NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Rising Above the Stress

Rising Above the Stress


                Have you heard of a crisis being described as a “time to fall to together or as a time to fall apart”?  Families sometimes fall into disarray during times of crisis. Each individual family member can spiral down into depression or anger. Or the family can hold a series of group discussions and focus on how they can work together to meet the challenges they face. If the family can see the situation as not only a serious difficulty but also an opportunity to strengthen their bonds with each other, the challenge can be met. Those families that can recover from the initial shock and sense of despair and band together to find solutions to their difficulties commonly say they feel stronger and more appreciative of each other as family members.

                Raising a family can be rewarding and demanding even in healthy social and economic climates, so stressful times can make things much more challenging. An online survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), conducted by Harris Interactive in August 2010, found that 73 percent of parents report family responsibilities as a significant source of stress.

                Children model their parents’ behaviors, including those related to managing stress. Parents who deal with stress in unhealthy ways risk passing those behaviors on to their children. Alternatively, parents who cope with stress in healthy ways can not only promote better adjustment and happiness for themselves, but also promote the formation of critically important habits and skills in children.


                Here are some approaches your family can use during difficult times.

  • Look for something positive and focus on that positive element in a difficult situation.
  • Pull together rather than apart. Don’t see the problem as an individual’s problem but as a challenge for the whole family.
  • Get help outside the nuclear family when needed. Seek help from extended family members, supportive friends, neighbors, colleagues, members of your religious community, professionals in the community, or others.
  • Create open channels of communication. Challenges are not met when communication shuts down.
  • Keep things in perspective. “These things, too, shall pass.”
  • Adopt new roles in a flexible manner. Crises often demand that you learn new approaches to life and take on different responsibilities.
  • Focus on what is most important and minimize fragmentation. Without focusing on the essentials, the details, details, details can get you edgy, even hysterical.
  • Give up on worrying or put your cares in a box. Worrying usually causes people more misery than the actual event they are worrying about. Sometimes it’s best to stuff the worry down or resolve to worry 10 minutes a day and then forget it. The mind simply has to rest.
  • Eat well, exercise, love each other, and get adequate sleep. Often adults forget that they are biological beings, not unlike kindergartners. We all need a good lunch, and we need to play. We need to have our hair stroked, and we need a good nap.
  • Create a life full of meaning and purpose. All people face severe crises in life. You will not be able to avoid these challenges. Rather, your aim can be to live a useful life of service to your community. This brings a richness and dignity to your life, in spite of the troubles you endure.
  • Actively meet your challenges head-on. Disaster in life does not go away when you look in another direction. But, it is also helpful sometimes to withdraw for a time and replenish yourself.
  • Go with the flow to some degree. Sometimes you are relatively powerless in the face of crisis. At this point it can be useful to simply tell yourself to “let it go.”
  • Prepare in advance for the challenges in life. Healthy family relationships are like an ample bank balance: If you have kept your relational accounts in order, you will be able to weather life’s most difficult storms together.
  • Know how to laugh and know how to cry, for both are essential to maintain an emotional balance in life.
  • Do not blame others for your fate but work with others to build a more satisfying world for all.
  • Take life’s challenges one day at a time. In especially tight situations, you sometimes need to take things one hour at a time or perhaps one minute at a time.
  • Realize that suffering can be a catalyst for positive growth. Crisis, by definition, is a difficult time in your life. However, it also can be a turning point, planting the seeds for a satisfying and successful future. This is hard to internalize but useful to remember.
  • Evaluate your lifestyle. As a parent, it’s important to model healthy behaviors for your children. Children are more likely to lead a healthy lifestyle and less likely to associate stress with unhealthy behaviors if the whole family practices healthy living and good stress management techniques. Ask yourself  How do I respond to stress? Do I tend to overeat or engage in other unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and drinking alcohol, when I feel stressed? In what ways could my stress coping skills be improved?
  • Change one habit at a time. You may aspire for your family to make multiple important changes at once such as eating healthier foods, being more physically active, getting a better night’s sleep or spending more time together. However, if you are already overextended from juggling many different responsibilities, doing all of this at once can feel overwhelming. Changing behaviors usually takes time. By starting with changing one behavior, you and your family are more likely to experience success, which can then encourage your family to tackle other challenges and to continue making additional healthy changes.
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