Having a family is rewarding and wonderful, but also stressful and taxing. There are so many needs, personalities, hurdles, changes, and growth in families, of course, the complex dynamics will cause stressful situations from time to time. Common family stressors strike all families and knowing how to navigate them becomes key to a family's success.
Common Family Stressors Are Everywhere
No matter how strong and healthy a family is, common stressors are bound to pop up from time to time. Identifying stressors and methods of navigating them can help families move through stressful occurrences efficiently.
A Death in the Family
No one lives forever, and at some point, every family will lose a loved one. Losing someone close to your family is going to be hard on all family members. Keep in mind that death will impact everyone differently. Be sensitive to the fact that all of your family members process loss in their own way.
- Encourage family members to talk about their feelings surrounding the loss.
- Practice self-care so that you can then help care for grieving family members.
- Celebrate the good times and the love that your family has for your passed love one.
Job Loss or Job Change
Losing a job is scary, especially when there are dependents to care for. Even families who undergo a wanted job change or a transfer often experience some level of stress related to a major change like this. When a family goes through either of these common stressors, it is important to:
- Stay supportive of the family member who lost or changed their job.
- Allow time and space to rant about a loss or transfer, but then focus on what is in your control and what is practical.
- Create short and long-term goals regarding finances and future occupations.
Moving homes can be rewarding and exciting, but also scary. When you leave a space of physical and emotional safety, uncertainties arise. Change is harder on some people, and there might be a few family members who fully embrace the adventure of a new place and other family members who remain wary and hesitant. Helping family members work through a big change like a move isn't easy, but it can be done. Three ways that you can help family members positively cope with change are:
- Keep routine and schedule as normal as possible. This will provide structure and stability through the change.
- Focus on the positive. Talk about the pros to moving and have family members who don't embrace the chance write down all benefits to a move.
- Acknowledge the change and discuss feelings surrounding it.
Divorce or Separation
Nearly 15% of all marriages end in divorce, and while this is lower than years past, it is still common. Divorce can be especially hard on the children in a family and on a spouse who didn't want the divorce. Stress such as this may cause children to withdraw or act out, feel anger and resentment, experience insecurities or suffer from anxiety and depression. While parents can not always save a marriage, they can do a few things to make a split easier on their children and themselves.
- Listen to children's thoughts and feelings. Allow them to heal and process on their own time.
- Be civil with the other parent. Keep personal discussions and feelings between divorced parents away from children's ears.
- Have a solid support system in place your yourself and your children.
- Seek counseling if depression, anger, and anxiety are impacting daily functioning.
Divorce is a common family stressor, but it is often followed up by another common stressor, remarriage. Blending two families together can certainly be a beautiful thing, but it can also be stressful and emotionally charged. When blending a family, all sets of adults need to be communicating effectively and remain sensitive to everyone's feelings, no matter what they are.
- Communicate openly with kids about their concerns.
- Be realistic with your expectations of step-children.
- Always treat everyone in the family equally.
- Agree on discipline measures.
- Remind children that they come first.
Physical of Mental Illness
When someone in your family falls ill, it takes a toll on everyone. Illness can either affect a person's physical or mental health. Supporting family member's through an illness is stressful, but important. Ways to help an ailing family member include:
- Be realistic in your expectations of regaining health. Sometimes people want and wish for their loved ones to recover more speedily.
- Help them attend all important appointments.
- Openly discuss feelings about illness and recovery with your ill family member.
- Seek professional assistance if needed.
Conflict With Extended Family
Even though you are family and you love one another doesn't mean that you won't butt heads over certain topics. Quarreling with in-laws or extended family members is a common stressor that families endure. Working through issues with family members can make you uncomfortable, but it is important to confront the issues at hand and work through them effectively.
- Create a united front with your partner.
- Know your boundaries and expectations.
- Meet in a neutral place to discuss issues.
- Be an active listener and use non-aggressive body posture when working out issues.
Difficulty With Child Behavior
Kids start to exhibit concerning behaviors for various reasons, and behavior difficulties can result in tension and stress in marriages and families. Parents of challenging children tend to feel exhausted, resentful, and angry at the child and sometimes at their spouse. When dealing with problematic behaviors, stay focused and team-centered.
- Locate the root of the problem. Knowing the "why" is very important.
- Be consistent in your approach to problematic behaviors.
- Make sure all family members know the plan. All boundaries, rules, rewards, and consequences should be laid out clearly.
- Support and love the struggling family member.
Having a new baby is a thrill and something to celebrate, but along with a new family member comes new family dynamics and certain stressors. Babies bring joy, but they also bring exhaustion. Parents can become overstretched and overworked, lashing out at loved ones. Adjusting to a new life takes careful planning and consideration.
- New parents must practice self-care.
- Give existing children extra praise, attention, and special jobs to make them feel included.
- Acknowledge feelings of family members who are struggling with the new baby. Help them talk about what they are feeling.
- Know that transitions like this one take some time.
Caring for Elderly Family Members
We become so accustomed to parents taking care of children that when it is time for roles to reverse, the adjustments can be stressful and difficult. Aging parents are bound to happen. Caring for them can be made more simple with a few key steps.
- Decide what aging parents need and make a plan that includes their input.
- Work on the financials regarding your parents' care.
- Keep on top of medications and create as much safety as possible in their home and hire help to care for them if need be.
- Make sure they know that they are loved and appreciated.
Effects of Stress on a Person
Stressors can affect a person's health greatly. Common effects of stress include:
- low self-esteem
- depression and anxiety
- lack of willingness to interact with loved ones
- lower levels of energy
- chest pains and cardiovascular disease
- headaches and migraines
- increased rate of viral infections
- racing thoughts
- lack of focus and attention
- gastrointestinal problems
When a Stressor Is too Much to Handle
Most stressors are within a family's capabilities to resolve, but sometimes outside help is needed. In families where physical, emotional, or mental abuse or neglect occurs, professional help should be sought out. Knowing when a situation is beyond your control is crucial to one's wellbeing and safety.