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Coping with family stress

Stress impacts everyone at different times and in different ways. Here’s a guide to managing stress.

Parent standing behind child, looking concerned. Child is facing away from parent, with her arms crossed over her chest.

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s reaction to change that requires a physical, mental, or emotional adjustment and can be broken down into three categories:

  • Acute stress – also known as our ‘fight or flight’ response. This is our body’s immediate reaction to any type of perceived threat, and can be quite intense. Examples of acute stress might be the first day at a new job or giving a speech.  
  • Episodic acute stress – this occurs when someone frequently has bouts of acute stress. These people might be constantly rushing and often overextend themselves, e.g. the stress of being in Year 12 and dealing with assessments or exams.
  • Chronic stress – this stress response is subtler and tends to be more long-lasting with stress spanning over weeks or months as factors contributing to your stress continue to pile up. 

What happens when we’re stressed?

Our behaviour is part of a process that’s influenced by a lot of factors.

It tends to proceed like this:

  1. You have a thought response, e.g. “I don’t want to do that.”
  2. You have an emotional response (which is informed by your thought response), e.g. “I feel anxious.”
  3. Both your thoughts and emotions determine your behavioural reaction or response, e.g. “I avoid doing that.”

If we are stressed, we are more likely to experience negative thoughts and emotions, which then result in behaviours that might be more reactive or avoidant.

As these responses can impact on our health, happiness and quality of life, it’s important to manage stress.

What causes stress?

External stressors are factors around you (that are beyond your control) which have the ability to impact on the stress levels of you and your child.

Some of these stressors might include:

  • Major life changes - this is anything that could affect your life in a significant way, and may be planned or unplanned. These can be positive such as marriage, buying your first home or having a new baby. These can also be negative, such as the sudden death of a loved one. 
  • Unpredictable events - these are events that can take us by surprise as they are unplanned. These could include your rent being increased suddenly, or someone in the family losing their job.
  • Family responsibilities - this means caring for someone who may not be able to care for themselves for a number of reasons. This could include caring for a grandparent or attending family events. 
  • Social pressure - these are pressures that come with being around other people and can include things such as peer pressure, meeting new people, relationships with family or dating. 
  • Work/school pressure - this is any pressure experienced in relation to your work and can include a challenging workload, lack of work/life balance or urgent deadlines.

How do I know if my child is stressed?

Stress can sometimes be hard to identify. Here are some ‘clues’ that might let you know your child might be feeling stressed:

Behavioural signs - being withdrawn, indecisive, inflexible, or irritable.

Physical signs - headaches, nausea, digestive issues, sleep issues or heart palpitations.

Emotional signs - feelings that are new, different or long lasting such as anxiety, fear, anger, sadness or frustration. 

Other signs - sometimes your child just seems ‘off’ in ways you can’t put your finger on – trust your gut.

How to manage stress

  • Realise stress is becoming a problem - the first step in managing stress is realising that it is a problem and making a connection between the emotional, behavioural and physical signs. Once you’ve made that connection, you can find strategies to manage or reduce stress.
  • Get support - reach out for relevant support, such as seeing a GP or talking to a counsellor.
  • Practice self-care/mindfulness - self-care will look different for everyone and can include exercising, reading a book, taking a nap, or even engaging in some form of mindfulness practice. You can role model this for your child or engage in self-care activities that are mutually beneficial.
  • Reassess commitments - ‘busyness’ can cause or contribute to stress. Sometimes, reassessing your schedule can allow for more time to rest and recharge.
  • Connect with others - spending quality time with family, friends or other important people  can help reduce stress.
  • Keep things in perspective - no one is perfect and we will all have times in our life where we are more or less stressed. Sometimes it might be helpful to ‘be in the moment’, e.g. having a stress-break by having fun together. Other times, it might be important to focus on the ‘bigger picture’, like living with some discomfort while your house is being renovated (knowing that the short-term discomfort will be worth it in the long run). 

If you’re feeling stressed, we’re here for you.

Even when you don’t know what to say or how to express what you’re going through, contact us and we’ll support you through it.

If you are a parent or carer, you can contact Parentline in your state or territory for advice and support.

If your children need extra support, encourage them to call Kids Helpline and talk to a counsellor.

They can contact us today by giving us a call, starting a WebChat or sending us an email.

This content was last reviewed 05/06/2020

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