Even the most balanced and grounded parents have "off" days. Life and work stressors can create imbalance, turbulence, and unwanted reactions. The same is true for the whole family. Not every day is going to be a great day. Sometimes you're going to have a stressed family or family member.
But if you notice that family member(s) are consistently off balance, it may call for some action to reduce stress and improve self-management. It could also be an indicator of a more general sense of stress and overwhelm.
So how do you know when there is really a problem to address, and what do you do about it?
4 Responses to Stress
There are four common responses(1) that people have to stress and overwhelm. Keeping an eye out for these behaviors can be a barometer to guide you – a way to check in and figure out what might help bring the situation back into balance. See if you have noticed any of these common behaviors or coping mechanisms in you or your family:
When individuals feel overwhelmed by a situation or environment, one natural reaction is to try to increase a sense of control. Of course, sometimes they go overboard, trying to grab control wherever they can. This looks like stubbornness, inflexibility, bossiness, etc. They may not realize it, but if they take charge and get everything in “order,” it decreases a sense of the unknown so that they can relax. With complex kids, this can also happen when they are constantly being directed and don't have a sense of their own agenda.
Distracters avoid feeling stressed and overwhelmed by “doing.” Indicators of this would be a family member who is constantly on the go, busy doing everything (except the task at hand), mindlessly bouncing from item to item. An overwhelmed brain naturally wants to calm down, and feeling productive (at anything) can be a way to make that happen. People with hyperactive brains and bodies may always be on the go, but their actions are not always on task.
You work hard to create a family environment where ideas are exchanged and communication is open. You might even encourage open debate and negotiation. If you suddenly notice a trend toward rule following – like a child who is doing as he or she is told without any input-- it might be an indicator that the individual is too overwhelmed to think critically. A stressed brain finds it easier to comply than to think critically. This defeatism can lead to giving up in other areas, such as school-work or socially.
An isolator tends to refrain from social interaction and normal family pleasantries. They would be apt to withdraw, hide in their room, or even avoid contact. Clearly some of us are more introverted and enjoy time alone, but a change in behavior in this direction would be an indicator that something more significant might be going on.
When you notice behaviors like these in you or your family members, it means that a core coping mechanism has kicked in. Get curious about what might be pushing them (or you) into a state of stress or overwhelm. You might ignore the situation and give your child some “space” for a short time to see if it resolves on its own. But if it persists, you may need to take some action to address the concerns.
A conscious parent approaches these kinds of situations with compassion and purpose. Here are some suggestions about what to do:
Create a transparent environment.
Make it “okay” to openly talk about overwhelm and stress management in your home. Educate everyone on the issues and signals of stress and overwhelm, introduce ideas for stress management. But be careful to start by being open, not creating another directive that increases the stress, instead of easing it.
Stress is very real and it causes physical symptoms. It’s a normal and common experience. If you brush over, or even judge family members who are dealing with this real, physical and mental challenge, it’s no different than ignoring any other serious (and potentially contagious) health issue.
Walk your talk.
Pay attention and manage your own stress and overwhelm. Set a pace for yourself that encourages achievement, but NOT at the significant cost of physical and emotional health. Take care of yourself, and model it for your family!
The Perfect Place to Start
When you notice signs that your family is stressed, the place to start is with awareness and curiosity. Helping your stressed family members actively manage the overwhelm is no different than helping them to learn how to read or wash the dishes – it is a core competency for any conscious parent.
(1)Adapted from Warrior Goddess Training (HeatherAsh Amara)