“Whew. We are home. Thank you, G-d.” With a huge sigh of relief, this is what I said when I returned home last night from a trip to the movies with my husband. This is what it is like for us.
When we go on the roads, we fear. We don’t want to. But we are human. When our kids want to go to the mall with friends, we worry.
Ongoing stress. We live with terrorists. Share the same malls, walk the same streets, use the same roads and public transportation. And so, we live with terror.
Some of you may be saying, “Why let them get to you? Don’t let them win that psychological battle!”
But we are human, you see, and this is our humanity talking.
We don’t hide out at home, or forbid our kids to go to the mall. We live ‘normal’ lives. We just ask ourselves questions that most people living in the free world don’t need to ask themselves on a regular basis.
My husband wears a gun for protection, as do most people living in this area of Israel. But he has not worn it for years. Now it is part of his daily attire. My kids notice, of course. My three year old noticed.
This is stress. On an ongoing and unrelenting basis.
So how do we deal? How does one deal with any type of ongoing stress for prolonged periods and not either go crazy or have constant pain/aches from the tension? (And this relates to any ongoing stress – a job you dislike but can’t currently get out of, having a bunch of young kids at home and no outside help like a mother living nearby :), a child with extra special needs [I say extra special, because it is my finding that all children have special needs – each and every one; some have extra special needs that require more attention and build added stress], an illness in the family…)
How do we deal? We may feel like there is a constant weight on our chests. We may have difficulty sleeping. We may feel fatigue, suffer from regular headaches, have an overall feelings of malaise. We might have picked up nervous habits, have tension in our jaws and necks that come out as clenching our teeth at night, or just find ourselves uptight and often in a bad mood. Or, if this tension is not just yours but is your whole family’s, your husband and kids may be suffering from any of the above, or other symptoms. Anxieties, regressions in developmental milestones (ie increase in or reversion to bedwetting, thumbsucking, etc), nightmares – all common symptoms of ongoing stress or trauma in children.
As mothers, women, we influence the emotional tone of the household. Our emotional health is the keystone to the rest of the household members’ emotional health. This is both a huge power and a burden. It is, also, a gift. G-d basically forces us to take care of ourselves – and not fall in to a pit of despair – so that we can take care of the others. Sometimes, we might not want that responsibility. But if we first realize it as an awesome gift, we may be able to get over that faster. Basically, you going for a massage, coffee with your friends, taking in a good movie or reading a good book become not just your fun, chill time, they become your familial duty ;). Now that’s a more fun way of looking at this.
Meditate for your health and impact the health of those around you. Exercise for your health, and raise the level of positive energy in your home. Go buy yourself a new top that makes you smile and see the smiles more often on the faces of your children.
Basically, living with ongoing stress stinks. It is difficult and weary-ing. It hurts and hurts more when you see the signs of stress in your children. So here is what we do about it, step by step.
Recognize the stress. By naming it, you take away the cloud over it. Name your stress and be aware of what it does to you/your family.
Talk about it. First talk with your partner. Discuss the stress, how it effects you , him, your family members individually. Talk with the kids. Invite conversation. Let them know they are understood, can talk about anything with you anytime. Let them know 100% that any thought or feeling they have is legitimate. For instance, hatred is a legitimate feeling and wanting to hurt someone is a legitimate thought, but because we are moral humans we will not act on it.
Come up with a plan. You might want to do this first with your partner, and then include the kids, or have a family meeting. Find healthy ways for you and your family members to vent their stress. Exercise, positive socialization, play-time, fun-time, punching pillows, pillow fights, trampolines, family hikes, picnics, fun family outings, or outings/quality time with just one kid at a time. Find ways to both express and vent frustrations/negative tensions/anger/hatred/etc, as well as bring increased health and positive energy into your family. Again, all feelings are totally acceptable – all forms of acting on emotions is not. Find healthy ways for those emotions to play out so they are not stored in the body. (Screaming is extremely effective - a good family scream can really help all members feel connected in their pain and provide tremendous relief.)
Laugh. Smile. Hug. Snuggle. Laughter is an incredibly strong elixir for well-being. So is dancing. Hugging, snuggling, well, we just respond emotionally to touch. Especially if you are not a particular touchy family, and even if you are, of course, have family snuggles. Everyone climbs into a bed and just snuggles with each other. Or you can do this individually when you put your kids to bed at night. Make sure to hug your kids and partners when they wake up, before they leave the house in the morning, and when they come home, and before bed. And anytime in-between.
Bottom line, do first what you need to keep yourself going in a positive, happy, healthy, balanced manner. Then you will have the energy to do the above.
It is my fervent hope that the stresses in our lives morph quickly to the true blessings that they are under their disguise. Or that we are able to see those blessings already, so we may cope more easily through the tough road. Either way, my blessing to you is that you take care of yourself well and fully so that you may well and fully take care of those in your charge.
With serene and calm blessings,
The above recommendations are not in place of psychological and medical advice. They are recommendations to decrease stress on a regular and ongoing basis. In the case of troubling symptoms or continued signs of stress, please seek proper medical attention.