Coping with Stress
For many of us, the end of the school year and beginning of summer can be a source of stress for both ourselves and our children.
Despite the beautiful weather, I for one find June a very difficult month. School is out. Work is extremely busy. The kids are home, and they always seem to have ants in their pants. Camp is around the corner, but we have 10 days to fill before we get to that point.
As a business owner, work does not stop because my children are home. I cannot take 10 days off. I need to juggle. A lot. And I need to get creative so the kids’ needs are all met and they are able to find a balance between rest and adequate physical activity, while at the same time staying out of each other’s personal space.
We all experience stress at different times in our lives. The ways in which we learn to cope can be transferred across a myriad of situations.
The following are The Four A’s Strategies that I teach my clients to use, and that I try to use in my every day life (clearly, easier said than done….).
Four A’s Strategies:
Avoid the Stressor
I am by no means an advocate of avoiding everything that stresses me out or takes me out of my comfort zone. There are however many stressors in our lives that can easily be eliminated.
We are in control of which relationships we have in our lives. We can learn to say no in situations where we know our limits and do not want to take on more, either personally or professionally. We can learn to surround ourselves with people who make us happy and fulfilled, not by those who have a tendency to always stress us out. We can also avoid conversations with others that we know will get heated.
We can take control of environmental stress when this stress is predictable. If we hate sitting in traffic, perhaps it is wise to choose alternate driving routes or adapt our schedules to suit our own needs.
Alter the Stressor
There are times where we cannot avoid stressors altogether but we can make them more manageable so we do not get overwhelmed.
As a therapist and avid advocate of expressing oneself, I am a true believer that bottling feelings up, whatever the feelings, does more harm than good in the long run. To alleviate stress, we need to be open with our feelings. We must be respectful of others in the process and not be afraid of being vulnerable. We must learn to make compromises, and must remember to assert ourselves so others do not dictate the course of our decisions.
We must also learn to set priorities in our daily goals, and be realistic. If they are not a must, forget about them. We must stay focused on what really matters and what is really important to us.
Stress levels can decrease dramatically by the merely acknowledging what is making us stressed.
Adapt to the Stressor
Let’s face it. Not every stressful event is in our control. In fact, most are not. If we continuously demand perfection of ourselves, we are setting ourselves up to fail. Often we need to take a look at changing ourselves when we know a stressor cannot be changed.
We can learn to reframe problems in a more positive light. Instead of seeing the terrible weather forecast as putting a damper on our picnic plans, we can try to use this as an opportunity to get creative in finding something else to do with our kids. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter whether we spend the afternoon indoors or outdoors? As long as we are engaged with the right people, adding perspective to a problem and learning to focus on the positive is a good habit.
Accept the Stressor
There are certain stressors in our lives, which we have no choice but to accept. The death of a loved one, natural disasters, illness and other forms of tragedy. Albeit very difficult to comprehend, these things happen every day. Acceptance is very difficult, but far easier than continuously making efforts to change situations which are out of our control.
This rule of thumb also applies to how we handle other people. We must stop wasting our efforts trying to control how others think, behave and rationalize. We are only in control of ourselves, and how we wish to react to others and how much we let their behaviors affect us.
Sharing our feelings with those we trust such as friends or a therapist can be cathartic and help with acceptance, even if we cannot change the source of the stress.
So the moral of the story? We have more control than we think over how much we let stress interfere with our every day. And beyond being assertive and having a positive attitude, we must also try to make time for fun and relaxation. Spend time with close friends. Explore a hobby. Connect with those you care about. If the opportunity arises, take a nap.
By making time for ourselves, and taking care of ourselves, we all become more equipped to handle these stressful situations as they arise.
I read an article last week in the Globe and Mail, which really got me thinking. And to be honest it irked me a little bit. The article was about a married couple and their division of household chores. Although technically the household chores and responsibility for the children were divided equally, in essence this was not really the case. The wife was very eager to ‘re-do’ all of the chores that were assigned to her husband. Why? Not because she likes housework or gets some kind of joy in doing it, but because she did not feel her husband did a good enough job.
The article goes on to explain that the wife in the story had been brought up in a house where everything needed to be perfect. There was no room for error. Her home always had to be tidy. Her floors always had to be clean. And all her clothes needed to be folded ‘just so’.
Clearly, the division of labor and responsibility from one house to the next will vary. Especially if there are children involved, and the potential for mess and dirt will exponentially increases ten fold.
As a therapist, I see many issues which require deeper exploration here. But for our purposes right now, I will stick to one main issue:
Is it really fair to impose our expectations on our life partner and children? If we do, what are the possible repercussions long term?
So what is the lesson learned here? We all grow up in homes where there are expectations of our behavior, the amount we contribute to the housework, how we use our manners, etc. However, once we agree to share our lives with someone and have children, we must be willing to compromise. Not our basic beliefs, but more so our ability to give up some control and allow our spouses and our children to make their own mistakes, learn how to take care of themselves without being berated into doing it ‘our way’.
After all, who ever said that our way is always ‘the right way’?
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