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K-State Today

February 1, 2013

Tips can help manage, reduce stress

Submitted by Nancy B. Peterson

Stress is an inevitable part of life, yet the way in which we choose to manage it can mean the difference in resolving the issue at hand – or increasing the stress.

That’s why a Kansas State University expert on families suggests that learning to manage stress can improve the quality of life.

“Stress can be associated with changes that are viewed as negative – or disruptive,” said Charlotte Shoup Olsen, a K-State Research and Extension family systems specialist, who cited stressors such as a job loss, illness, or catastrophic event brought about by weather or other factor over which we have no control.  

Such changes can quickly become the focus of our lives, and, as such, increase stress, rather than relieve it, said Olsen, who offered five key strategies in managing – and relieving – stress:

* Be flexible.

Acknowledging a stressful situation, and saying: “OK, this is happening, now what can I do about it?” can start the proverbial ball rolling. Look for solutions, consider alternatives or new opportunities and look forward.  

If a change in work responsibilities is unpalatable, start looking around to see what other opportunities are available. If a parent’s work schedule has changed so the family can no longer have family time or date night Friday night, be grateful for employment and choose another time.  

As children get older and more demands are placed on the family due to school, school activities and part-time jobs, re-think time together. Check with all family members and reserve an hour together on a weekend for a leisurely brunch or evening meal together.

Times change — and we need to change with them, Olsen said.

* Face issues together.

Stress typically generates tension, and family and friends are sure to pick up on it, Olsen said.

If a job loss is imminent and the family begins cutting back on extras, children will notice. If parents are talking and the conversation stops when a child enters the room, he’ll be suspicious.

The type of issue can dictate how and when to share information. Age and stage of life also must be considered. A parent will have to weigh when to share information about such situations as a parent or grandparent’s illness or the family’s impending move for employment.
* Nurture trust.

Trust is key to the foundation of successful relationships. It’s important to do what you say when you say you will. If scheduled to pick up a child after school, be there on time; after telling a child you’ll attend his or her school program, do it.

If a problem comes up that slows you down or prohibits you from honoring the promise, let the other person know as soon as possible.

And, if you’ve promised to relieve a spouse or parent who needs time off from caregiving or other task, follow through.

* Take responsibility to rebuild and repair relationships when things go wrong.

There is nothing wrong with saying “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I said (or did) that,” Olsen said.

Listen for cues to talk about the issues at hand, and ask: “Is this a good time to talk about whatever is troubling you?”

If not, wait until a time when the other person is ready to talk about it.

When the time is right, be mindful of body language, the importance of eye contact and tone of voice.

“Listen intently, and allow others involved to share what’s troubling them without rushing to judgment,” she said.

* Make time for health-promoting physical activity.

Olsen noted that exercise can help relieve stress, but that it generally takes about 20 minutes for an individual’s body to settle down from being upset. “Give yourself time; looking forward does not dismiss – or diminish what has happened, but it might be helpful in reducing stress and recognizing what can be done to diminish a stressful situation,” Olsen said.

More information on managing relationships is available at K-State Research and Extension offices throughout the state and online: www.ksre.ksu.edu/families.