Stressors come in all kinds of forms: work and school pressures, relationships, health concerns, uncertainty about the future. Even changes that are generally positive can still be incredibly stressful, like gaining a family member or starting a new business. Left unchecked, stress can lead to a host of symptoms, including headaches, disrupted sleep, nausea, irritability, lack of focus, and poor impulse control. Tips for stress management are frequently repeated and generally well-known: Get some exercise! Talk with a friend! Breathe deeply! Get a massage!
But while most of us recognise at least a few of these symptoms from stressful periods in our own lives (and if you donít, please teach the rest of us what your secret is!), stress isnít exclusive to the adult world. Our children experience stress too. And while parents and children can often be high up on the list of one anotherís stressors, weíre generally stuck with each other. So while itís nice to talk about individual stress-busters, ways to help the whole family manage stress at once can be a lifesaver for parents and kids (and grandparents, stepparents, aunts and uncles, godparents, siblings, friends-who-function-as-family, and 32 flavors of cousins) to tackle their stress head-on.
Getting involved in a productive hobby is often touted as a great way to manage stress, but in families that are already over-scheduled, the idea of adding more to the plate can feel overwhelming. The solution is to find something that the entire family can enjoy together, which is still a challenge. If one of you likes to play Call of Duty and the other prefers reading regency romance novels, thereís a chance one of you will like the other Ö but itís not altogether likely. Better is to find something thatís new to everyone. Youíre into painting and theyíre all about Minecraft? Consider designing and building a treehouse together. Youíve got three super active family members and one with a bad knee? Swimming could fit the bill. Some folks in the family are aspiring globetrotters while others hate to leave the house? Borrow some international cookbooks and explore the world from the comfort of your kitchen. (There is very little more soothing than kneading dough.)
Iíve got an urge to try juggling. No idea why. Could you get your partner involved with it? Thereís nothing like having a completely useless skill to rock out at parties or get togethers. That and keepie up.
Ah yes, the old ďexerciseĒ advice. Well, itís here for a reason: physical activity really is good for stress management, so long as youíre doing it in a way thatís both physically and emotionally healthy. The same goes for kids of all ages, but to an even greater degree. So without creating stress about it, try to find ways to be active together. Some ideas include:
● Watching and trying some yoga and activity videos online. Check out GoNoodle for family-friendly content.
● Walking or biking for transportation. If you live in a neighborhood where you can get to the shops, or the pub for lunch, or the movies, or someplace else under your own power, do it! .
● Go places where being active is the fun part of being there. Where I live Iím so lucky with the amount of parks and walking trails we have.
● That shared hobby idea can go for physical activity too. Train for a 5k.
Keep in mind that some people thrive in a competitive environment, while others donít. Think about that before jumping into any kind of formal sport.
Does that seem like a contradiction in terms? Itís really not. In todayís busy world, kids and adults have much of their lives planned down to the minute, and open-ended time is losing out. But downtime is critical for stress management, so the easiest solution is to formalise downtime by actually putting it on the schedule. Time for playing, reading, chilling, whatever. Children need downtime in order to deal with the stress of everyday life. Teens need downtime. You need downtime. So get that time on the calendar and plan for Ö absolutely nothing serious. Do whatever feels right at the time, even if thatís nothing at all.
Situations feel stressful because theyíre challenging. And challenges can be incredibly helpful in getting us to grow. A tough school or work assignment can teach you new skills, while an argument with a loved one can help you look at your preconceptions from a different perspective. Itís when stress becomes toxic that it really starts to negatively impact our lives, physically as well as mentally and emotionally. The trick is to manage your stress before it gets to that point, both for you, and for your family.
So breathe deeply. Go for a walk. Get that massage. Get your kid a massage. And remember that youíre all in this together. Even if thatís a little stressful sometimes.