Stress and its impact on family relationships - a blog post for Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

At HeadStart Wolverhampton we recognise that while stress is a normal part of life, it can also have a real impact on family life and in particular, on children. 

Steve Guy is the Vice Chair of Bilston East Steering Group, and is a qualified counsellor who specialises in bereavement. Steve has written the following blog on behalf of HeadStart. Thanks, Steve!

Nicola Holmes, HeadStart Community Development Coordinator, Bilston East.


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It used to be said, that in the future, our lives would be made easier by the technology we developed, and the free time associated with it. Looking at the world around us at the moment though, this destination doesn’t appear to have been reached. Instead, people seem more stressed than ever, and never more so than in the family. No matter how the family unit is constructed: traditional, single parent, fostered, they all share similarities in the stresses and strains they encounter. 

Let’s be honest: some stress can be good for you! A short burst of stress can motivate you to complete a task, act as a warning system and even, according to some experts, be a benefit to our health. Bad stress though is a different matter, a stress we really don’t want in our lives: raising our blood pressure, tiring us out, creating anxiety or depression, and impacting on our physical well-being. 

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For parents and carers, stress can rear its head from a variety of angles: wanting the best for our kids, dealing with the school run and work commitments, behaviour issues in both adults and children, dealing with young people in search of an identity. These issues are just the tip of a giant stress-causing iceberg! 

If these things cause stress then how does it impact on the family? In the first place, stress is great at making us believe we aren’t stressed, so we actually get more stressed until, like a shaken up bottle of pop, we explode. This can mean increased pressure with family members, frustration with situations and the people involved, and leave the potential of an argument always lurking in the wings. In the worst cases, stress can lead to the complete breakdown of family relationships with members not talking to each other and even leaving the home they are part of. 

Stress rarely gets better then until we acknowledge we’re stressed, and that in fact it’s normal to feel like this. If we don’t, stress can almost becomes contagious, and causes other issues with family members such as worry and anxiety. Over a period of time these issues can become the norm, which impacts on everyone’s mental and emotional well-being. 

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Stress caused by those closest to us, then, can be difficult to deal with, because it can make us feel guilty or angry towards them, especially if we feel they’ve been mean to us. This can prove difficult to tackle relatives about.

Likewise, it’s not easy when we’re the one who has caused a situation because of our stress, because we’re usually the last to see it and may not accept the blame, or see the effects of our stressful actions. This can easily lead to spiralling negative relationships between family members. 

So how can you deal with stress? After all, we know that family life has its pressures and upsets even at the best of times, but when stress moves into the family home like a permanent unwelcome guest the impact can be devastating on the way the family functions. 

Try to recognise your stress triggers and those of other family members, and accept that these might be why you, or they, are acting the way they are.

To begin with, try to recognise your stress triggers and if possible those of other family members, and accept that these might be why you, or they, are acting the way they are. Give people and yourself some space if stress is present. Likewise, set some boundaries within the family about those things which are causing stress. For example if you get stressed because you do all the work, share the tasks, but explain this to people in a suitable fashion. One of the biggest reasons for stress impacting on family relationships is people not communicating their frustrations. Parents, siblings and guardians presume that other family members know why they are upset but family members can't read minds!

Take some time out for you, from your day. We all control our time and what we do with it, so put aside five minutes for ‘you time’.

Remember that stress is also individual. What stresses you may not be the same as what affects other family members. To help yourself recognise when you’re stressed, think about how you feel when it starts. When and where in your body does it appear? It’s easier after all to deal with your stress when you first recognise it's happening, rather than when it is in full flow. Take some time out for you, from your day. We all control our time and what we do with it, so put aside five minutes for ‘you time’. Try using relaxed breathing exercises, spend some time in a quiet spot. Introduce a bit of self-care into your life – you’ll be surprised how it can impact on you and your family for the better. 

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Family life can be difficult, but we can make it a little less stressful by taking on board that stress is not a weakness, but a natural response to the pressures around us. Understanding the stress in our lives can help us cut down the impact that it has on our family relations.

A fine tip! Next time you feel stressed, take a deep breath and ask yourself these two questions:

  • What am I getting stressed about now?
  • Will it be important in a year’s time or not?

If the answer to the second question is 'No' then perhaps the situation isn’t worth getting stressed about after all ...


Huge thanks to Steve Guy for writing this blog post

HeadStart Wolverhampton is working in partnership with a number of programmes to help parents become more resilient. From local interventions across our four geographic areas to training courses and opportunities such as Parent Champions and Adult HEROs, HeadStart wants to spread the message to parents that it’s ok to not be ok and that parenting is tough! We want to listen to parents across the city and to find out how we can help to create more resilient families. We also want to bring parents together to talk, listen and share their stresses and worries about parenting – this kind of peer to peer support allows parents to talk to others in similar situations, and to share some pointers and solutions that have worked for them in the past.

Combined with our work with young people in schools and the community, we are coming at the issue of supporting families from both ends, and we strongly believe it's having an impact.