- Mental Health
Family Stress: Ways to Reduce Stress at Home
Dr. Phil has some funny phrases, I do laugh a little at some of them, but frankly many of them are spot on. My favorite is when he asks someone: “So, how much fun do you think you are to be around?” This question is important, something I think we should all ask ourselves from time to time. Many of us are on our worst behavior at home, sadly. I suppose to some extent we think we can get away with it since we're with the ones who are supposed to love us unconditionally. Life is just inherently stressful, isn't it? If we work, we deal with job related stress, then come home to a whole new realm of personal life stressors. We have chores, phone calls to make, bills to pay, children to care for, email to return, scheduling issues, and time for ourselves begins to feel like a true luxury. Coming up with successful ways to reduce stress should be top of our list of coping skills, not triaged way down on our lists. Feeling stressed out is a product of how we view our world, perception is key here. If we continually live our lives with that “out of control” feeling, we begin to feel angry and irritable. We're then left wondering how to manage anger in addition to feeling overburdened.
Have you ever wanted to ask your spouse or partner: “How much fun do you think you are to be around?” Or, perhaps you've wondered that very thing about yourself. Hey, if you have, you're off to a great start! Being in a perpetual state of anger and irritation isn't fun for you, nor is it pleasant for the people around you. This unfortunate state of being looks something like this... Every little mishap is a colossal disaster, from spilled milk to a sock that needs darning. The proverbial glass is always half empty. The recounting of one's day is filled with all the negatives, problems and irritations he or she has encountered. Complaining is a hallmark trait, complaining about others, complaining about traffic, complaining about the weather, you get the drift, right? Nitpicking at family members is commonplace, too. If family affairs don't run like clockwork, the kids are misbehaving, and the inevitable barriers to a peaceful home rear their head, this person will invariably begin blaming those around him or her. No one can ever live up to such unreasonable expectations... Life happens, people. Another characteristic is one's countenance, smiling is a rare occurrence left for public encounters. The perception of continual stress runs deep, daily life is just “too much” and feelings of anger are all pervasive. Finally, martyrdom is an underlying theme. Sound familiar?
Ways to Reduce Stress: Recognizing Self Defeating Thoughts and Using Preemptive Methods
If this sounds like you, it's important you design some ways to reduce stress that work for YOU. Of course, we're all different and different strategies will work for different people. Fortunately, perception, attitude and how we think are the cornerstone to reducing the stress in your life, and therefore are applicable to everyone.
One self-defeating thought process many of us engage in is having unreasonable expectations. Someone I respect once told me: “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” It makes a heck of a lot of sense if you think about it. Having expectations of others is a little bit like expecting someone to read your mind, really. Not only do we have expectations about the people around us, but we also have them about life in general, don't we? Well, that's a tall order in this thing we call life with its unpredictable nature. Suddenly, life happens, people act like, well... people and the day seems like a great, big disappointment. I'm not telling you to lower your standards here, but rather to lessen your expectations. There is a significant difference.
Using absolutes like “always”, “never”, “every time”, “everything” “nothing ever”, etc... can not only tell you something about your emotional health, but can also affect it. Take note of the frequency with which you use this terminology. Let me give you an example. Let's say you're stuck in a particularly bad traffic jam and find yourself saying: “Man, this ALWAYS happens to me at the worst times!” Let me just say, nothing “always” happens!!! Or, perhaps you have trouble with your child's compliance, you might say: “She NEVER does what I ask her to do.” These absolutes are simply blatant exaggerations of the truth and have a devastating effect on your perception. It's black and white thinking and it's a destructive thought process. If you find yourself frequently using absolutes, it should be a red flag for you.
You are NEVER completely done!
Many of us seem to be continually attempting to reach this goal for the day: to relax, have nothing to do, and to have some peace and quiet. Let me just say, and I'm breaking my “no absolutes” rule here: “There is ALWAYS something to do.” This is part of the reason why family stress is so persistent and intense. Sinks leak, laundry needs to be tended to, a kid pops out of bed because he or she is scared, the cat barfs, the dog needs to go for a walk... You get the picture, there's no such thing as being completely “done”. Think of your life as a process, one that's continually evolving, one that needs tending like your garden. Anticipate interruptions in your relaxation time and it will avoid sending you into a tailspin.
Ease family stress by not expecting perfection...
Anticipate life's little annoyances, it's one of the most powerful stress management strategies you have in your arsenal. It's a preemptive one, but very successful at keeping you even keeled. Now, I am not telling you to be Mrs. or Mr. Pessimistic here, just asking you to consider what it would be like if you began to expect that little inconveniences will occur. Be realistic, in other words. You'd be pleasantly surprised when they don't, wouldn't you? My example is I fully expect something to go awry during dinner. I will probably spill on the stove, my kids will invariably make a mess on the table, spill their beverage, or a solicitor will come knocking at the door. If I have some unrealistic preconceived notions about dinner being a perfectly peaceful, spill and mess free experience I'm much more likely to flip a bit.
Pretend someone is in the room
I know it sounds a little odd, but when you're interacting with your family imagine a non-family member is in the room observing you. Or imagine someone is just outside the door eavesdropping in on your conversation. Would you be embarrassed by how you're talking to your family members? Ask yourself if you'd change the way you're acting or communicating if someone else were there. Picture a coworker or friend there and ask yourself if you're displaying a side of you they've yet to see. Perhaps you'd never consider speaking that way around him or her. If you can say you'd be embarrassed to be caught acting the way you are, then it's time to change your interactions.
Beat Family Stress by Speaking Calmly, Slowly and Softly
Make an effort to
use a soft, loving and patient voice at home. The calmer you speak,
the calmer you'll feel. Trust me, it works. If I start feeling
flustered, “over the top” and fussy, I make a concerted effort to
use a soft, calm tone. It makes everyone around me feel peaceful,
with the added bonus of calming myself down, too. If you need to go
upstairs and scream into a pillow first, then do so. But, your goal
is to speak kindly, slowly, and softly to those in your home. It's one of the most powerful ways to reduce stress since it changes how you feel inside.
Create a loving atmosphere
Make your home a loving environment. One of my favorite parts about our house is our family pictures. They're scattered about in every room. They are happy, they show a bonded and cohesive family. If I feel irritated, I look at them and it takes me down a notch or two. Another great way to fill your home with love is by hanging up the artwork of your children. We also use calming scents from candles to make the house feel warm and peaceful. Use what works for you: dried flowers, your favorite books, poems, photo albums, etc...
Finally, if your are already irritable and wonder how to manage anger, rewind and communicate. You can simply say something like: “Uh oh, here it goes again.” In other words, have phrases you use to tell your family members you're feeling like you're going to blow. You can, as a family, come up with cues (verbal or nonverbal) that communicate your perception that things are starting to fall apart. We sometimes just say: “uh oh”. We all recognize it, it means something to all of us... that it's time to slow down, calm down or we're going to fall apart. My daughter will often say: “Can we just start over?” I love this concept, it's quite powerful for us.
Be playful or at least have pancakes for dinner!
For crying out loud, stop being so serious! Be silly often, or at least regularly. Play with your children and/or your spouse. Go sledding when it snows, play family games, be unpredictable sometimes, be spontaneous. SMILE! Mix it up a little..break from the regular routine. Just let your guard down, it's okay to have fun and to be carefree. Heck, if it's all you can muster, have pancakes for dinner!