Extension News

Build Family Resiliency in Stressful Times

6/23/2008

MARION, Iowa -- Many Eastern Iowans are experiencing new living arrangements not by choice, but due to natural disaster. Living with relatives or friends until new housing can be arranged can be stressful for all involved, said Kristi Cooper, family life field specialist with Iowa State University Extension. But research shows that surviving a crisis can strengthen family ties. 

“In a crisis situation, a family develops new communication skills and patterns and a renewed sense of commitment to each other,” she said. “However, setting clear guidelines or ‘house rules’ will help the process.”

Families can meet the challenge that the crisis brings if they can see the situation not only as a serious difficulty, but also as an opportunity to strengthen bonds, the ISU Extension specialist said. The disarray that occurs during crisis often births creative solutions when a family looks to each member as a resource and partner.

Cooper offered some strategies to help families become resilient in the face of change.

Have a family meeting. Sit down together for a family meeting. Recognize that your current situation is temporary, but may be longer than you hoped it would be. Look at what is going well and celebrate. Discuss guidelines that will help everyone function in the current arrangement, such as space for personal belongings, bathroom use, household chores, mealtime responsibilities and transportation needs.

Solve problems. Discuss the current living arrangements and identify issues that need a solution. Pick one thing, brainstorm ideas, pick one to try, do it for a week and re-evaluate. Focusing on problem solving keeps the energy high enough to get through the crisis. Avoid blaming or exploding emotionally at family members.

Help someone else. Helping another person with specific tasks during a crisis can help take the focus off your own despair. Feeling productive is a good stress reducer. Helping someone else can help put your own situation into perspective.

Rest. Take a nap. Set a quiet time for the entire household, which means no cleaning, work or worry. Even 20 minutes of quiet rest can refresh you enough to continue with your tasks.

Try a diversion or distraction. Go to a movie, read a book, play a game, take a walk, try yoga or another exercise. Taking your mind off of the current situation gives you a chance to re-group. You will find yourself less irritable and more able to make decisions when you step out of the circle of worry.

Take time for reflection. Spend time writing your thoughts and feelings in a notebook. Think of it as a way to clarify your thoughts, release emotional energy and find meaning in all that is happening.

Grow something. With many gardens and lawns contaminated or destroyed, container gardening can be a practical solution to many things. It is a way to spend your time productively while you wait to move back in or move on. Nurturing a plant is a psychological and spiritual remedy for stress. It can be good exercise too.

Connect with nature. Gently touching or taking care of another living creature can help restore our mental balance. This includes trees, plants and animals. Volunteer at the animal shelter or take a neighbor’s dog for a walk.

Show gratitude. As a family, find a place to list all the things you are thankful for. You may pick a room that will be re-painted eventually and let each member of the family write on the wall. Or create a notebook of “little miracles” and acts of kindness you received or gave.

Breathe. Help your body get the oxygen it needs with some deep breathing. Sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair. Relax your belly as you inhale so you can completely fill your lungs. Breathe in as much as you can and then stop, relax and evaluate. It slows your heart rate, relaxes your muscles, decreases your blood pressure, eases anxiety and calms your mind. Abdominal, or belly, breathing also offers a sense of control over your body and emotions.

For more information contact Cooper at kcoop@iastate.edu or (319) 377-9839, or contact your ISU Extension county office.

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Contacts :

Kristi Cooper, ISU Extension family life field specialist, (319) 377-9839, kcoop@iastate.edu

Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-0775, lsternwe@iastate.edu