How to Handle Family Stress

Stress is defined as a response that comes when we are threatened with a demand for change.  We’ve already talked about work stress but there is a second stressor that can give us a bigger challenge:  family stress.  A Healthline study done back in 2015 showed that around 53% of the population experiences increased stress around the holidays, and this is usually because of family.

Why can family stress be so strong and what causes it?

In my opinion, it’s because we often view family as our safe place away from other stress.  Depending on your childhood experiences, family could have been the one place you can hide from outside demands and challenges.  But of course as you age, you become your own person and yet your immediate family has a hard time seeing the new arrangement.

Of course if you had a challenging family upbringing, those painful memories can impact your current family situation.  There are too many variables for me to even take a stab and helping you think through.  After all, I’m not a counselor or therapist but it might be a good idea to seek on out.

Case in point.  When our daughter left for college, it wasn’t hard to let her go.  That summer between high school graduation and college orientation was an adjustment for all of us.  She was frankly a big challenge for us as she was ready to spread her wings.  When she left, things settled down around the house.  Then, when she came home for winter break, things got rough.  She was used to being on her own, staying out all night and doing whatever she wanted.  When she came home, she wanted to go out and spend time with her high school friends.  I wanted her home by 11 (it is my house after all!) and she had a problem with that.  What should have been a fun, stress-free break from stressful college created more stress for all of us.

So how can we better manage family stress?  I’m still trying to figure it out (again, I’m no therapist) but maybe this is a start:

  1. Learn to reframe the relationships.  For parents, realize your job was/is to get your kids out of the house and self-sufficient.  As much as you miss your kids, “raising” kids means they need to move on and live their own lives (again, I’m still learning this…).  For kids, realize your parents will always feel the need to protect you.  They will never fully trust your decisions because it’s their job to make sure you are guided into what they THINK is the right decision.  This by the way will be the case when your parents are elderly and are not making good decisions and you actually DO know more than they do (I learned this one the hard way…).
  2. Look for your contribution to the stress.  Are you triggering a reaction subtly?  Even a statement like “This Christmas can we please not discuss politics around the table?” could be a call to arms for the person who is being singled out (and that’s usually the case).  Expect the silent treatment from that person which will fuel the stress levels of everyone else.
  3. Keep family in the proper perspective.  Remember, home and family should not be the dumping ground for your stressful experiences.  If your expectation is for family to coddle you while you recover from your day, you’ll be disappointed.  After all, they’ve probably had a rough day too.
  4. Treat family like a garden.  You have to tend it.  It won’t produce unless you contribute something to it.  If you neglect it then don’t expect it to stay healthy.  This is why work stress is compounded by family stress, which further compounds work stress.
  5. Get professional help.  If family stress becomes overwhelming, then think about professional help.  Family therapy and counseling might be the key to managing this important area.

Whether you’re The Boss or you’re impacted by The Boss, or you’re The Boss of something, keeping your stress is crucial.  By dividing and conquering, we can keep stress in the healthy area and focus on other areas in which to succeed.


How to Handle Work Stress

Work stress comes from many areas:

  • You hate your job
  • You hate your boss
  • You hate your commute
  • Your job under pays you
  • Your job is boring
  • Your job is not secure
  • You hate your co-workers
  • You hate your customers
  • The work itself is stressful
  • The pace is too slow
  • The pace is too fast

…and the list can go on and on.  How do we fix this?

Work Stress Remover #1:  Treat work as work.  A means to an end.  Something that brings in money to help me live.

One key to managing work stress might be to reframe work itself.  For example, if you identify your self-worth with your job or job status, then if the job goes bad, you feel stressed, inadequate, angry, etc.  During the recession of 2008-2009, I did quite a bit of outplacement work (think George Clooney in Up in the Air).  In many cases, when people lost their jobs, it wasn’t just the lack of income that stressed them, it was the loss of identity when they were asked to pack up their stuff and leave.  Reframe your job as a means to an end and this might take off some of the pressure.

Work Stress Remover #2:  Figure out what you really want to do…and get busy doing it!

But another issue is work stress from a situation where you are in a bad fit or don’t have the skills or ability to move into the role you want.  In this case, you have a couple of choices.  You can be miserable and play the victim or you can get busy figuring out what you want to do, find someone in that field to guide you, and then get the necessary education, skills and experience (maybe through volunteering while still keeping your day job) .  I was miserable in the Navy as a dental assistant but when I figured out what I really wanted to do with my life, I just got busy moving on that path.  I did my share of complaining, playing the victim, and making everyone around me unhappy.  Once I made the decision to move forward, everything changed!

Work Stress Remover #3:  Move on.

If any of that above list rings true with you, why not quit?  Yeah I know it’s not always possible but ask yourself what would happen if you lost that job.  Would you have to do some crazy planning to survive?  Of course.  Would you die?  No.  Yes you might have to take a pay cut.  Yes you might have to relocate but fortunately you have choices.  Keep in mind that life is short and every miserable second spent in a bad job is another second that ticks off the good part of your life too.

Work stress is something that we all experience, even in a great job but it doesn’t have to be something we just accept.  This week, think about what you can change and what you should change.  If needed, find a career coach to help you think it through.  Either way, don’t let work stress bleed into other areas in your life.  It will if you let it.


Divide and Conquer to Beat Stress

Stress is an interesting phenomenon.  On one hand, it can save our life if we are threatened.  On the other, it can kill us if left unmanaged.  Not enough stress can stress us out.  Too much stress can over-stress us to the point of illness.  The key of course is to learn to manage it.

Hungarian endocrinologist Hans Selye coined the term “stress” back in 1936.   He referred to the condition as one that happens when there was “a non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.”  This could mean a good response (eustress) or a bad one (distress).  In figuring out how to deal with stress more effectively, we then must learn how to divide and conquer.

In my mind, there are six areas that can cause us stress.  They are:

  • Work
  • Familial
  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Relational
  • Spiritual

For us to manage our stress, we first must identify the area that’s triggering it and deal with that area first.  If we don’t, then we can expect the stress will move from eustress (helpful) to distress (harmful).

For example, if we are stress out about our tyrant boss, the way to deal with it wouldn’t be working out harder (although that might help with the symptoms).  We would have to develop the assertiveness to confront our boss or look for another job.  Over the next few weeks we’ll look at each stressor and identify some coping mechanisms to deal with them.

For this week, take some time to identify the areas in your life that lead you to the most stress.  By using the principle of dividing and conquering, we can better manage stress and become a more effective worker, family-member, and friend.