7 Signs Your Family is Going Through Too Much Stress
Are you and your family members tired and getting on each other’s nerves? Chances are you may be stressed out. Here’s how you can identify the warning signs and do something about it.
By Sahana Charan
Here is a typical scenario in a busy household:
It is morning. The parents and children are caught up with the rituals of getting ready for work and school. But, there seems to be chaos reigning, as nothing is going according to routine. There is yelling and frazzled nerves, the children are feeling weighed down by the constant nagging and arguments, while the adults struggle to finish their chores. The frustration and anxiety finally result in at least one family member having an emotional meltdown. Not only has everyone started the day on a bad note, but the stress is too much to handle.
If this is a rare occurrence, there is nothing to be alarmed about. But if this is the norm at home, then it can raise the stress levels of all family members.
According to research, high stress in the family can adversely affect children’s immune system. A study done by researchers at the School of Health Sciences at Jönköping University and the Faculty of Health Sciences at Linköping University, and published in the Journal of Immunology, revealed that children in highly-stressed families had a high level of cortisol, which is a biological marker of stress. The stress also negatively affected the children’s immune system, which means they were more vulnerable to infections.
What causes high levels of stress
All of us face some amount of stress in our daily lives, be it at work, school or home. We usually develop our own mechanisms to deal with regular stressful situations and can work out a solution to address the cause of the stress. But, long-term stress is different. The causes for it may include:
- ongoing financial crisis at home,
- disharmony between parents,
- adults in the family being caught in a tough situation,
- family member with long-term illness,
- death of a loved one,
- adults having problems at the workplace,
- having a special family member,
- a teen facing harassment or a difficult situation at school and so on.
Signs and symptoms that a family is feeling stress
These will vary for every individual and depends on how one is able to cope with difficult circumstances. Here are some warning signs to look out for:
- There may be increased arguments at home, with family members shouting at one another or blaming each other for mundane things. Angry outbursts and frustration becomes the norm.
- Members of the household may not have much fun together and spend less time with each other as a family – be it at dinnertime or just going for an outing.
- Both parents and children may find it difficult to concentrate on their everyday tasks, including chores around the house, studies and work commitments. Moreover, there could be forgetfulness and lack of interest.
- Stress can also manifest in physical symptoms. Members of the family will be prone to sleeplessness, fever, cough and cold, headaches, stomach aches and so on.
- When the family is stressed out communication gets affected. Considering the tense situation at home, conversations become minimal. Children may not want to communicate, fearing extreme reactions from parents, while adults would want to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves.
- Children in stressed-out families, where there is constant strife in the household, lose interest in things that they would otherwise be doing regularly. One of the main things that gets affected is their studies. Academic performance may suffer, as the child is not able to concentrate on day-to-day learning. It is a vicious circle, because this again causes stress for both the parents and the child.
- It is disturbing for a child to see an anxious parent. Because their anxious responses are expressed in extreme emotions, the child is unable to understand why the parent is acting out like this. As a result, the child may either withdraw into a shell or become extremely aggressive. Children may also experience confusion, sadness, worry and irritation because they are not sure how to react to this unexpected turn of events.
How children respond to stress
“Children easily pick up the behaviour patterns of their parents. If a parent is responding with anxiety, a young child is not able to understand that this is not the desirable pattern, so they pick it up. Because at this stage, a lot of their learning happens through imitation. With teens, it is a totally different scenario – they find their own ways of dealing with stress – they may express themselves verbally, become aggressive or rebel. This will not be acceptable to parents and will again cause them stress,” says Arundhati Swamy, counsellor and Head – Parent Engagement Programs at ParentCircle.
How stress impact families
“The level of family functioning is lower, and members of the family will not be able to perform their roles optimally. Stress interferes with their inter-personal relationships, it interferes in the way they attend to tasks, they are not able to prioritise and there is immense emotional struggle,” says Arundhati.
How to handle stress
Attend to the root cause of the stress rather than the symptoms. “For example – in case of financial crisis/stress, the symptoms could be health effects, communication problems, relationships, anger and anxiousness. But these are temporary, momentary and situational. Instead of attending to these symptoms, adults need to sit down and discuss the crisis with the children. Accept that there is a financial crunch, explain what strategies need to be in place to deal with the crisis and how everyone can pull through,” explains Arundhati.
Some tips to combat stress in the family
- Talk to your children. Have frank conversations. Open communication is important.
- Adopt healthy habits for the whole family. Try long walks, yoga and meditation.
- Establish good eating and sleeping habits, so that you can cope with the anxiety better.
- Spend quality time together as a family and seek fun in the little things in life.
- Confide in a trusted friend or relative, who may give you neutral advice, without being judgmental.
- Seek professional help – when everyone in the family is stressed, they won't be able to support each other.
- Look at achieving better work-life balance and help your child set and reach achievable goals.
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