It’s common for any family to go through stressful situations. Unfortunately, family stress can take its toll on the emotional well-being of family members and the family unit. Causes of family stress vary between families, but there are several steps any family can take to strengthen the family bond and work through stress, regardless of the cause.
8 Ways to Deal with Family Stress
- Have Regular Family Meetings
- Create a Healthy Home
- Do Things You Enjoy as a Family
- Take Time to Unwind Individually
- Ask for Help and Support
- Set Rules, Responsibilities, and Priorities
- Organize the Family Finances
- Improve Strained Relationships
The Family Stress Theory examines the differences in families and how they cope with stress in daily life. While some families deal with stress well, others allow their levels of stress to impede their functioning.
Knowing how to deal with family stress in healthy ways can reduce stress levels in each family member. By hosting regular family meetings, building a strong and healthy environment, and doing fun things together as a family, your family unit can strengthen to the point where stress can’t break it.
The key is to prevent or eliminate stress risk factors through intentional efforts, now and in the future. Getting your family on the same page by understanding the differences and influencers of stress is a crucial step toward breaking the stress cycle.
What is Family Stress?
Family stress can be defined as anything that affects family life in a way that results in stress on family members and the family unit as a whole. Family stress has the power to break down family relationships in ways that can be challenging to overcome without having coping strategies in place. Mothers, fathers, kids, and extended family members can all feel the effects of stress.
It’s necessary for families dealing with stress to identify the root causes and adopt effective coping strategies. In many cases, family members can reduce stress by taking care of themselves and each other, talking through their emotions, and developing regular stress management strategies.
What causes family stress?
There are many reasons a family can experience stress. However, the top causes of stress on a family include:
- Financial problems due to a job loss, medical bills, or even lottery winnings
- Marital issues, such as a new marriage, marital conflict, divorce, or strained relationships with in-laws
- Traumatic stress, such as death, chronic illness, or disability (like a child with autism), which can change family dynamics
Stress levels can also increase as the individuals of a family experience struggle with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues that may come into play. A change in the health and well-being of family members and extended family can also increase stressors that affect family relationships and coping methods.
Other causes of family stress include sibling rivalry, impaired relationships between parents and children, harmful health habits, like an eating disorder, and mental health problems. Parenting styles and differences in parenting methods can also influence stress levels in your family.
8 Ways to Deal with Family Stress
How to deal with stress and how to reduce stress in family life is often different for each family. Chronic stress is something that needs to be addressed to improve your family’s health. The following suggestions can guide you toward understanding how to cope with stress in a healthy way and develop good family habits.
1. Have Regular Family Meetings
Regular family meetings give each family member the chance to talk about their personal stressors and anything they believe to be an issue in the family. Choose a meeting schedule that works for your household—once a week or once a month, for example—to gather together and share your thoughts with each other.
The most significant benefit of family meetings is that they allow you to keep the lines of communication open with one another. When everyone feels like their opinion matters, you are likely to get more out of your conversations. Family members can share more and feel comfortable doing so without judgments or arguments.
During your meeting, be sure to talk about the positive efforts and behaviors within the family. Discuss anything that’s been happening recently to cause problems or stress within your home. Ask for suggestions from each family member about what they believe might help the family move past those issues.
2: Create a Healthy Home
Your home environment plays a pivotal role in how the members of your family interact with one another and foster their relationships. The healthier your home environment, the less stressed it will feel for everyone in your home.
For example, consistent arguing or talking over one another can disturb relationships and influence how younger family members behave. The more they see yelling and other stressful situations, the likelier they are to model the behavior. This can result in a negative family dynamic pattern that can be difficult to break.
Other children may not model the yelling or arguing behavior, but instead may turn their stress inward and silently suffer. They may try hard to be perfect in order to not cause more problems and family stress. They may even avoid sharing their feelings in order to not be a burden. This response can slowly turn into depression and anxiety in this type of silent sufferer.
Even during your most challenging times, try your best to stay calm. Spread joy and love in your home with open conversations, affection, and a relaxing environment—and expect the same from other family members. Everyone in your family deserves a safe, loving place to call home without the fear of stress turning their life into another broken family statistic.
3: Do Things You Enjoy as a Family
Bonding over shared interests or trying something new as a group can bring your family closer together. When you feel close to the people you love most, you’ll notice fewer symptoms of stress in yourself and your family as a whole. Getting out of the house for quality time can be just what your family needs to feel rejuvenated and establish fun family traditions you can enjoy for years to come.
Finding a work-life balance is usually the tricky part for modern families. In single-parent households or families with two working parents, it can be a challenge to find time to spend together between work, school, and other responsibilities.
If you have only a few minutes to spare each day, make it count. Head to the park with the kids, play a family board game, or read a story together before bed. When you do have a day to spend together, try to engage in family activities that are enjoyable to each family member. You might even consider taking turns choosing and planning for these types of family outings.
4: Take Time to Unwind Individually
Stress on a family often starts with stress on individual family members. Parents and caregivers might experience stress from both work and family, and it can be challenging to separate the two. Sometimes, families spend so much time together that they lose their sense of individuality.
As important as it is to work together and spend time together as a family, it’s just as important to focus on yourself. Each individual should be allowed to do things that they enjoy to improve their mental health, whether that’s spending an hour reading, visiting a friend for the day, or participating in recreational activities.
Remember that every family member will have different interests, and that’s okay. Show support for the things they love and give them time to enjoy them. It’ll only work to make your family culture stronger.
5: Ask for Help and Support
If you’re having trouble overcoming your family’s stress, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Getting help from extended family or a family therapist should never be something that makes you feel ashamed. In some cases, this may be a necessary step to get each family the help they need to manage their own stressors so that you can come together to manage family stressors.
A family therapist can work with your entire family, certain members of your family, or even in individual sessions as needed to get to the root of your stress. There are many different types of family therapy and leaning on the experiences and expertise of a licensed family therapist is always recommended. They’ll not only provide a safe place to talk and learn more about why you feel stressed, but they’ll also give you the tools your family needs to work through whatever life puts in your path. And in these tech-driven days, developing such tools is becoming more and more important.
You might also consider joining a church or community support group designed to help families feeling stressed for any reason. You’ll see that other families experience similar family problems with stress and anxiety and are dedicated to overcoming them, just like you. Having a community of support that you can rely on has been shown to reduce stress levels, even if you don’t actually need their help. Just knowing they are available if needed is enough to make a difference.
6: Set Rules, Responsibilities, and Priorities
Disagreements in the way your family members share responsibilities can be a significant source of stress. If even one family member fails to play a supporting role in your family, the rest of its members may feel resentful. It’s necessary for your family to set clear rules and responsibilities for each individual and make chores, family meetings, and other responsibilities priorities for all.
Everyone in the family—even young children—should contribute to the daily life of the household in some way. Create an age-appropriate chore list with a few tasks for kids to focus on each week. If necessary, teens and young adults might also contribute financially once they start working.
Emotional support should also be prioritized as a way to deal with stress in your home. Set rules to establish a foundation of respect when listening and talking to each other. Knowing that everyone can count on one another for a listening ear or a helping hand when they feel stressed can reduce anxiety and create a family oriented atmosphere within your home.
7: Organize the Family Finances
Your family’s finances and factors relating to it can cause chronic stress for the family. Losing a job, getting a new job with longer hours, dealing with chronic illness, no longer being able to afford your home or make necessary repairs, and even inheriting money are a few scenarios where finances can affect the family’s health.
Some situations are out of your control. However, making smart financial decisions starting now can improve your current and future financial picture. To help relieve stress, you may want to consider doing the following:
- Opening a savings account and setting aside as much as you can each week for emergencies
- Saving for college for your children
- Opening a retirement account for you and your partner
- Investing your tax return or depositing it into your retirement fund
- Setting a weekly budget for food and entertainment
- Cutting costs by negotiating bills, nixing subscription services, and paying down credit card debt
Tip: Parents and children should work together to budget and save. This teaches children about handling money wisely. Kids will catch on to your money-saving habits, setting them on the path toward being intelligent money handlers.
8. Improve Family Relationships
Anxiety has the power to tear people apart, especially in traumatic stress situations. Over time, it can feel almost impossible to get a relationship back on track to where it once was. Being around family during the holidays is often a source of stress on families with strained relationships.
However, drifting relationships between family members can often deepen family stress, so you should take steps to strengthen your bond with your mother in law or sibling as soon as possible. Start small by making it a point to reach out to your family members. Pull them aside for a conversation, write a note, or have a quick phone call. Showing you care is the first step.
Work towards longer conversations, apologies, bonding activities, and special outings to continue strengthening your relationships. It will take work from both parties, but you’ll never regret the investment when you eventually reach the point where you feel comfortable, respected, and loved.
How to Deal with Family Stress
By implementing these strategies into your life, you should begin to notice a positive shift in your family’s stress. It takes time to learn what techniques work best for your family, so don’t lose hope. Most importantly, focus on your home environment. A welcoming, loving home can make all the difference in your family’s attitude toward life, work, school, and each other. Be sure to open the lines of communication so that everyone feels heard and supported. Doing so will unite you and help you work toward common goals to boost your family's health and well-being.