Stress and Families
M.Ed., PCC, EAP Consultant/Coach
A couple of recent studies caught my eye about the effects of stress. The first, reported in Fortune Magazine, stated that 36% of U.S. employees says they’re experiencing chronic work stress. Of those, 32% of the survey’s respondents said they are going to look for a job elsewhere.
The second survey was released by the American Psychological Association (APA), about the effects of stress on children and teens. It seems youth is not so blissful after all. Of more concern is that kids report being more worried than their parents about things like finances and schoolwork. Physical symptoms like overeating to manage stress are under reported by parents.
Clearly, our economic struggles of the past couple of years are not only impacting our work lives, but are trickling down to our homes. I see this as an opportunity, though—not as another reason to beat ourselves up. If we, as adults, can learn some new ways to channel stress, we model that behavior for our kids. Just as they manage to pick up the bad words first, our kids are mimicking us. If they see us scarfing down a pint of Ben & Jerry’s to take the edge off, what are they likely to do?
The APA survey results showed people use a variety of sedentary activities to relieve stress (watching TV, listening to music, reading). Some people said they were too stressed to even try to make lifestyle changes! Lack of willpower and time were also cited as obstacles.
So—let’s start small. Let’s fill our “toolbox” with more activities to reduce stress. One of my favorites: stretching. That’s right. Just stretching. No training for a marathon. Stretch your arms toward the ceiling. Stretch out your legs while sitting, and alternating tilt your foot forward and back. Do shoulder rolls. This behavior communicates with our brain at a very basic mammal level, and sends the message to calm down.
A deep therapeutic breath—filling our lungs to capacity, lifting our diaphragm, and then fully exhaling through our mouth—sends an additional calming message to the brain. Both this and stretching allow the thinking part of our brain to kick back in. Now we can make some rational decisions about what to do.
If it’s a work issue, I’ve encourage my clients to write down their concerns, when they are calmer, to get it clear in their heads exactly what is the problem. Next, I ask them what would help. People often have very rational, good solutions to their work issues. Last, I encourage them to calmly talk with their supervisor about the problem and their proposed solutions. Don’t just complain. Have some ideas about what would help.
Now—talk to your kids about what is stressing them. Help them generate some solutions. Let’s say Johnny gets upset before a test. Have Johnny teach YOU the material, and help him when he gets stuck. Then—tell Johnny to picture himself doing well. A few deep breaths before taking the test won’t hurt at all!
Maybe Susie is a night owl who has a hard time getting out the door in the morning. Help her organize the night before, so she’s not looking for an outfit, shoes, her homework, books, etc., the next morning. Both children are learning skills they will need the rest of their lives.
You can always vent to one of your EAP counselors. We’ll be happy to sit down and discuss your unique situation and help you generate solutions. Don’t let stress manage you!