4 Family-Focused Stress Reduction Activities
First of all, the stress response is actually a good thing (for real).
When actually faced with a real threat (for example, encountering a bear), stress helps our bodies and minds react efficiently and effectively. Our human stress response is one of the reasons we, as a species, have survived so long on planet earth! So be grateful for you body’s innate ability to protect itself by switching on the fight-or-flight system!
Stress becomes a problem when our fight-or-flight system is switched on, to some degree, all the time (aka chronic stress). This is something, we humans, are not adapted to. The continual release of stress hormones and physiological responses can lead to health problems and may even lead to chronic disease.
Stress isn’t exclusive to the adult world. Kids experience stress too…which can often show up as mood swings, acting out, nightmares, headaches, and appetite changes (check with your pediatrician if you’re concerned about child experiencing any of these symptoms).
Chronic stress happens when we perceive non-threatening situations as stressful. For example, someone cutting you off in traffic or being handed a challenging work or school project. These are not necessarily threats. You aren't in harm’s way. But they may feel like a threat for whatever reason.
Here’s the trick…build up your resilience to stress and these things will either 1. not affect you at all, or 2. be perceived as an opportunity or a challenge rather than a threat. How do you build resilience? Do healthy stuff! Give yourself every advantage to be better equipped in the face of threats and challenge.
There are many ways you, and your family, can build resilience together! It doesn’t have to be hard or time-consuming either, give these simple ideas a try…
1- Create a Tradition
Traditions don’t always have to be centered around holidays or birthdays, they can be little rituals that your family creates for any reason! For example, when I was growing up we had a family tradition every week, my dad would make popcorn on the stovetop and then we’d all watch the Muppet Show in our pajamas. The key is consistency! The Muppet Show night was something we all looked forward to, expected, and there was a sense of connectedness…it was “our thing”. Traditions help kids and adults feel like there is a little more predictability to the future in a fast-paced and ever-changing world.
What new tradition are you going to create? Some ideas are: having breakfast for dinner one night a week or dessert before dinner on Fridays, have a regular family game night, reading a storybook at breakfast in the morning, or celebrating small successes in a certain way. Make it simple, make it fun, and make it easy! But stick to it, keep the tradition going so you all have something to count on.
2- Find a shared hobby
There are lots of hobbies that the whole family can join in on. You can spend time doing them together or even take a class to perfect your skills! Joining in together with a hobby is a great way to focus attention away from stress, build self-efficacy (critical to stress management), and have some fun! Some ideas are: cooking, playing musical instruments, dancing, arts and crafts, science (experiments, exploring, learning), plan and maintain a veggie or flower garden, or build something (a treehouse perhaps?).
3- Get active together
We’ve all heard it, exercise is healthy! Especially when it comes to stress. Physical activity gets the endorphins flowing, blood pumping, and gets you out of your head! Physical activity is especially beneficial when you go outside…fresh air and nature have proven health benefits. So get moving, family! You can ride bikes, go swimming, explore local hiking trails, sign up for a 5k and train together, spend time at the ice rink, or even sign up for a family obstacle course race!
4- Schedule downtime
Scheduling downtime…sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? In our crazy-paced society, most of our week is planned down to the minute. We hardly get any free-time for ourselves. Downtime is critical for stress management because it helps calm your body and mind from a hectic state to a more centered and grounded state. Downtime also helps your brain process the events and things that have happened and allows time for recharging.
But in order for this to happen it’s super helpful to actually put it on the family calendar! Block off an evening or an afternoon (or heck even a whole day) where nothing is planned! Spend the time engaging in restorative activities: reading, playing, working on a craft project or hobby, going for a peaceful walk and soaking up nature, journaling, dreaming, resting, or practicing meditating. Try one of these kid-friendly meditation practices together. Do whatever feels right during your family downtime, even if that’s nothing at all.