Stress and Family

October 26, 2020 | Jody Gatewood

Last week in our series, we looked at how stress affects our sleep. Today we look at how stress impacts family functioning.

In my family, which is made up of my wife and I, our two children, and our dog, I can honestly say stress is never too far away at any given time, even more so during the Covid-19 pandemic era.  

Stress impacts everyone in our family system, my wife and I as a couple, as parents, our children, and even our dog. When one member in the family is stressed, it can easily impact the whole family. For example, when I am stressed, I tend to be crabby with my wife, and then we as parents tend to be harsh with our children. And then our children are stressed, and the cycle continues.

But the good news is that we can help the whole family manage stress better by first taking care of ourselves. I remember every time I have flown on an airplane, flight crew members always remind passengers during an emergency to put on their own oxygen masks first before helping their children or others. At first, this did not make sense to me because in some ways I was brought up with the idea to always put others first before me.  This oxygen example now makes sense to me because if I as a husband and a parent am able to reduce my own stress, then I can deal with my children and others in a calmer way. This can lead to better parenting and happier children and ultimately may lead to a happier family.

So, let’s look at some examples of how we can “put on our own oxygen masks first.” In the previous blogs we have already learned about eating well and sleeping well. Here are some additional ideas:

  1. After a long day at work before coming home, perhaps listen to your favorite song.
  2. Couples can also do joint physical activities, which have been shown to increase greater relationship satisfaction and commitment. Children could also join in regular family physical activities like walking or bicycling. Generally, doctors recommend about 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days per week for adults.
  3. You may have heard “laughter is the best medicine.” Being light-hearted in the midst of a tense conversation can help us calm down. Perhaps watching a comedy movie as a family can help the family be in positive mood.
  4. Another great way to decrease stress in the family is for family members to think positively about their lives. For example, instead of focusing on each other’s wrong doings or mistakes, we can focus on each other’s strengths.

Use one of these ideas, or others that you have found helpful, to take care of yourself so you can take care of your relationships.

Written by Anthony Santiago, College Projects Specialist and Licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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