Family life can be stressful. Humans are imperfect and even with two mature adults living in the same house, friction can happen. Add into the mix some immature children, complicate it by throwing in running a household and maintaining a regular homeschool schedule, and life can become “interesting” rather quickly!
Here are some tips our family has learned over the years to help smooth out and de-stress the process of living and working together.
Recognize Physical Needs
Science has shown in many different ways that stress – even good stress – impacts our health. Conversely, our health can impact how we handle stress. This sounds very basic, but it’s surprising how many families don’t take this into account when dealing with stressful situations.
Our bodies need regular doses of sleep, water, healthy food, vitamins and minerals to function properly. “Functioning properly” includes being able to think straight and being able to reason calmly. It took us a while to realize it, but many of our family’s conflicts actually started with someone (or several someones!) who simply needed to EAT! No food fuel, or improper food fuel (i.e. high carbs and sugars) leads to a blood sugar drop which literally makes thinking and reasoning very hard. The brain needs healthy protein every 3-4 hours to function properly.
If someone in your family seems to be losing it, first check the basics: When was the last time they ate proper food, drank water, and got some sleep? If someone seems to lose it on a regular basis in spite of eating and sleeping properly, it’s worth checking to see if there are some food allergies or mineral deficiencies playing a part.
It’s amazing how “big” issues in an argument suddenly resume their proper perspective when opponents stop and eat a snack or wait to discuss the issue in the morning when everyone has had a night’s sleep.
Recognize Personality Types
Most psychologists, therapists and counselors recognize that there are four basic temperament types. Your temperament type affects how you handle conflict, how you approach a goal, how you handle failure, how you interact with other people, and more. I would recommend having your whole family, on an age appropriate basis, do enough reading about this to figure out what your temperament types are. This makes it much, much easier to interact with each other in a positive way.
For instance, my approach to stress or conflict is to back away from it or try to neutralize and downplay it. I would rather quietly think over a stressful issue for a while before talking about it. My sister, on the other hand, processes her stress by talking about it and analyzing it verbally. For many years, we had constant conflict as I wanted to shut down when there was stress and she wanted to talk! Once we learned about how our different temperament types work, we were able to understand each other much better. She could give me space to process an issue, while I understood that giving her ten minutes to “vent” was helpful. This is just one of many examples of how our lives became calmer through understanding our family’s personality types.
Recognize Scheduling Issues
Sometimes, stress in the home happens because there are genuine scheduling impossibilities. For example, it seemed like a good idea originally to host a weekly Bible study, but then Grandma got sick and needs daily visits, Daddy’s work schedule suddenly got complicated with a big project, and Mommy is pregnant again. Maybe it’s time to reassess whether to host that Bible study.
We have learned in our family to have occasional “calendar confabs” where we all talk about our goals for the week or the month. This gives us a chance to assess upcoming projects that need extra planning and to find out if any family member is particularly overwhelmed with a scheduling issue. We can see stress-inducing events coming and plan ahead to mitigate their negative impact (i.e. make ahead some healthy snacks for VBS week or plan to do yard work for Daddy the week his big project is due). And we can make sure that everyone still has occasional free time to unplug and relax.
Relax and Unplug on a Regular Basis
The modern American lifestyle tends to keep us indoors and huddled at a desk far too much for both physical and mental health. Doctors tell us that we need to get outside and move around regularly in order to maintain our minds and bodies. It’s amazing how much fresher and calmer you can feel when you stop and take a short walk or go flop in the grass for a while.
It’s also good to have non-screen related hobbies and activities to engage our bodies fully. This will lead to better brain function, body health, and lower stress. Find activities that engage your minds and bodies in physical action. You and your children can learn to knit or carve. Try painting or learn a musical instrument. Learn a new sport that is based on fun, rather than stressful competition. These physical hobbies should be for fun and unwinding, not another stressful item to “check off” the list.
Maintain a Sense of Humor
It’s easy to get so caught up in stress that you forget to laugh. But we know from both the Bible and science that laughing is good for your mental and physical health. There is almost always a comical angle to a stressful situation. Don’t take yourself too seriously and be ready to laugh at dumb mistakes and move on. Keeping your eye open for humor helps to keep life in perspective.
As an example, when I get really stressed, one of the first random things I get ticked off about is my hairstyle. Doesn’t matter what my current style is, if I’m stressed, I don’t like it! My mom and sister used to get really upset when I’d start fuming about cutting it or curling it or whatever. But we’ve all learned to recognize this merely as a (rather funny) symptom of stress and now we all laugh about it. I can even laugh about it myself – I finish a stressed-out rant with “And I hate my hair!” and we all laugh and I get a big hug. It’s so much easier to deal with a problem if you can have a chuckle about it first.
Pray and Study God’s Word Together
God has provided so many passages in His Word that help with stressful situations. Learn these scriptures together as a family and pray for help in applying them. God gives us reassurance when we’re depressed by telling us He is with us and will never leave us, that He is in control and the He will work all things for our good. God gives us tools like the Golden Rule and I Corinthians 13 (the “love chapter”) to interact with others when there is conflict. God gives us hope when life is hard by telling us that He uses trials to make us stronger, and promising us that someday we will be in heaven with no more pain or tears. These are just some of the de-stressing things your family can dwell on together and pray about.
Stress happens. Especially in our modern society, where life seems to run at top speed, 24-7. But if you are proactive, you can help your family deal with stress and even prevent stress. Consider these things prayerfully and you will find practical ways to bring peace and calmness to your family life.