5 ways to reduce stress

Uh-oh—another study about women’s unhappiness at home. The sociologist Arlie Hochschild wrote in her 1997 book, “The Time that Binds,” that time at home with spouses and children was more stressful than time at the office. The author described home as a place where couples had on-going tasks about caring for children, the household, finances, and all the emotional ups and downs of family members.

Women were particularly stressed because they felt that they carried more responsibility for the emotional management of both the family and her intimate relationship.

Now a new study in the “Journal of Science and Medicine” the authors measured the level of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the research participants’ saliva five times a day. The participants also described their moods.

The authors concluded that work was beneficial to the mental and physical health for both men and women—especially mothers who worked full time. (The only exception was in high-income earners who reported that home was less stressful.) All participants said the weekends were less stressful at home.

Does any of this information surprise you? Most of us don’t need studies to tell us that staying at home and raising children can be both very rewarding and very stressful. Home has a unique set of stresses called children. By nature, children are unpredictable, unruly, immature, moody, demanding, and often just not as much fun as we’d like them to be.

Yet, work isn’t a total joy either. Most of us have experienced unpredictable, unruly, immature, moody, demanding and often not as appreciative bosses and colleagues.

In my previous book, “Incest, Work and Women,” I discovered that women who worked at least part time and who had paying jobs in their teens were less depressed than women who didn’t work outside the home—a finding that earlier British studies about women also revealed.

Many similar studies said that “juggling” too much responsibility at home and work was one of the main sources of women’s unhappiness and stress.

So, what do you do with all these findings? Here are some tips that come from my research and others.

1. Delegate household responsibility—with consequences—to all the family members—including partners.Don’t become a martyr and do it all yourself. You will feel resentful. But-oops! You will have to give up insisting on perfection. Kids—and partners—may not fold towels or place forks in the tray exactly to your specifications. Use common sense to make sure chores match a child’s ability.

For children, make fun activities dependent on all children fulfilling their chores. And—oh—what about consequences for you partner? Postpone fun events until tasks are done.

When the whole family acts as a team, the rewards of good behavior become strong motivators. Think about those wonderful movies about teachers who tell the most difficult classes that no one gets to watch a movie or go on a field trip unless everyone does his homework.

Create an erasable wall chart for all to see about each person’s responsibilities.

And don’t hold back on working with your partner to divvy up the chores—or even assigning your partner chores if necessary!

2. Prioritize the needs of home. You can’t do it all at once. The “lean in” movement sounds better than reality. The truth is, even if you have a team of assistants, very few of us can do everything well all the time. Most of us have competing demands of work, family, partners, parents, siblings, friends, fitness, relaxation, community, and other interests.

Wow—did you see that list? How could you possibly do all that and get an “A” in each category—and all at the same time? Savvy parents know, for example, that the time and needs of raising a toddler differ from the needs of a teenager.

Make a list—or even another family wall chart about both short- and long-range goals. For example, develop a plan for saving money for a vacation or that back deck or pool. You could all agree, for instance, to forego eating out as much, and then use that money for your future plans. Families that work as teams create a sense of belonging and mastery of life—two main ingredients in happiness.

3. Steal private time for you and your partner, and you and each child, and you with you. Even fifteen minutes of precious individual time increases happiness. Create a Privacy Place in your home for you and each family member. You most likely cannot offer private time every day with each person, but try to fit it in each week. Write short notes of appreciation for each person or put a flower or smiley face on someone’s bed—especially for children who can’t read.

In that private time—and sometimes even private moment—be sure to make physical contact. Touch, hug, and kiss. Say “I love you.” And if you’re short on time, apologize and say how much you would like to be with that person but that __________________ (fill in the blank, such as: Your brother is ill or Dad and I have to make an important phone call tonight.

You can also make Family Announcements about time together and apart. For example, you might have a work project that has to be finished tonight. Train your family to get used to necessary changes. Life is full of them! But if you have acted lovingly and if you have followed through on consequences if chores do not get done, then your family and partner will cooperate.

4. Work at work efficiently. Get productive. Don’t spend time searching for that perfect briefcase when you should be getting a job done. Yes—it is a good idea to take a brain break, but some breaks take away more than they give. Limit your time doing non-task activities such as socializing. Get up from your desk and stretch. Work through lunch if necessary.

Don’t volunteer for work projects unless they satisfy at least one or two top issues such as: Short-term, Easy, Not-Time Consuming; Will Easily Showcase My Abilities to My Boss. If you don’t have the time to be on that Top Project—or if you haven’t been selected—then be sure to keep a file that lists your accomplishments. At the end of each month you could send your boss or supervisor this list as an Update. Don’t work in the dark—let your superiors know what you are doing.

And, delegate! If you are a supervisor or boss, it’s never too late to delegate with clear directives and time schedules.

5. Don’t shoulder all the emotional management of your intimate relationship. Women’s biggest snafu is that they feel they do too much to manage the emotional aspect of their private relationship. Establish an “Ask and Tell” rule between you and your partner. Each person vows to Ask when he or she senses that something is wrong in the other; and each person vows to Tell when something is bothering him or her.

If you can’t address the problem immediately, use your Family Announcement to say that you and your partner have to talk about something important.

In all these examples, be sure to act with love.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. LeslieBeth (LB) Wish is a nationally recognized psychologist and licensed clinical social worker #7132, honored for her pioneering work with women’s issues in love, life, work and family. The National Association of Social Workers has named her as One of the Fifty who has contributed to the field. She is the subject of biographical entry in many Marquis’Who’s Who publications. Her latest self-help, research-based books are Smart Relationships and The Love Adventures of Almost Smart Cookie, the cartoon companion book where you can follow a year of Cookie’s love missteps and learn about yours! 

Or visit her website at: http://www.lovevictory.com/