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4 Family Stress Busters

The typical American family is stressed. U.S. adults report a stress level that averages 5.2 on a 10-point scale. A level below 4.0 is considered to be healthy, according to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2011 Stress in America survey. 

Significant sources of stress include money (75%), work (70%), the economy (67%), relationships (58%), family responsibilities (57%), health problems (53%), job stability (49%), housing costs (49%) and personal safety (32%).

Signs of Stress

Stress plays out in family interactions, says Rhonda Byrd, PhD, clinical psychologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Being annoyed, avoiding each other, screaming  and interactions that escalate all indicate that something is going wrong in the family system,” she says.

In more severe cases,  emotional distress can result in physical reactions such as stomach aches, headaches or acne. "It can be hard to tease apart. Someone may go through a lot of exams and tests trying to see if something is physically wrong," says Dr. Byrd. In the end, stress could be the culprit.

Stress Solutions

To guide your family down a more peaceful path, consider trying one or more of these suggestions.

1. Take Stock. Examine choices that family members are making. “Decide if there is something that can be let go, like an extra club, activity or a trip that might take a great deal of planning,” says Dr. Carl Chenkin, PhD, New Castle County clinical director for Delaware Guidance Services.

Tighter organization can help too. “I found a free online family calendar that includes everything — where the kids have to be, doctor’s appointments and reminders, like don’t forget to pay the taxes, “ says Patti
Barber, a Marlton, NJ mother of four.

2. Take Time. “If Saturday night is family dinner night, stick to it,” says Dr. Byrd. For Mary
Arcidiacano of Holland, PA, Sunday night dinners for her family of 10 now includes Skyping with her two oldest children, who both attend college away from home.

The Arcidiacanos observe a “no TV rule” when they gather together. “We can have fun without the TV. Talking connects everyone. The older the kids get, the more they appreciate it,” says Mary.

3. Have Fun. “When we’re having a good time, our body relaxes, our neurochemicals change and we reset our stress response,” says Dr. Cherkin. Other stress resets can
include meditation, prayer, yoga and deep breathing.

4. Take Care...of Yourself. Parents sometimes think they can hide emotional issues from their children, but kids can often sense when Mom or Dad are stressed.  So addressing stress issues is important for the whole family.

Patti Barber and her supportive spouse  have worked out a signal when she seems stressed. “He’ll walk into the house and see it, I guess. He’ll use the expression, ‘It’s time for a latte.’ That’s my cue to go and do something on my own.”

Jo Rizzo is a local freelance writer.

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