Family Stress Management Tips

Family stress management is an important part of managing your health and well-being.

Families are a great source of joy but it's no secret that families can be stressful.

The bills need to be paid, household chores need to be done, and relationships need to be nurtured...all these have the potential to cause family stress.

On top of this, you have to deal with the day-to-day hassles such as long commutes to work and other main causes of stress such as job stress and/or money problems.

Learning to cope with family stress strengthens the family bonds and helps in time of crisis.

Some of the most common causes of family stress include:

  • the dual career family. With one parent working it can be difficult to juggle the family chores, child-rearing responsibilities, and work commitments.

    With both parents working, this stress can increase at a geometric rate.

  • financial stress and money problems. With high unemployment and economic uncertainty many families are struggling under financial stress.

    Financial stress means vacations need to be modified or put off, eating patterns need to change to accommodate tighter budgets, and there is more worry about incoming bills and payments.

    Financial stress was one of the leading causes of stress in a survey of Americans in 2009.

  • children. From my own recent experience, I now know that children arrive in this world with their own agenda that brings change and re-adjustment. Some parents who see their children approach teenage years find their knees shaking and heart pounding. The parent-child relationship brings with it its own challenges and joys.

  • elderly parents. Most Western populations are aging populations. With this comes the all-too frequent question: "What do you do with aging parents?" Do you place them in a nursing home or have them live with you?

    This creates stress for families and also caregiver stress for the person responsible for the elderly parent's welfare.

There are many other causes of family stress that range from disagreement about how to discipline children to balancing work and family life.

Please feel free to add to the list of causes of family stress and share some family stress management tips with others here.

Family stress management tips

Any family stress management program needs to be built upon a strong family unit. With dual income families and children having many extra-curricular activities this is easier said than done.

Without a strong family unit the stress for one member of the family has the potential to divide the whole family and a divided house cannot stand.

A strong family unit means that you solve the problems as a family. Some strategies for creating a strong family unity are:

  • increase quality time. While it sounds so cliched, quality time is what children want most from their parents. Quality time also means that you reduce potential problems that can increase family stress
  • do family chores together. Many hands make light work and doing the dishes, helping with cooking or raking the leaves in the yard gives the family time to communicate and builds self-esteem and skills
  • share at least one meal a day together. It is important for families to touch base with each other. This is difficult with such busy schedules and usually a good way to do this is to share meals together.

    Having meals together allows you to debrief on the day and plan future family activities in which each family member makes it a successful and enjoyable experience.

A strong family unit helps to develop the tools to manage family stress.

Family stress due to some of the individual main causes of stress such as overwork, addictions, and/or illness may affect the whole family.

Family stress can also arise due to family crises that affect the whole family.

Family stress management tips help you to reduce family stress and improve family relationships.

Don't trivialize other family member's problems.

Whatever the cause of stress, whether it is a spouse being laid off from work or as insignificant as your daughter's pet goldfish dying, stress is in the eye of the beholder.

Exercise 1: What are your stress causes?

The causes of stress are different for each person.

Download your stress worksheet and take the first step in your stress management plan.

What causes stress for one person may not be a significant cause of stress for another.

By actively listening to the family member and talking out the problem allows:

  • you to display that their cause of stress is important to the family
  • potentially solve the issue that is causing stress.

Don't lay blame

Playing the blame game in the family is not a good family stress management solution.

Rather than blame others, look for a solution and to learn from mistakes.

This problem solving technique enables you to explore options and helps take the emotion out of problem solving.

Watch your expectations

Parents can place high expectations on themselves such as "I must be there all the time for my children" or "Everything must be perfect."

These expectations may be a cause of stress for parents.

Similarly, parent's expectations for children may either be too high or too low

As a parent you may have too high or too low expectations of your children.

For example, a common source of stress is a child's untidy room. A parent may expect that the son/daughter to clean their room.

Exercise 2: What are the best ways to relax for you?

Take an A4 sheet of paper and write down the best ways to relax for you.

Remember that relaxation techniques are a set of skills and, like any skill, whether it is learning to play guitar or acquire a new language, they require practice.

For best results try to incorporate relaxation into your daily routine.

But the son/daughter may have other ideas. It is approaching school holidays and he/she is studying for exams and spending time at the library. Perhaps he/she is training hard for an important tournament.

Instead of getting angry the parent could adjust their expectations by trying to put themself in other person's position.

The parent can say that the son/daughter is prioritizing more important obligations and the cleaning can wait. Similarly, the parent could remember that it is not their room and that it is not them who will have trouble finding things in the messy room.

Family stress management may involve adjusting or re-evaluating your expectations.

Watch your thinking.

The way that you think can be a main cause of stress.

What you think to yourself is sometimes right and sometimes wrong.

Thinking can become distorted as you put your own 'spin on things' and when this is negative it can lead to a loss of self-esteem and increased stress.

If one member of the family is concerned about a problem then sit down and discuss the problem.

By discussing the problem your family member is likely to see that the issue is not "world shattering" and that there may be some positives to it.

For more ideas on the different types of distorted thinking see these cognitive therapy resources.

Fight fairly

Relationships involve disagreements and strong relationships that practise good family stress management ensure they fight fairly.

Some tips to fighting fairly include:

  • avoid starting your sentences with "You" but instead start with "I." For example, rather than attacking and saying "You're jealous and immature," start with, "I feel hurt when you question me about my previous relationships."
  • avoid generalizations such as "You always..." or "You never..."
  • focus on the issue at hand
  • listen to what is being said rather than what you will say next. Tuning into your partner's verbal and visual cues is important
  • avoid cheap shots and have a cue word you can use to let your partner know when there has been a cheap shot.

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