Being a parenting coach who specializes in mindful stress management, I get to work with a lot of families because at least one of the kids in the family has stress or anxiety issues. Invariably, I find out that the parents are often also suffering from too much stress or being overcome by challenging emotions.
So what do many people do to get stress relief?
They go to work.
I just read an article that many adults use their job or work place as a reprieve from the stresses they face at home. Sound familiar? Having two boys, one of whom is a teenager, I know that feeling of relief when the kids are away at a sleepover, school, or summer camp, but the idea of using work as a get-away seems strange when workplace stress is also so rampant. And it is not just grown-ups who have kids, but adults of all kinds who are so overloaded by stress at home that they use their jobs as an oasis.
But is the answer really trading family stress for work stress?
In the United States alone, there are more than 550 million work days lost with employers each year due to job related stress. According to statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one-in-four people in America have some form of mental health issue and two-thirds of the almost 600 million visits to a family doctor each year are stress related. Of course, the problem is not limited to people in America as stress in Japan kills more than 10,000 men each year. There is even a term in Japanese called Karoshi which literally means death by overwork.
Now not all stress is bad, and in fact, some can actually be good or helpful.
Hans Selye who was the pioneer in research on stress said, “Stress is the salt of life. You have to be under stress to make life worth while… my philosophy is to work on the stress level to which I was born.” What does salt do? It helps make things taste better. But too much salt is not good. So the reality is that while stress is inevitable at both home and work, some can be helpful as long as it is properly managed.
Here are some WIPES so you can remove some of the grime stress leaves behind. They will help keep family (and work) stress at very manageable levels.
1. Walk on the stress
Hippocrates said, “Walking is man’s best medicine.” The research is very numerous about how walking, especially outside in a somewhat green space area, can reduce stress and fatigue and improve energy, memory, and attention. It also helps the body produce more endorphins (our bodies’ feel good hormones) and lower stress producing hormones like cortisol. I have often found taking my kids for a walk when they are upset helps calm them and myself down. You can also often create more space for conversation when walking. Kids, co-workers, or your spouse tend to be more talkative when they walk. So the walking might actually lead to a calmer conversation and also may provide some insight in dealing with stress or discomfort of the unpleasant emotions. Nietzsce said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”
2. Interrogate the stress
What is the main thing people do when they interrogate something? They ask questions. Leonardo DaVinci said, “Great minds ask great questions.” The way to turn your stress or distressing emotions into something eventually beneficial is to interrogate the stress by asking some good questions. If you remember your TV characters, you might think of yourself as Columbo, the detective always asking powerful questions to solve his case. Here are a few questions that you can use or share with your kids, spouse, friend, etc..:
- What is useful about what I am observing about the stress or unpleasant feeling?
- How can this stress help me?
- What can I now see or feel that I couldn’t see or feel before the stress?
- Have you ever seen anyone else with similar stress, tension, or emotions? This question helps us see that we aren’t the only ones to feel this way.
- On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the stress? Ask this same question an hour or two later and then again the next day. You will usually see a decline and that helps see the transient nature of the stress or distressing feeling.
3. Prevent the Stress
One of the most helpful things you or those in your family can do when dealing with stress is to prevent it in the first place. Now we cannot avoid stress and we really wouldn’t want to have a life free of stress or all distressing emotions. Without those things life would eventually get quite boring and stale. But, there are a number of ways we prevent stress from either getting too high or for some stressors from even affecting us in the first place. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to keep stress in check before it can impact us.
Another is having a regular mindfulness or meditation practice, and it doesn’t just have to be done while sitting. As we mentioned above, walking can serve as a way to calm down our minds and at the same time reinvigorate the body. So mindfully walking, playing, gardening, or even cleaning can all be ways to get into a calming and relaxing state. These can then boost our immunity from some stressful situations. Regardless of the actual mindfulness and meditation practice, research is clear that it can literally change our brains so we are less prone to being impacted by stress or unpleasant emotions like anxiety or worry.
4. Experience the stress
Dr. Amy Saltzman who is a leading expert in the field of mindfulness and stress relief for youth says, “Have your feelings, just don’t let your feelings have you.” This means to not try and change, avoid, dismiss, hide, or pretend that stress or unpleasant emotions aren’t there. But experiencing by feeling the feelings and acknowledging them, allows the initial impact and the apparent side effects from the distressing emotions to start to dissipate. It often also helps to label the unpleasant emotions (that’s a worry feeling or that’s frustration) and feel in the body where the discomfort is from them (I feel that anger in my throat or that anxiety in my stomach). With younger kids they can sometimes just point to the area in the body that feels uncomfortable and then share what it feels like as best as they can. Getting them talking or having them tell a story around how the unpleasant feeling may have happened helps their brains calm down the stress. For example, if they know they felt stressed or afraid by something they experienced at school, have them talk or even draw a picture about it.
5. Smile at the stress
One of the most helpful things I have found in both helping shield my family from the negative impacts of stress in the first place or overcoming stress while we are in the midst of it is humor. The late motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar said, “A smile is just a little curve that sets a lot of things straight.” Now I am not talking about laughing when your kids face some very stressful situations or smiling at your spouse if they are telling you about their distressing feelings. That would certainly make things worse. The way to use humor to help prevent the negative impact from some stress is to integrate some playfulness, silliness, and humor into your family life before stressful events happen. I have to admit that I sometimes get wrapped up in life, taking it too seriously. We all do this sometimes so be kind with yourself. One of the greatest ways to release some tension in your family is to use humor. Even watching a funny movie or YouTube clip together as a family can often change the mood in your household. Playing some silly games, sharing a funny story, or reading or telling a funny joke can help. Humor and laughter helps the body release it natural feel good chemicals. Use more of it at home.
Use the acronym WIPES (Walk, Interrogate, Prevent, Experience, Smile) to help keep your family stress much more manageable.
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Author Bio: Todd Corbin is a certified parenting coach, mindfulness teacher, and stress management expert. He is creator of the “7 Breaths to Less Stress” program. Todd has been trained by some of the leading mindfulness and meditation practitioners in the world… Deepak Chopra, Neale Donald Walsch, Dr. Daniel Siegel, and Dr. Amy Saltzman.
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