April is Stress Awareness Month and families have a lot of stress to deal with in today’s culture.
From finances to time management, there are a variety of things that cause stress in a family.
“Every family is different and what may cause stress with one family may be a strength for another,” said, C.J. Quick, family therapist with Brighter Futures Counseling in Elizabethtown.
Quick listed some common risk factors that can cause stress in a family:
• Finances or parental difficulty with mature and calm conversations about finances or a recent job loss.
• Single-parent households that often have less support and more duties for one parent.
• A chronically ill family member.
• A family member who has a mental health or substance abuse issue.
• Recent adjustments such as a move, death in the family or separation/divorce.
• Difficulty with transportation.
Transportation is a key issue in this county because many resources are in town and transportation options are limited, if you need assistance, Quick said.
“Without transportation there is less of a possibility that parents can be involved with the school outside of school hours, like parent/teacher conferences, school plays and PTA or that children can be involved in extra-curricular activities,” she said. “Thus, the family is often left socially and geographically isolated.”
A busy life also can place stress on a family or individuals.
“Parents need to be able to step back and objectively assess their schedules and their children’s schedules,” Quick said. “If everyone is feeling stress from the schedule or if the family isn’t having enough down time, then they should re-evaluate their choices and possibly scale back.”
Children, she said, need downtime to play, relax and “just be lazy,” Quick said.
“Without this, their brains are constantly on,” she said. “There isn’t time to process or emotionally regulate and they can quickly become overly stressed or emotional, exhausted or distracted.”
The same is true for adults, she said. Families need to allow time to “decompress, process their day, make plans and simply just be,” Quick said.
“The benefits from this downtime can be greater than those provided by all the events crammed into a busy schedule,” she said.
A family’s stress can affect each member, including children.
When a parent is stressed he or she might not be able to provide emotional support for a child and often has a constant feeling of urgency, Quick said.
“A child who feels stressed will often have difficulty managing their emotions and this can result in distractibility, poor impulse control, sadness, anger or any number of emotions,” she said. “The more overwhelmed a person is, the more likely they will trigger their fight or flight response and triggering this response often and unnecessarily can have damaging affects including consequences to physical and mental health.”
Sometimes, the cause of stress is something that can’t be controlled and each person handles stress differently, Quick said.
“There are known protective factors, some of these are innate and you either have them or not. Others you can build into your life,” she said.
These include, a great sense of humor, a supportive network of family and friends, an easy-going personality or temperament, financial stability, child care options, a child’s positive relationship with their caregivers, involvement in community activities, regular routines, educational involvement, educational success, empathy for others, realistic expectations, and plans for the future, Quick said.
To minimize stress in the family, Quick advises prioritizing and creating time for what is most important to each family.
This includes prioritizing extra-curricular activities, family time and alone time. Families need time to be together, to communicate and feel like they can rely on one another, she said. But everyone also needs time to “just be,” she said.
“That may be time for children to play, adults to read or watch TV or maybe it’s time for everyone to simply sleep a little extra,” she said.
Quick said it also is important for families to know that stress is natural and unavoidable, everyone has it in their lives at some point. But it’s how you handle the stress that makes the difference, she said.
“Adults need to model stress management so children can learn how to handle it in healthy ways and can model setting boundaries and saying ‘no’ to stress, so that they teach their children that it’s OK to put themselves first when needed,” she said. “When adults are able to take on less stress, they are inadvertently telling their child that the child matters more than all the other things out in the world that cause stress.”
When a child believes they matter, they will be able to put themselves first when needed to remain healthy and happy in life, she said, adding it’s a powerful message for a child.
Another important thing is to ask for help when you need it, Quick said.
“If the child feels like they are allowed to be honest with the parent, then they are more likely to let them know that they’re doing too much,” she said. “So a parent asking for help models for the child that it’s OK for the child to ask for help.”