Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Stress Management

The TV show “60 minutes” presented a segment the other day about some monks living in a monastery at the top of a hill on a Mediterranean island. They hardly speak, consistently follow a scheduled routine, pray and are stress free. Great! I finally found the solution, I thought. While I was packing my suitcases the commentator described the specifics of their lives. At one point he explained “they have no contact with the outside world, no phones, no internet, NO TV”. What? NO TV? No way, I’m not going. I’d rather live a stressful life than give up on TV. After all, without TV, how would I have learned about the monks?

After I caught my breath again, I remembered a parenting class about stress management that I used to teach. Perhaps monk-hood isn't the only option after all. 

One cannot expect a stress free life. Work, kids, paying the bills, health, traffic, you name it. The secret of happy people (yes, there are happy people somewhere out there, that was another “60 Minutes”) lies in managing your stress.  And this is especially relevant when you are a parent. Nervous parents create nervous children. When a parent is tense, children pick up on that tension and it is reflected back in their behaviors. When parents can learn to relax, it can have a profound effect on their children. We often think that to be a good parent we have to focus all our attention and energy on our kids. Yet experts say that taking time for ourselves is one of the best things we can do for our families.
Being a parent is one of the most difficult and demanding jobs. Yet, nobody teaches us how to be a parent. Being able to relax and enjoy the moment is paramount in being a more effective parent. Learn to relax and it can change the whole tone of your household.

If you don’t acknowledge and deal with your stress, it can lead to anxiety, depression, ulcers, emotional breakdown, and deterioration of relationships, addictions, sleeping and eating problems, which in turn will increase the stress level causing a snow ball effect.
Again, stress cannot be eliminated but it can be managed. Keep in mind that you not only have to manage your stress, but your children’s stress too.  

I learnt to take breaks to relax and recharge my batteries. Yes, taking breaks is a skill we should master. I take small breaks (10 to 15 minutes) between activities usually every 2-3 hours throughout my day, in particular before and after “stressful” events, such as a difficult meeting at work, or after being at the dentist. Even if I only have a few minutes to spare I take advantage of those minutes by sitting down, sipping a cup of coffee or tea, having a little walk at the park, clearing my head and taking deep breaths.
I also take medium breaks (1 to 2 hours). I take these breaks at least once a day even if it is just relaxing in front of the TV or with a good book after the kids went to sleep. I love large breaks: Imaging an entire day for yourself! I take these breaks at least 2-3 times per month, preferably, once a week. And finally, I’m crazy about extra-large breaks: 3 to 5 days minimum. Plan a VACATION! You deserve it.
What can you do during those breaks? Make a list of relaxing activities that you enjoy. If you put it in writing, you are more likely to actually take the time to enjoy your breaks.
The only way to ensure that you will get needed breaks is to schedule these breaks in advance. If you wait until you have time it will never happen – something will always come up. You don’t wait until your car runs out of gas to stop and fill the tank. Don’t you deserve at least the same treatment than your car?

Do not try to do it all by yourself. Delegate and seek appropriate support and professional help when necessary. And learn to say “NO”, Do not overextend yourself.  
Important: “NOT TO DO” lists: Eliminate the clutter in your mind and in your environment. Too much “stuff” in your head and around you takes away your energy. Decide what you are going to stop doing and keep a separate list to remind yourself. For example, schedule specific times to read and answer emails, and let the voice mail answer your calls. If you jump to your email as soon as you hear “You’ve Got Mail”, you’ll never finish anything. When tasks “not done yet” accumulate it can be very stressful.
Attention: Expecting your hungry kids to wait until you to finish your call it’s a sure disaster. Make your calls when they are hypnotized in front of the TV or playing with Daddy. 

If all of the above is not enough, seek professional help through your primary physician, local social services agencies, hospitals or religious/community centers. Don’t wait until is too late. 

The manner in which you manage your stress greatly influences your children’s level of stress, which in turn prevents behavioral problems. Learning to relax can change the entire nature of your family dynamic.

Or move with the monks.

Daniel Adatto, MA, BCBA

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