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How can I help my family deal with stress and anxiety?

How can I help my family deal with stress and anxiety?

Published: Mar. 3, 2022Updated: Mar. 17, 2022

Marriage and family therapist Diane Simon Smith talked about how our families can navigate stress and anxiety during uncertain times. She says it’s important to remember that we all live with uncertainty all the time. “We go through our lives assuming we know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but the reality is that we don’t. We have to learn to live with this unsettledness of what’s coming next.” Diane adds that it can be helpful to start with what we know. “Check with everyone in your household to see how everyone is doing — is everyone physically well? Does everyone have enough to eat and a place to sleep? Sometimes it’s as basic as that.”

She explains that in addition to the flight-or-fight response, the body has another response called “rest and digest”: “We can trigger that part of the nervous system by breathing. It calms the body, we can feel our food digesting, take in ideas, and our brains start working better.” Intentional breathing engages the part of the nervous system that helps us to calm. “Paying attention to what’s going on in your body isn’t a selfish act; it’s actually in service of being present for our families. When we’re feeling calmer and better, we can transmit that to our children. We can teach them how to do it. Say, ‘Let’s take a moment, let’s stop, let’s breathe; let’s feel our bodies with our feet on the ground and be here right now, be fully mindful of this moment.’”

And yet, too much connection isn’t necessarily the answer when we’re with our families 24/7. “Try to find some physical and mental space of your own,” Diane recommends, even if it’s just the bathroom. “Find that little opportunity. Maybe it’s getting up 20 minutes earlier than your children, sitting in your backyard, having a cup of coffee, and watching the leaves blow on the tree. Something small that can become a ritual.”

For more advice, check out Live Chat with MFT Diane Simon Smith: Highlights and Takeaways and the full list of websites, books, and apps in our article Live Chat with Dr. Rita Eichenstein and Resources.

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