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What Causes Stress – Really?

by Sarah on September 10, 2012

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There was some tough love going down in my kitchen on Sunday.

My son had slept in. But with hungry animals waiting (he had animal feeding chores this morning), we couldn’t let it go on too long. So my husband went and rustled him out of bed, reminding him the chickens, pigs, goats and turkeys needed food and it was his responsibility.

However, instead of making a beeline for his shoes and the feed buckets, he stopped in the kitchen and started leisurely taking out a plate to pile with pancakes for breakfast.

Hey,” my husband intervened, “What do you think you’re doing?

“But Dad, I’m hungry,” O answered plaintively clutching his stomach.

“So are the animals,” responded my husband, ” Grab a handful of peanuts and hurry outside and take care of the animals.”

“But Dad, I’m really hungry, my stomach is hurting,” continued O, his voice getting ready to reach a full pitch whine.

“You’re not dying. Hurry up and get this done and then you can come in and have breakfast!”

Clutching his stomach with the drama of a soccer player calling foul, O grabbed some peanuts and headed out.

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Before long you could hear him chatting merrily to the turkeys. And his voice bore no hint of whininess when he asked where the goats should be tied up this morning to graze.

After his chores were done, he came inside and contentedly sat down to his long awaited plate of pancakes. Stomach cramps forgotten. Responsibilities taken care of.


I watched this transpire and thought about how lucky my son was to have this experience. I looked back at my too long road to happiness and success marked by giving in too soon too many times at too many junctures.

I wished I had had parents who cared enough to push me to go beyond my comfort zone, even if it risked me being angry and resentful towards them for a while. And I pledged silently to follow my husband’s lead and not always be the one who caves in to whining.

Use Physical Stress As A Parenting Tool

As parents, this is one of the hardest things to give our children. But it’s also perhaps the greatest gift of all – the ability to tough it out a bit and get things done.

More and more, we’re discouraged from pushing our children. Our kids are becoming fragile china dolls who don’t know how to deal with the discomforts life throws at us.

This is why sports, exercise, physical activity is so important. Wouldn’t you rather take your child through controlled physical challenges before Life does it for you when their on their own without your coaching and support?

It’s the difference between going for a leisurely jog and running with a bear breathing down your neck.

And this is why exercising together as a family is so important. Because there is no better person in the world to coach your child through a physical challenge than you.

No coach can give your child that rare mix of tough, unequivocal belief in her and passionate desire to see them succeed. No other teacher can use a track record of trust built over years of care that turns criticism into the truly respectful love that says, “I know you can do better”.

No one else can provide the necessary combination of demanding more of our children and supporting them at the same time.

Sure, it takes some effort and skill to do this well. It’s not an instinctive parenting trait. And of course, you need to really check yourself and use desire for your child’s wellbeing as the motivating force – not the frustration of the moment or your own ambitions.

But ultimately, if you want to do this and you work on it, you’ll do it better than anyone in your child’s life.

You Too – Give Yourself Some Tough Love To Make It Easier

And then take it one step further – model it. Because it’s not just our children who need more of this tough love. We need it too.

There are a number of factors that contribute to the level of stress in our lives. And over the next few weeks I’m going to talk about a few of them.

But chief among them is our diminished belief in our own capacity to get through tough stuff.

Just like we often overestimate our problems, we also underestimate our capacity to overcome them.

And it’s the fear of failing to get through this tough time that really causes anxiety and stress. Our worry worries us.

However, we are incredibly strong. More than we know or are led to believe.

Unfortunately, our culture tends to emphasize how much help we need and how to get the help we need. It emphasizes comfort and convenience.

In many ways we’ve forgotten how capable we are.

Now don’t get me wrong, help is a good thing. Everyone needs help at times.

But don’t underestimate your capacity.

And again, here’s where exercising comes in . . .

When I started running I found that when I pushed myself further I found I could go further than I originally thought.

But it gets better. Not only did this change what I thought I was capable of when it came to running specifically, I also went through a fundamental shift in my belief in my ability to get through challenges in general.

Simply by going beyond the limits I had originally assumed were there I found that I could push myself further in many areas of my life.

By breaking through one challenge I found I had the heart to take on others.

Teddy Roosevelt said, “Let us not ask for lighter loads, but for stronger backs.”

I love this quote because it fires me up to seek the strength inside of me. Admittedly, sometimes I wimp out and start complaining and moaning. But when I take a step back, more often than not I find capacity I’d forgotten I had.

You are incredibly strong and capable. But only if you you exercise your muscles to lift heavy burdens.

Too often we don’t believe in our capacity and opt out, looking for help.

Help is good. But don’t lose sight of what you can take on and what you can do. Don’t panic because you’re not sure if you’ll be able to get help or where it will come from.

We are stronger than we think we are.

Believe this.

Use this to strengthen your resolve to take on challenges.

And then love your children dearly by encouraging them to do the same.

What do you think – are we giving ourselves and our children too little credit for what we’re capable of? Please comment below.

my pic YHHB edited 1 What Causes Stress   Really?About Sarah Clachar And Fit Family Together

Since expecting their first child, Sarah and her husband Cassius have made fitness a core part of their family life. From biking to hiking . . . from the heart of New York City to a farm in New England, they have found a way to stay active together. And through all this exercising as a family they discovered that family fitness builds not only strong bodies – but stronger families.

A professional health writer with a BA in biology, gardener and foodie Sarah brings a wealth of expertise in nutrition and health. A personal trainer and inveterate tinkerer, Cassius brings innovation to making family fitness work.

Ready to make family fitness part of your family life? Take the Fit Family Together 7 Day Family Fitness Challenge and put your own family fitness plan together.




  • keya

    I think you are on to something here! We have learned (in recent years) as parents to be more child centered and encourage self esteem through praise (and sometimes praise alone). But it seems to me and it seems that you are also saying that really our esteem build up when we overcome challenges on our own. What a novel idea (please not the sarcasm!) Children are incredibly strong. They can handle almost anything life throws at them, so long as they have adults who are supportive and help them “get back up on the horse” to do it all over again! Thanks for sharing!

  • Sarah Clachar

    Keya, yes – that’s part of it. Also that we weaken ourselves and our children with our low expectations. Part of what enables people to take on tremendous challenges (and every day not-so-easy stuff) is simply believing we can work our way through this. In contrast, when we doubt our capacity – that not only makes it harder, it stresses us even more as we worry about whether we can get through something. The world’s tough and is getting tougher. Our kids need us to teach them to believe in their own capacity!

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