This is a part of a weekly series, posting on Wednesdays, about stress. Today’s installment focuses on techniques for mitigating stress in the home.
The body responds to stress by releasing chemicals that raise your blood pressure,speed up your heart rate, and raise your blood sugar levels. Evolutionarily speaking, stress came from perceived threats, like sabre toothed tigers, so we needed to be able to act with greater strength and speed in the face of stress. These days, the things that create the most chemical stress in our bodies are situations that do not present us with clear expectations for our performance. Most frequently, this happens not at work, but at home. Most jobs have clear expectations for performance, and we know what to do. At home, in our relationships, and with our families, those expectations aren’t voiced as clearly, and it produces a stress reaction.
An obvious solution would be for people to communicate more clearly, but the idea of communicating their needs and expectations can also stress some people out, because they worry too much about the feelings of others. Others may be unclear on what they want or expect from people, and still others have poor communication skills. So let’s put that idea aside for now.
Other tools that can help within the home are:
- Express your feelings rather than bottling them up. This is not so much voicing expectations as letting people around you know what’s going on internally for you. I’m not saying you should give voice to every thought, or that you should dump everything at the feet of your household. But you can start to express how you feel, in as neutral a manner as possible. If you don’t know how to do that, start by thinking through 3-5 different ways you can voice what you are feeling, coming from a place of love and compassion, while still honoring how you feel. Not all your feelings are negative, either, I would hope. You can positive emotions too, right? Maybe start there. Avoiding bottling up your emotions will reduce your experienced stress, and that is something you are in control of.
- Which brings me to my next point: Focus on the positive. We seem to be wired that most of us have an easier time focusing on those things that don’t work, rather than on the things that do. Take control of that impulse and do the opposite. Write a gratitude list every night, focusing on your day. Take a moment, regularly, to remind yourself of those things that make each of the members of your household special, unique, wonderful. Keep a running, written list, of the reasons you fell in love with your spouse, and read it regularly, adding to it as you are reminded of more things. Look for what is working, rather than for what isn’t. Life is not perfect, it rarely runs smoothly (and when it does, that’s frequently due to our mindset more than to the Universe cooperating with our plans). Look for those little gifts, those things that don’t need babysitting, those things that respond to a course direction with a small shift.
- Which flows right into my next point: Know what you have control over and what you don’t. A general rule of thumb is that you have control over your actions and reactions. That’s it. If you seem to have control over more things, consider the idea that what you actually have in those situations is the cooperation of others. While this might be an incredibly stressful thought for some, allow me to suggest that it actually takes you off the hook for quite a bit. Think of all the things you can stop worrying about! Can you influence things other than your actions and reactions? Yes, but it is unlikely to be terribly effective if you are coming from a place of stress. Relax. If you can’t control it, there’s not much use in getting wound up about it.
Try these things for a week and see how you feel. It’s the best metric I know of.