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Your Children Stress When You Stress – 3 Ways Exercise Can Help You Defuse It

by Sarah on October 17, 2010

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Job loss and insecurity isn’t only hitting adults, it’s hitting our children. Stress and anxiety from these economically challenging times affect the whole family.  As Christopher Bellonci, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine pointed out in an MSN article, "When families are doing well, they can buffer some of this stress.  When they can’t, it bleeds through to the kids."


If you’re a parent, dealing with the stress of losing your job, or worrying about the possibility, you don’t need any expert to tell you how this affects your whole family. You already know that. And this understanding is gnawing at you as you try to figure out how to help your children – and you – get through this rough spot.


What you need is some practical ideas on how to bring the tension down.


Exercise: A Simple And Healthy Way To Help You and Your Children Stress Less


When it comes to stress, nothing beats exercise for helping you to take some of the pressure off. But before you go on that lone run to let off some steam, consider an alternative:  Family exercise.


Family exercise allows the entire family – both children and parents – to manage the increased anxiety.  But perhaps even more importantly, it helps you keep the family ties strong.  These ties are the lifelines your children depend on to keep them afloat when life seems chaotic around them. And for you as an adult, these ties help you keep perspective as well.    


I’m speaking from experience.  As a family, we’ve gone through a couple major traumas in the past – both major illness and job loss.


But while the kids expressed a little anxiety initially when we lost one source of income, they quickly found comfort and calm in the attitude we took with the change. Sure we had to reconnoiter.  We had to step back and look at our options.  In the end, the job loss brought us opportunity, allowing us to focus more on our home businesses and our small farm.


But our calm with this situation went beyond this.  Staying fit together as a family gave us the means to gain perspective on our new situation.  It helped cushion us from the blows life dealt us.  And it can help you and your family in the same way for three major reasons . . .


Reason #1: Good Health Is Worth More Than Money In the Bank


First things first, exercising together gives you the fundamental element for real security – good health.  Years ago when my husband was ill, the unknowns were infinite. Every little move was in question, let alone plans for the future.  The doubts tugged at every area of our lives, including the financial.


Despite the enormous role money plays in our life, money concerns were nothing compared to the worries brought on with this health crisis.


Think about it, income change is only really about money.  You can still move, eat, sleep and enjoy the simple things in life.  You can still dance with your baby held in your arms or giggle uncontrollably with your eight-year old. Sure you may have to cook in instead of eating out.  You may even have to move. No more vacations for a while. And it may be thrift store only wear for now.


I’m not trying to downplay the enormous changes that can come with money changes. But keep it in perspective. Money is one thing, health is a whole other story.  So don’t stop investing in your health just because you can’t invest in your 401K.


Furthermore, even financial problems seem to dissipate with good health. You don’t have whopping bills for prescriptions.  You can work on new opportunities, like we did with our home-based businesses, with full energy and alertness.  And even when it comes down to the bare necessities, you can do more for yourself.  We produced good food by gardening and chopped wood for heat.


Essentially, life is a lot simpler when you have good health in the bank. 


Reason #2: Family Exercise Provides The Glue Stressed Families Need


In addition to the security of good health, family exercise gives us rich family time that is like oxygen to our children (and us).


I know firsthand how easy it is as a parent to get caught up in devoting all your energy into boosting your income. It’s easy to rationalize hiding out on your computer and plopping the kids in front of the TV instead of heading to the park.


But kids don’t look too much into the future.  They need you now.  And when it comes down to it, they don’t really need most of the things you buy for them.  They need you.


In fact they need you now more than ever since they may be wrestling with their own worries about how things are changing.

Taking time to enjoy a half hour walk together or play some basketball says to your children that no matter what happens, they count.  It keeps a constant in their life (or introduces one) in the form of family time.  And this family time is something you can all turn to when everything else seems to be in uproar.


In fact, it may even open up a discussion about the current pressures your family is dealing with in a way other activities can’t.  Sometimes children feel more comfortable asking questions or expressing concerns when the focus doesn’t seem to be directly on the conversation.  I’ve had plenty of good conversations start when a basketball is in mid flight or when we’re catching our breath from a sprint. 


Remember this is something you can do that doesn’t have to cost money.  It can be anything as simple as playing soccer in the yard, playing tag or having a rough-and-tumble wrestling match.  But do something and make it a regular part of your routine.  No other demand on your time is more important. 


Reason #3: The Physical Ways Exercise Reduces Stress (Children Know This Instinctively!)   


Moving and playing together can keep you all chuckling, in good health and strengthen your bonds even when times are tough.  But fundamentally speaking, exercise actually helps in a purely physical way.


Just watch your children to understand this.  If they haven’t gotten too plugged into video games and tv, your children will instinctively show you what a stressed body craves . . .




When a situation gets too much for them, kids start "bouncing off the walls" – spinning in circles, running, jumping, climbing on furniture, even kicking and twisting wildly with a temper tantrum – anything to shake off some of the tension that’s seeped into their bodies.


They’re tapping into our body’s natural stress relief.  Exercise essentially short-circuits your body’s stress response by reducing the amount of adrenal hormones your body releases and helping to elevate calming endorphins.  It’s your body’s stress reset button.


It also seems to raise our stress threshold, making it harder for stress to impact our overall physical health – our heart, brain, digestive system, nerves and more.


Today, plugged into electronics, kids, just like adults, have lost track of this simple antidote.  So instead of finding a way to let off steam and recharge, children let the stress simmer inside of them.  Just like you do.  This simmering stress affects your children psychologically, resulting in depression and misdirected anger.  It also hurts them physically, contributing to health issues ranging from sleep problems to digestive disorders.


Out of touch with this natural inclination for steam release through activity, we have to deliberately reinstate it in our lives.


Do Yourself A Favor And Try It: Guaranteed Family Stress Relief


Exercising together gives you time together as a family, a way to nurture your health no matter what happens around you.  And it serves as a physical antidote to the physical and psychological affects of stress.


But there’s a bonus benefit that perhaps is most important to both you and your children. Exercise offers an opportunity to accomplish something together.  To take on a challenge – like hiking up a mountain – and succeed as a family.


It gives you confidence when your job situation may be robbing you of it.  And it gives your children, who are also struggling to feel positive, that much needed boost as well.


You need it.  Your children need it.  And when you get active together, you reap the full rewards as a family.  Together as a family you can create a powerful energy that makes any bump in the road look miniscule.


Despite the doom and gloom around you, you’ll be surprised at how laughter and smiles will bubble up unexpectedly. While a feeling of calm and healthy energy seeps in to replace earlier tensions. 


So unplug, get out and get moving together.  Wake up that hidden instinct inside each of you that knows relief comes through exercise. Give you and your children stress relief through exercise.  

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