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.