Family Conversation Starters: Learning to Recognize and Manage Stress


We all experience stress, and naturally want to be able to provide comfort to our loved ones.

This is our responsibility, and what helps us to feel like effective parents and partners. The bigger question is whether you know when your loved ones are distressed or not.

People show stress in different ways and sometimes it’s not always easy to tell. For instance, children who are depressed often don’t look sad, instead they get mad. Active children can get overstimulated and get even more active when they are feeling out of control. Some people get very quiet, some get very loud, some get obnoxious and some get funny. We all experience it and show it in different ways.

Here are some family conversation starters to learn this information, so that we can better read cues and know when to step in and to support one another:

  1. So we all feel calm at times, and we all get stressed out at times. How do you know when you are calm and when you are stressed?
  2. Where do you experience stress? Some people feel it in their bodies, some experience it in their minds, and some in their feelings. How about in your body? (i.e. heart racing, hands and feet sweaty, muscles activated, shallow breathing). Do you experience stress in your thoughts? (i.e. same thoughts over and over again, can’t stop thinking, worrying all the time, overly focused on one thing). Do you experience stress in your feelings? (i.e. sad, tearful, anxious, angry).
  3. What causes you stress? We all have different things that trigger us. Do you feel stress when you’re in trouble? When there is tension in the house? When you are bored? When you are called a certain word? When you feel blamed for something?
  4. How well do we know the members of our family. Who of us gets angry when we are stressed? Who gets super quiet? Who worries the most in our family? Who gets focused and busy? Who can’t stop talking and gets overexcited? Which of us feels it the most in their body? Who gets funny?
  5. When there’s stress in our family, what happens to our relationships?
  6. When “family member A” is stressed, what happens to us? Who notices? Who tries to help? Who gets upset too? Who is affected by it? Who turns away and gets scarce?

We discovered that our middle daughter feels tension. Any time there’s tension in our house, in whatever relationship is present, she feels it. She’s an empath, she dislikes the feeling of tension and would prefer it if everyone was just happy and calm all the time. Once we discovered this, we developed a strategy where she can come and stand close to my husband or I, anytime she feels the pressure. If she squeezes our hand, then it’s her way of saying, “I’m too stressed out and I need help calming down.” This way we know she is experiencing emotional dysregulation and can help her feel supported and calmer and not alone in these times of distress. This can help your child identify those times and feelings, and also help you as a parent better address the situation.

Knowing how our family handles stress can empower us – and cause us to change our interactions. Whether it is reframing a conversation to help prevent stress, or calming your loved one down after they have already experienced stress, knowing what causes them stress and the best way to address it will not only help your family in this crisis, but also with any difficulty to come.

 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels