By Dr. Jan Hittelman

We live in a stressful world. Research has shown a link between stress and a wide variety of serious health problems including: hypertension, strokes, heart attacks, diabetes, ulcers, neck or low back pain, and even cancer. That’s why it’s important for us to have effective stress management skills. We can start by developing an inventory of our sources of stress or stressors. After close examination, consider stressors that can be eliminated. For example, if over-scheduling is a big source of stress, reducing the number of activities may help to solve the problem. There are, however, many stressors that we cannot eliminate. For those, effective stress management skills are required. Practicing and strengthening these skills can dramatically reduce the level of our subjective stress. Regular exercise, for example, not only helps us physically, but also reduces symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other negative emotional states. Another key stress management technique involves our thinking. We tend to place a lot of stress on ourselves based on our perfectionist, pessimistic, and generally negative thoughts. By trying to be more aware of our thinking and shifting to more rational, logical, positive thoughts (and keeping things in perspective), we can significantly reduce our subjective experience of stress. Finally, practicing relaxation techniques is also beneficial. From simple breathing techniques to visualizing yourself in a peaceful place, relaxation techniques can significantly reduce your stress level.

Family life can also be fraught with stressors. Strategies to reduce family stress include:
• Model and teach effective stress reduction techniques to other family members
• Choose your battles, particularly with your adolescent child
• Make time for fun family activities
• Minimize your involvement in your child’s homework, helping only when asked
• Provide opportunities to share and vent feeling in a supportive environment
• Be more aware of your own level of stress and the impact it has on the family

As we educate ourselves about stress, it is important for us to educate our children. Create opportunities for family discussions, sharing the highs and lows of your day, the stresses experienced and ways to address them. Provide positive feedback for effective stress reduction efforts.

Taking the time to assess your level of stress as well as that of your loved ones, will go a long way to improving everyone’s physical and emotional well-being. Reducing stress will positively impact your family’s relationships and quality of life.