No family is immune to stress. These stress-busters will help you slow down, relax, and enjoy family life once again.
Most families work hard to keep up with their overcommitted schedules. Juggling home, work, and school doesn’t leave much free time to connect and chill as a family. Worse, because we’re constantly running at full throttle, when life throws us a simple challenge (the washer machine continues to eat socks and we haven’t a clue where to find them!) we lose it and succumb to the pressure.
Here are some easy-to-implement stress busters that will allow your family to flourish when life tries to get the best of you.
1. Keep calm and slow down
One reason families are super stressed is that we move at such a fast pace. We hurry from one activity and obligation to the next, barely making time to stop and share a meal . It seems obvious, but sometimes we forget that an effective and easy way to combat stress is to slow down and shift gears from panicked to peaceful.
When my kids were younger, I would charge out of bed each morning, barking orders while I ran from kid to kid getting them fed and dressed for school. By the time the bus rolled into our neighborhood, we were all frazzled and miserable. Even the dog was wound up.
As parents, we set the tone for how our household responds to pressure.
As parents, we set the tone for how our household responds to pressure. My kids were feeding off my anxiety each morning, so they were nervous wrecks each day. I realized I needed to shift gears from harried to calm—fast.
I started with my voice. Instead of riling them up in a loud, excited tone, I greeted them in a quieter, gentler voice. I also got into the habit of moving more slowly while getting them ready, which had an unexpected bonus—it was particularly helpful for keeping our lively dog more relaxed. When I implemented a strong morning routine, it eliminated the frantic scurry. Everything was organized in advance.
Be mindful of the pace you keep. Slow it down, and you’ll cause a peaceful ripple effect for the rest of the household to follow.
2. Chew on it
A favorite way for many families to release pent up stress is to chew it away—literally. The simple act of chewing gum (preferably sugar-free) has been shown to increase alertness, improve performance, and lower stress.
The American Institute of Stress shares a study sponsored by the Wrigley Science Institute that found chewing gum helped men and women aged 18-49 feel more relaxed when dealing with daily stresses. Many teachers are now allowing students to chew gum during exams because a burst of gum-chewing helps to improve focus and memory.
If your family is under extra stress, grab some gum and chew the stress away.
3. Embrace the outdoors
When stress levels are on the rise, gather your family and head outdoors. Breathing fresh air and surrounding yourself with nature is an easy way to diffuse stress and refocus.
A study published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that taking at least twenty minutes out of your day to stroll or sit in a place that makes you feel in contact with nature will significantly lower your stress hormone levels.
Take advantage of your neighborhood parks, a hiking trail, a nearby beach or pond, or even your own backyard. Embrace the great outdoors when your family needs to regroup. Better yet, make these outings a regular part of your family’s routine to stop stress before it starts.
4. Become unscheduled
One of the best stress relievers we can offer our family is to schedule regular downtime. That's easier said than done! It can be a challenge to let go of the guilt we feel when we're not squeezing enrichment opportunities into every waking moment. But it's crucial to make time to disconnect.
Experts agree that regular downtime is essential to family peace of mind. Renowned child psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., co-author of The Overscheduled Child, says that there's nothing wrong with enrichment activities, but that it's also critical to make sure children and parents have time with no scheduled activities. When they do, they can work together to create activities of their own.
Spend time with no goal in mind. That will communicate to your child that you love them. And if a child feels loved, life can present them with hardships, but these setbacks will never defeat them.
In my episode 6 Ways to Take Back Family Time, one of my tips is to scale back on kids’ activities. I suggested that you get your kids involved by asking them which of their extracurricular activities are favorites and which ones they can live without. Here's my key point from that episode:
Time for a new rule: Set aside certain weeks out of the year—holidays and vacations, perhaps—that are non-negotiable family time. Assess situation by situation, realizing that even if your kids become famous athletes or actors, one holiday weekend won’t make or break them. But building their family relationships with their parents, siblings, and grandparents may be fostered by those times. Remember that kids aren’t kids forever, and once they are grown, your time with and influence on them diminishes substantially. Take the opportunity now to develop a close sense of family.
5. Get your groove on
Stress is a regular part of life, but listening to our favorite jam is an escape. After all, Timon and Pumbaa made sure we all knew this when they crooned their catchy, upbeat tune, "Hakuna Matata," in Disney’s The Lion King. Remember?
It means no worries
For the rest of your days
It's our problem-free philosophy
Music is a universal way to connect and feel good. There are numerous health benefits to listening to music, like improving our mood or providing comfort when we’re lonely or scared. It can even help stimulate memory in dementia patients.
Though all genres of music have a positive effect, classical music is known to be tremendously relaxing.
Try incorporating a daily dose of music into your family’s life. I love to wake my kids up to fun and funky tunes. As they get ready for school, they have an extra zip in their step and can’t stay grumpy when they see their mother getting her groove on while making breakfast. Preparing dinner is another great time to lighten the mood with music. Play your kids' favorites, but don't forget to expose them to new genres and styles of music, including your own playlist.
6. Plan a reward
We all like to have something pleasant to look forward to when we’re working hard. When you’re managing a stressful stretch such as a home renovation project, or your child is grinding away trying to complete a mid-term paper, find some enjoyable rewards that you can look forward to once you get over the hump and accomplish a goal.
It might be setting aside time each week for a luxurious bubble bath with a good book for surviving your kitchen redo or a gift card to the movies for your teen who just aced her history project. Maybe it’s the entire family sleeping in this weekend and lounging in PJs all day as the holidays come to a close.
By planning regular rewards for yourself and your family, especially during chaotic times, you’ll put your mind at ease knowing that the stressful time you’re currently facing is only temporary, and you’ll be able to recharge and refresh with the incentive of those rewards for making the best of the situation.