Home is our shelter – how should we help relieving the stress of family members?

Home is our shelter – how should we help relieving the stress of family members?

There was a man who, during his two year of employment, encountered countless setbacks. Eventually, he lost his job due to the overwhelming pressure. Unwilling to reveal the truth to his family, he left his home carrying a suit case every morning. Afterwards, he admitted the act of covering his frustration about career was out of saving face and avoiding family concern. His overemphasis on saving face is definitely problematic. However, we may also ponder on this: what kind of family relationship would make it impossible for him to reveal his dilemma?

There was another person - a young novice- who started his career in a company of considerable size. Despite the favourable atmosphere and relationship at his workplace, he experienced tremendous pressure on a daily basis because his earnest contribution was severely criticized by his boss. Even though his senior did not show any signs of blaming, he was feeling deeply frustrated as he could not tolerate his own incapability. He went to work reluctantly every day. Easily feeling exhausted, he would only stay in bed during day offs. Furthermore, he became irritable, venting his temper on his family. When his parents noticed his sleeping until noon, they condemned him for being disrespectful, which only left him the impression of being misunderstood. Day after day, his family relationship, which was once healthy, became estranged. He simply refused to reveal anything to his parents.

Stresses for one member affects the entire family 

When a particular member is plagued by work stress, the entire household suffers the same amount of pressure. It is because the family is a system in which members are intertwined. Problems happened to anyone under the same roof will necessarily do harm to others as well. On the other hand, as a system, family plays a contributing factor to the ability of handling pressure among each member. From the perspective of resilience, let’s probe into how we can support our family members on relieving work stress.

The majority of early studies on resilience, which focus on personal characteristic, indicate that the two qualities are related. For example, Antonovsky, by introducing the notion Sense Coherence (Antonovsky 1987, 1988), suggested three general features shared by individuals with strong resilience: 1) they believe they can control or influence things and events; 2) they have an underlying sense of participating or engaging in life activities; 3) they regard their issues as exciting challenges conducive to improvement and progress. But how do these traits evolve? Afterwards, a growing quantity of researches prove that resilience is significantly related to certain factors in one’s family and social setting. When a child comes across at least one person - parent, carer or other adult - who treats him/her with loving kindness, the child will develop better resilience for overcoming adversity. Subsequently, there emerged a plethora of studies on family resilience, which empathize on how family serves as resources for individuals to cope with adversity. According to their findings, the following family characteristics are beneficial to individuals and households in confronting stress:

1. A common belief shared by family such as regarding stress or adversity as a conquerable challenge that generates growth; or a pursuit of religion and faith that accepts crisis as opportunity through the.
2. Smooth cooperation between leaders of a family, usually parents. It guarantees a certain degree of stability for the household.
3. Sufficient flexibility – family members are able to reorganize themselves to cope with new challenges or changes.
4. Supporting and respecting the differences and needs of each other; maintaining an intimate relationship and resolving problems together.
5. Clear communication with consistent information. Being able to verify themselves effectively amidst obscure situations, members are able to comprehend their conditions through transparent conversation.
6. Being able to open up about their feelings, family members can tolerate emotions of each other in midst of crisis. A suitable sense of humour can facilitate pleasant interaction.
7. Sufficient resources, including finances and relationships. When a family go through hardship, they can rely on supportive social network and are willing to seek helps from community services that cover information, materialistic aids and emotional accompany, etc.

The above family characteristics have shed important lights on ways to support family members for managing stress. Certainly, these attributes do not show up over-night and requires nurturing on a routine basis. In other words, we have to cultivate them during daily activities if we would like to offer resources for our family members to survive their stress.

How can we notice the stress of family members?

It is not hard to notice the signs, even without any verbal expression, when a family member is living under stress. Enduring such situation, human beings demonstrate the following four signs. We can observe these changes shown by our family members, recognizing them and offering support as soon as possible:

1. Body
easily feeling tired, insomnia, loss of appetite or overeating, pain over neck, shoulder and back, discomfort in stomach, palpitation and shaky hands, hyperventilation, racing heart and proneness to illness

2. Emotions
irritability, proneness to crying, agitation, nervousness, anxiety, slump, depression, boredom, worrying and being oversensitive.

fidgeting, throwing a tantrum, losing motivation or interest, speaking too much or less, avoiding socializing and weakened work efficiency

negative thoughts, pessimistic, lack of confidence, being forgetful, lack of concentration and confusion of mind.

Chinese families prioritize dining together in spite of busy schedules. We could therefore take advantage of such occasion. Our dialogues during meals may not only cover impersonal things and events. Instead, if we develop the habit of sharing our recent lives and feelings, we can discern signs of work stress amoung family members.

Encouraging Regular Family Meetings

During regular family gatherings, we may have recreational activities, banquets or family meetings. Regardless of the event, the gathering serves as a practical platform for connecting family members and begetting positive and proactive values. Planning the family gathering, leaders of family have to spare some effort on achieving these goals: 1) communicating and understanding recent lives of each other and sharing of feelings; 2) enjoying a wonderful time together 3) splitting household chores and assigning a particular role for each member; 4) discussing and analyzing troubles together when they appear; 5) show your family consolation and encouragement when they encounter obstacles and confront them with a positive mindset.
When a family member runs into work stress, s/he is likely to mention it during a family gathering, which diminishes the chance for procrastination. At such moments, we should remain calm. The more intimate our relationship is, the more readily our feelings are provoked, leading us to react without thinking. Instead, we could listen to the emotion of the speaker attentively and allow him/her to vent without constrain, followed by vocalization of our understanding and respect. Afterwards, we may begin to discuss ways to settle related issues. Raising our solutions in haste and therefore making impractical suggestions only produce further distress for the person being concerned. Our family conversation should be completely clear and devoid of suspicions. Instead of being dominated by any authoritative figure in the household, the meeting should be opened to all sorts of viewpoints and perspectives, allowing the person concerned to have his/her own decision after making objective and thorough consideration. As described above, a family with ample resilience is characterized by communication based on openness, mutuality and reciprocal respect described above. Such verbal exchange is also essential for nurturing confidence as well as a respectful and cooperative relationship among family members. These offer a lesson for everyone in the household. Furthermore, amusing activities and a proper amount of humour could generate tremendous advantages to the treatment of stress. Family members could therefore encourage or accompany the person defied by stress to pursue stress reliefs or undertakings s/he enjoys, helping him/her recover an unclouded and rational mind.
Subsequently, we may assist in the process of analyzing the problem and ironing it out. Having dealt with the impediment, we may review our interaction and conclude with wisdom together in our family meeting, during which experiences are gained. Together we undergo the maturation brought about by stress and go through the process of creating meanings for the adversity.

Encourage being outgoing

Regardless of the power of your family, you may encounter hurdles that cannot be overcome alone. Therefore, another indication of family resilience is their level of being “outgoing”. Despite the intimacy among family members, a family does not function as an isolated system where an overbearing sense of cohesion or self-imposed isolation prevents helps from individuals outside the family. Instead, we should encourage family members to engage in community campaigns to connect with those outside the family, establishing our network of relatives or friends and even learn about the miscellaneous services provided in our residential area. Regarding them as resources available for the family, we are willing to receive support and assistance from them when needed.
Despite perpetual changes in our society, the Chinese culture of valuing the family still prevails. Therefore, starting from now, let’s maintain, with our loved ones, a healthy family – one which possesses immense resilience and shelters us whenever we are defied by stresses.

Original article from BOKSS’s Newsletter
Antonovsky, A. (1987). Unraveling the mystery of health. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Antonovsky, A. & Sourani. T. (1988). Family sense of coherence and family adaptation.
Journal of Marriage and the Familv. 50, 79-92
Walsh, F. (2003). Family resilience: A framework for clinical practice. Family Process 42(2): 1-19.