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Stress and Family Life

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Stress is a reality that all families face, and the effects of stress can impede our functioning in all areas of life. Two factors determine whether stress in family life leads to a maladaptive response or to new learning that makes us more resilient for the future.

Garmezy & Rutter* describe how the positive or negative impact of a stressful event depends on:

  1. 'the degree of interruption and disarray set into motion by the event; and
  2. the presence of psychological and physical buffers that regulate the harshness of the stressor.'

When stress is minor, we are able to re-balance with everyday coping skills. When a major stress event occurs, or stress accumulates over time, our psychological and physical resources may see insufficient and our functioning as a family deteriorates. Though family life stress is inevitable, we can take steps to reduce its negative impact on our emotions, rational thinking, parenting, work, and the important relationships in our life.

Make a Plan to Reduce Stress

We can't control many of the major stressful events that affect our families, but we can plan changes that will prevent the accumulation of minor stressors. Family organization, delegation, routines, and rituals all disrupt the cycle of stress; and keep our family life in balance.

Communicate Feelings

Social support is a key to positive coping with stress. Allow and encourage family members to talk about feelings during stressful times. Open communication makes your family a supportive foundation of positive adaptation to life stress.

Seek Support in Your Network

It means so much to have a friend we can talk to when we are anxious and hurting. Take time to nurture friendships regularly so that 'busyness' doesn't get in the way of the relationships that sustain us in good times and bad.

Because serious stress affects our thinking and emotions, we often need outside counsel to get through the most stressful times. Friends, family, mentors, coaches, and counselors can help us process the emotions and conflicts. Then, we find the inner strength to see the steps we can take to resolve our stress in a way that brings hope to our family and teaches our children to be resilient in times of stress.

*Norman Garmezy & Michael Rutter. Stress, coping, and development in children. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983. [cited in Wolfe, David A. Child Abuse: Implications for Child Development and Psychopathology. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1999]

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