Tag Archive for stress management

Beach Balls, Chopsticks, & Ping Pong Balls…Oh My!!

What do beach balls, chopsticks, and ping pong balls have in common? They teach us an important lesson about marriage. What? Really? Yes indeed. It’s true. They teach us to bring laughter into our marriages. When spouses laugh together they report feeling more supported and cared for by one another (Couples Who Do This Together are Happier). They also report greater relationship satisfaction and connection. (The Effect of Reminiscing about Laughter on Relationship Satisfaction)  In addition, a review of 230 baseball players revealed genuine smiles could lead to a longer life! (Grinning for a Longer Life)  Wouldn’t that be a wonderful gift to give your spouse—a longer life for both of you? Smiling and laughter can even reduce stress (Smile It’s Good for Your Heart & LOL-On Safari for the Elusive Smile), making it easier to recover from moments of conflict.

So, whether you do a beach ball ballet,

the Tissue Box Bop,

or wisely use chopsticks like the Chinese, bring a little laughter into your marriage. You won’t regret it!

PS-If you missed our couple’s retreat P.L.A.Y. Rx you missed learning more about the joys of play, laughter, adventure, yearning, and rest for your marriage. But, here are some pictures of the times we shared.  Hope to see you next year.

3 Ways Giving Support Will Benefit Your Family

Paul was on his way to Rome when he called the elders of Ephesus to meet him. He wanted to offer one last message of encouragement to them. That message ended with these encourage-synonymswords: “…In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:35).  A recent study confirmed the wisdom of this statement in regard to giving support to others.  Specifically, researchers from University of Pittsburgh and University of California (LA) asked 36 participants about receiving and giving support. Of course, both giving and receiving support led to fewer negative outcomes. But these researchers went a step further in their investigation. They used fMRI’s to assess the brain activation of participants engaged in at least three types of tasks.

  1. One task involved participants performing a “stressful mental math task.” During this task, the fMRI revealed that those who gave the most support to others had reduced activity in the brain areas related to stress response.
  2. Another group of participants looked at pictures of loved ones. In this scenario, fMRI’s revealed increased activity in the brain’s reward system for those who gave higher levels of support to others.
  3. A third group had a chance to win money for someone in need. In this group, fMRI’s also revealed increased activity in the brain’s reward system for those who gave higher levels of support.

In summary, giving support to those in need contributed to an improved ability to manage stress and an increased ability to enjoy reward, at least on a neurological level. Isn’t that a great benefit for families?  If we model giving support to others in the family and encourage our family to do the same, we promote more feelings of reward and fewer “stressed out” feelings. By supporting one another’s dreams you can bring a greater sense of reward into your family. Supporting one another when troubles arise will decrease family stress. We really can build a healthier family by giving and receiving support. But, in the long run, it is even better to give than receive!

What Do Laughing Rats Teach Us About Family?

The “tickle monster” (aka-my hand) was poised above my infant daughter’s body as she lay on her back, hands held cautiously in front of her, eyes wide and sparkling with joy.  Her hands served as a buffer between the “tickle monster” and the “tickle monster’s” target–her belly and neck.  Her eyes followed my hand’s every move. “The tickle monster’s gonna get you,” I said in my best sing-song voice. When the “tickle monster” made a slight movement in my daughter’s direction, she curled into a ball, grabbed her stomach and started to giggle. The “tickle monster” then swooped toward her belly and tickled her. She laughed hysterically, a contagious laugh that made several other people in the room laugh, too. I tried to end our game, but she took my hand and put it on her stomach. She wanted to continue.

 

I was reminded of these “tickle games” when I read about a study in which researchers imposed a “tickle test” on a group of rats. (Not that my daughters are rats…oh man, that didn’t come out right…bad sentence sequencing. Maybe they won’t read this one. Anyway….) In this study, the researchers “exposed a one group of rats to a tickle test”–they tickled the rats for two, two minute sessions on a daily basis for two weeks (a lot of two’s there). After a short time, the rats seemed to enjoy the company of the tickler. When the tickler’s hand entered the caged, they followed it around, waiting to get tickled. (read more about this study and watch the video by clicking here

 

After two weeks, the researchers subjected the “tickle test” group and a “non-tickle test” group to a repeated stressful situation (did you ever think you’d see the words “tickle test,” rats, and stress in a blog about family?). After their stress hormones were elevated, the stressful situation ended and the researchers monitored the rats’ stress hormones. The “tickle test” group of rats recovered from the stress more quickly. Their stress hormones went down more rapidly. The tickling appeared to have helped them recover from stress. (read more of these results here)

 

Of course we do not live in a family of rats. Well…. No, really, we don’t. But several years ago, studies showed that laughter, as well as the anticipation of laughter, reduced stress hormones while increasing beta-endorphins (feel good hormones) in humans. In other words, laughter helps us recover from stress, too. I think that the experience of tickling and laughter builds connections and pathways in our brains that help us recover from stress. Maybe the physical contact of tickling is the key ingredient. Or, maybe the key ingredient is the playful interaction enjoyed…or the time spent laughing together…or the hormones released during laughter. I don’t know. But, I do know this: if you would like to teach your family to recover from stressful events more quickly, have some fun together. Tickle, laugh, play. Enjoy one another’s company. I actually think I’m going to push my luck and make my family a “tickle test group.” (That’s a group of people, not rats…come on people, what did you think I meant?) Anyway, want to join the fun…tickle away!

A Magic Bullet?

I have spent what seems like a lifetime in search of some way to buffer my children against stress. The world seems to bombard our children with demands and pressures, “you have to’s” and “you better’s.” You know what I mean, the “You have to do perfect on the state assessment tests (PSSA’s for us) or you won’t graduate,” “You must practice all year or you won’t make the team,” “You have to enroll your child in the best preschool or they’ll miss out on the right college,” “You must learn a language, work for extra cash, practice every day for the play, make your curve ball perfect, volunteer each week, study for your bio test, talk to your friends, read 25 books…” You get the idea. I’m sure you have watched your children struggle through this litany of stressors and more. How can we help our children manage this stress? How can we buffer them against this kind of stress? I have finally found one answer to that question. It may not be the only answer, but it is a start…a very important start…and it has added benefits too. What is this magic bullet? Play! That’s right, unsupervised, unstructured, frivolous play. Allowing children to enjoy play, and engaging them in play, will buffer them against stress. Play provides the opportunity for children to work through, and relieve, their stress. Through play, children may act out possible solutions to their stress or simply repeat certain scenarios until they find themselves comfortable with them. In addition, play provides the opportunity for children to discover strengths and competencies, which helps reduce stress. Children can conquer their fears while acting out adult roles through play. They learn to cooperate and work as a group during play. All of this helps build competencies and reduce stress.
 
When parents allow their children to guide and lead them in a play activity, they learn a lot about their children. They will learn to see the world through their children’s eyes and discover how their children think about the world. This knowledge allows a parent to become familiar with their children and, as a result, more easily address their children’s worries and fears. Parents also learn how to better communicate with their children through the knowledge gained during play. As an added bonus, receiving a parent’s full attention and observing that a parent will follow “my guidance,” provides children with a sense of value…which is another great buffer against stress.
 

All of this (and I didn’t even mention how play allows a child to grow in creativity, language, negotiation, and self-control) will help your children respond to stress in a positive way. Oh yeah, and it is fun!  Play may not be the only way to help buffer a child against stress, but it is one way I don’t want to miss out on. How about you? Aye, wait a minute…why are you still sitting there? Go on; get out there with your children and play!

What A Week!

Ever have one of those weeks in which everything frustrates you? I have…just last week in fact. I was a little frustrated and irritable (alright, my family would say very irritable) all week. It was a busy week with multiple changes and transitions. “Nothing” seemed to go right. “Everything” (and I mean “everything”) frustrated me. “Everything” I did went from “bad to worse.” I just knew that “it would never get any better” and “everything I do always ends in disaster.” I was stressed, short-tempered with my family, and not a lot of fun to be around. I felt disconnected from my family. I realized I needed to make a change to get back on track, to reconnect. But how? Well, here are some actions I found helpful. Maybe you will find them helpful, too.
     ·         Take a break. I know it’s busy. There is never enough time to get everything done. However, if you get caught up in the busy-ness of life you may forget to rest; and, you may disconnect from those things in life that are most important, like family. You will grow increasingly irritated and disconnected. So, take a break. Put your work aside for an evening or a day and relax. Do something fun with your family. Or, just relax at home with a good book.

·         Check Your Thought Life. Think about how you are thinking. Listen to the dialogue in your head. Notice the words in the first paragraph that are in quotes? When you find yourself thinking in terms of “everything,” “always,” or other global absolutes, it’s time to take stock of your thoughts and make the effort to change those thoughts. Consider whether the evidence supports your thoughts (it probably does not). Rewrite your inner dialogue with some more accurate and realistic thinking, thinking that reflects the fact that problems arise and then you deal with them. Change your thinking to acknowledge the support you receive from family and friends. Challenge yourself to reestablish thoughts that keep a mole hill a mole hill rather than letting thoughts that turn a mole hill into a mountain run amuck in your mind.

·         Apologize. You may need to apologize to your family for how you behaved or spoke. Apologize for your irritability. Do not make excuses or blame your family for your mood. Simply apologize for your actions. After apologizing, acknowledge your need for support…which reminds me of the next action.

·         Ask for Help. Life can be difficult and even overwhelming. Turn to your family and ask for help. Explain your feelings and mood to your family. Let them in on your emotional life. They can’t help you if they don’t know what’s going on. So, if there are ways they can help, ask. Then, thank them for helping.
 
That can help you break out of that mood. I know it helps me. But, what if you are a family member of the person having a rough day? Family members can help by continuing to act in love. Sometimes it is hard to love the person who snaps at you in their irritability or mutters in frustration. But, the love of family can help cheer an irritable person up. Love with your words and actions. Here are some ways to show your love to the irritable family member.
     ·         Be Patient. I know it can be difficult, but patiently bear with their bad mood. Of course, you can set boundaries and limits that fit within your family values but love “bears all things.” A person may need some space in order to get past their frustration. Family may help by patiently allowing for that space.

·         Be available. Remaining available includes offering a listening ear, giving a hug, rubbing a back, or sitting quietly in the same room… anything that shows your genuine concern and love. Let your family member know you are available through your words and your actions. Let them know that you are willing to help in any way reasonable.

·         Be Kind. Along with remaining available, show your love and consideration through acts of kindness. Do a chore around the house that your frustrated family member would normally do. Take extra time to sit with them. Prepare a special treat for them. Sometimes kindness may mean leaving them alone and giving them space.

·         Finally, Don’t Keep a Record of Wrongs. Everyone has bad days. We have all had times of irritability. When a loved one goes through a period of irritability and then returns to their “normal self,” don’t hold it against them. Do not keep a record of their wrongs. When they apologize, be gracious to accept that apology. And, discuss what they think would help them if (or when) they experience their next period of frustration and irritability. Perhaps above all, remember that “love covers a multitude of sins.”
 
I found these suggestions very helpful this last week. I hope you find them helpful as well.

The Face of Anger in Your Family

Anger has many faces. The positive face of anger serves a beneficial purpose in our family and our life. It helps us identify and clarify our priorities. It communicates those priorities to our family members through facial expressions and words. Anger also injects us with energy to deal with any obstacles that frustrate our efforts to live by our chosen priorities and values. Unfortunately, the negative faces of anger use that energy but do clarify, communicate, or serve our priorities. In fact, these ineffective faces of anger prove counterproductive, and even detrimental, to our priorities and our family! Consider whether you wear any of these five ineffective faces of anger. Then, read the suggestions that follow to help you put on a more effective face of anger.
1.      The Passive-Aggressive Face of anger. This style of anger expression withholds praise, attention, and affection. The person wearing the passive-aggressive face of anger intentionally forgets to follow through with commitments and “promises.” They deny feeling angry while behaving in a way that will knowingly “get back at” and upset the other person.
 
2.      The Sarcastic Face of anger. This face of anger feigns humor; but, sarcasm has a cutting edge to it. It hurts. The person who uses sarcasm may reveal embarrassing information about the person with whom they are angry. Or, they may publicly humiliate the person with various sarcastic comments. The sarcastic face of anger carries a tone of voice that reveals disgust or disapproval.  If you are on the receiving end of sarcasm, you may feel hurt, embarrassed, confused, or even angry.
 
3.      The Cold Face of anger. The person who practices the cold face of anger simply withdraws from the other person when angry. They remove their affection, hold back intimacy, ignore attempts at interactions, and refuse to repair the relationship for a period of time. This cold face of anger also refuses to explain why they are upset. Instead, they punish the other person by shutting them out and avoiding interaction.  
 
4.      The Hostile Face of anger. The hostile face of anger reveals an inner intensity that boils over in a raised voiced and angry gestures. In general, people who wear the hostile face of anger appear more stressed out and impatient. They show visible signs of frustration and annoyance if others do not move fast enough or fail to meet their expectations for competence or performance.
 
5.      The Aggressive Face of anger. People who wear the aggressive face of anger raise their voice, becoming verbally loud and aggressive. They may curse, call the other person degrading names, and blame others for their behavior. They often have thoughts and mental images of anger that include hurting the other person somehow (even if they know this is wrong and do not engage in physically aggressive behavior). They may, however, act out their anger by hitting walls or breaking things around them. In some instances, they may resort to pushing, blocking, or hitting the other person.
 
As you can imagine, these faces of anger are damaging to personal relationships and family life in general. At the very least, they pound a wedge between people and result in hurt feelings. Ultimately, they destroy intimacy, devastate relationships, and crush people’s self-image. What can you think you wear one of the faces of anger described above? Here are 4 ideas to get you started.
     1.      First, admit that anger interferes with your relationships, destroys family intimacy, and hurts your spouse and children…the very people you love. Admit that the negative face of anger interferes with your goal to have family filled with joy, playfulness, security, and intimacy. The negative face of anger tears down the people in your family rather than building them up. In fact, the negative faces of anger have a long-term impact on each family member’s self-image, confidence, and future relationships.
 
     2.      Learn how you fuel your anger, how you contribute to its creation and escalate its negative expression. What thoughts race through your mind from the time you begin to feel just a little bit annoyed? What bodily sensations do you experience? How does your body tell you that you are beginning to get upset, annoyed, irritated, or angry? Write these thoughts and sensations down. Begin to be aware of these thoughts and sensations in your everyday interactions.  Being aware of your anger escalating thoughts and bodily sensation allows you to address them, calm them, and reduce them before you put on one of the angry faces described above.
 
     3.      When you begin to have the thoughts related to irritation or the bodily sensations of annoyance, take a long, deep, slow breath and look at your surroundings. Really, take a deep breath and notice what hangs on the walls in the room, what the other person is wearing, what you are wearing, and what expression the other person has on their face. Make a mental note of your surroundings while slowly release a deep breath. This will help calm the body sensations of anger, allowing you to think more clearly and respond more appropriately to the other person.
 
     4.      Talk…and listen. Listen for what the other person really wants to say. After you understand the other person, calmly explain your thoughts and priorities regarding the topic. This means becoming somewhat vulnerable, revealing yourself. Although this can prove difficult, it pulls people together. You will find that you grow closer with your family member this way, even in the midst of an irritating situation. 
 

These four brief steps begin the process of putting on a positive face of anger. A positive face of anger allows you to reveal yourself and build intimacy. If you struggle with anger in your family, I encourage you to read Taking Charge of Anger by W. Robert Nay, PhD. Dr. Nay describes the faces of anger in more detail and offers a comprehensive and effective method for learning to manage anger…an excellent investment in your family!

Give Your Child the Gift of a Lifetime

One of the best gifts we can give our children is the ability to bounce back from failure, to overcome adversity, and to remain persistent in the face of disappointment. In a word, giving the gift of resiliency can impact a child’s life forever! What does a child need to develop resiliency? Here are some ideas.
     ·         Resiliency begins with close family ties. Resilient children feel secure in their family relationships. They feel accepted and valued by their family. Even though they may express some interests different than their family, they know that family members accept them and cherish them. Take time for your children. Learn about their interests and abilities. Show an interest in what they think and do.

·         Resilient children develop a sense of competence. Parents can help their children develop a sense of competence by accepting their strengths and giving them opportunities to develop those strengths. If they like music, give them opportunities to play or sing. If they like sports, get them involved in athletic activities. If they like to cook or draw or do scientific experiments, seek out opportunities for them to meet people with similar interests and become involved in related activities. Keep these activities fun. Do not push them beyond their desire. Let them guide the intensity of their involvement.

·         Resilient children have a healthy self-confidence. Interestingly, confidence grows when we overcome obstacles and persevere in spite of difficulties and disappointments. Confidence grows when we learn to view adversity, struggle, and even failure as information about how to improve. Allow your child to experience disappointments and setbacks. Encourage them in their struggle to overcome those setbacks. Express confidence in their abilities to do so. Encourage their effort and point out specific areas in which you see improvement.

·         Resilient children develop a strong moral character. They learn right from wrong and recognize the consequences of both. They develop compassion for others and practice kindness toward others. Resilient children learn that a life of honesty and integrity is not always easy, but always best. When your child does something wrong, do not bail them out. Allow them to suffer the consequences of their misbehavior. Trust that they can and will learn from those consequences to behave better in the future.

·         Resilient children know that they make a unique and needed contribution to the world around them. God has endowed each child with a unique purpose. It may or may not be a visible to others; but, it is a vital purpose nonetheless. You can help your children discover their purpose in several ways. Provide opportunities to serve others. Help your children understand that many people in the world struggle to obtain basic life necessities. Provide opportunities to participate in volunteer work. Provide opportunities for your children to contribute to maintaining your home. All of these activities and more can help a child learn that they make an important contribution to our world.

·         Resilient children cope effectively with stress. They learn to view challenges as opportunities for growth. Children learn effective coping skills by watching their parents; so, learn to practice and model good coping skills yourself. You can not only model effective coping skills, but you can coach your child in practicing those skills as well. Childhood and adolescence are filled with opportunities to learn coping skills.
 
Resilient children bounce back from failure, overcome adversity, and remain persistent in the face of disappointment. They thrive, even in the midst of difficulties. The most important ingredient in helping your child develop resiliency is you! Your active presence in their life, your loving affection, your healthy modeling, and your unconditional acceptance will give your children the wonderful gift of resiliency!

Intentional Gratitude

Gratitude comes easy when life is good, love is easy, and family relationships running smooth. But, when life becomes rushed, love stressed, and family members disappointing, gratitude becomes more difficult. During such times, we must intentionally become attentive of our family and make a purposeful effort to show them gratitude. Why make the effort? Let me share three of the many reasons gratitude is worth the effort, even when times are difficult.

 

Gratitude protects us from temptation. One author suggests that a lack of gratitude laid the foundation for Adam and Eve to sin in the Garden of Eden. Could it be that a lack of gratitude for the abundant blessings available in the Garden allowed Satan to tempt Adam and Eve with the one tree they were told to avoid? Perhaps an expression of gratitude for the extravagant abundance available in the Garden would have staved off the temptation to eat the “forbidden” fruit.

 

I find this principle true in marriages as well. When a couple stops expressing gratitude for one another, they lay the foundation for a potential affair. The one who does not express appreciation for their spouse may find themselves tempted to partake of the “forbidden fruit” that deceptively appears “greener” than the fruit in their own house. And, the one that feels unappreciated may find themselves drawn to someone outside the marriage who expresses gratitude and appreciation for them. Gratitude protects us from temptation.

 

Gratitude reduces stress and gives us courage. A lack of gratitude leaves us dissatisfied with our past. It leads to grumbling and complaining. Perhaps Israel wandered the wilderness for forty years partly in response to a lack of gratitude. After all, they had experienced God’s protection during the plagues in Egypt, His deliverance from Egypt, and His miraculous power as they crossed the Red Sea. They survived on God’s provision of food and water as well. In spite of these opportunities to give thanks, they grumbled and complained. They focused on what they did not have rather than focusing on God’s miraculous provision. In their midst of grumbling, they sent a reconnaissance mission into the Promise Land. Most of the spies returned fearful of the Promise Land. Their lack of gratitude for God’s miraculous provision led to self-induced fear, mistrust, and a future with no vision. As a result, they spent 40 years wandering the wilderness.

 

It comes as no surprise that when a person grumbles, they feel more stress. Grumbling focuses on dissatisfaction and worry. Complainers feed off others who complain. Grumbling escalates and the focus on the worst case scenario grows stronger, fear increases, courage falls away. Gratitude, on the other hand, sets our focus on those things that have gone well and those blessings we have received. It lends itself to a peaceful acceptance of what we have today. It grants us courage, based on the gracious joys of yesterday, to accomplish our vision of tomorrow. As an unknown author stated, “gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

 

Gratitude keeps love alive and growing. Without gratitude, love fades. When we feel stressed, irritated, or rushed, we often project those feelings onto those around us. These are the times when we do not feel like expressing gratitude. Instead, we take people and things for granted. Our interactions become more harsh, hurried, or even rude. I have met many children, teens, and young adults who misbehave in an effort to elicit some expression of emotion from others. If they can not elicit the joy of gratitude and appreciation, they will accept the connection of irritated anger and frustration. As this continues, love fades and attention-seeking misbehavior grows. Lest you think this only relates to children, consider what happens in your marriage if you feel that your spouse does not appreciate you. Love fades and attention seeking behavior grows.

 

Gratitude, on the other hand, expresses that you value the other person enough to attend to and appreciate them. In fact, gratitude becomes a gift of appreciation. It sparks the embers of affection and fans the flame of love. It pleases the heart and endears us to one another. Gratitude creates the foundation of joy today that becomes a vision tomorrow. Gratitude keeps love alive and growing.

 

So, how can we remain grateful when we are frustrated, stressed, disappointed, or feeling rushed? Here are a few ways to intentionally make gratitude a part of your family life:

  1. Volunteer as a family to help those less fortunate.
  2. Take time to recall and list as many qualities as you can think of that you have appreciated about each family member in the past.
  3. Make a daily list of three things you appreciate about each family member.
  4. Make a weekly list of 3-5 things each family member has done to help strengthen family relationships.
  5. Make a point of sharing one item from your list with each family member each day.

    HAVE A GREAT THANKSGIVING!!!