unstressed. When your actions move you away from the bull’s-eye, you experience stress.
Being a little off target (experiencing mild stress) can spur your creativity and help you learn more about yourself so you can grow. But getting too far off center can bring disharmony, dis-ease or distress, which often has destructive results like illness, depression, violent behavior, and accidents.
Your attitude (clear thinking) plays a crucial role in mastering stress. It is healthy to realize that some things are beyond our control — such as weather, world wars, and diseases. When you realize this fact you will discover more energy to change the things within your control. Learn to let go of physical tension. One way to do this is by getting involved in strenuous physical exercise or practices such as yoga and tai-chi, which is a Chinese form of physical exercise characterized by a series of very slow and deliberate balletic body movements.
What is family stress? Family stress is the state of responding non-harmoniously to the pileup of changing family events.
Example: When dad was hospitalized unexpectedly, mom was needed by his side leaving teenage son to baby-sit the younger children instead of going to an after school job and preparing for college entrance exams. The whole family was worried about how to pay their enormous medical bills.
Serious, single stressful events and pileup situations call for creative planning to master family stress. It is the flexible and resourceful family that adapts to changes and challenges. This type of family controls its level of stress by how it responds to events.
There are three (3) steps necessary to master family stress:
- recognize symptoms
- identify sources
- take action
It is important to recognize symptoms of stress. These are warning signals; flashing red lights. Some examples of warning signals are sleeplessness, irritability, physical symptoms such as headaches and backaches, frequent parent-child conflicts, communication breakdowns, child/school difficulties, anger/criticism, fault finding, sarcasm, marital conflicts. Deeper problems show up in alcohol and substance abuse, child and/or spouse abuse, running away, chronic depression, physical/verbal hostility. It is important to recognize that often the entire family is under stress rather than thinking that only one member has a problem. This is an important first step in crisis and stress management.
Sources of stress can be either expected or unexpected. Some examples of expected sources of stress are birth of a baby, youngest child entering school, a young adult moving out on their own, or retirement. Examples of unexpected stress are generally easier to recognize. Examples of unhappy unexpected stress might be relocation, serious illness, or a tornado. Examples of happy unexpected stress might be a surprise visit from a relative, a bumper crop, or a promotion.
To take action to better manage crisis and stress involves:
- controlling events
- controlling attitudes
- controlling responses
- recognizing and using resources
Ways to control events include planning ahead, anticipating stress and strains ahead of time, setting priorities, making family time a high priority, and simplifying your life.
Controlling your attitudes has to do with how you look at or perceive events. By putting things into perspective you feel a degree of control — this often leads to acting in control. Other ways of controlling attitudes is to work to be flexible, adjust your expectations of yourself and others, turn your crises into challenges and opportunities for growth, avoid rushing yourself and others, notice your accomplishments, and forgive your failures. Making lists of your accomplishments and failures to forgive can be helpful.
Try to control the responses you have to stressful events. We have a choice in how we respond to a stressful event. Individuals can learn to take better care of self. Other healthy methods of controlling responses include communicating well (use I-statements rather than you-statements), make time to listen to viewpoints of others in a manner that communicates genuine respect and concern, regularly schedule one-to-one time with each family member, encourage honest expression of feelings (both positive and negative).
When anger surfaces, ask what it is that the angry person needs/wants right now, use physical exercise, negotiate differences as they arise and focus on the present, express sincere appreciation, maintain physical health through rest, exercise, and diet, relax at meals and talk about positive events, take a mental vacation being who you want to be doing what you want to do, enjoy a sunset, unwind before bedtime by doing stretching exercises, listening to some soothing music, relaxing deeply.
Recognize and use all your resources. This includes knowing when to reach out for help (which is NOT a sign of weakness), knowing your own limits for stress, and actively seeking assistance from others. Resources include things like individual strengths, the family as a group (when working together you may find more strength than when working alone), relatives and friends, religious community, community resources, counselors. Be sure to always maintain a strong social support system.
Relaxation techniques include things like:
- diaphragmatic breathing (try it when you can’t sleep or you feel tense)
- progressive muscle relaxation
- imagery (mental vacation)
- count back from 24 (self-hypnosis)
It is always important to take care of yourself…