Tag Archives: stress

How Stress Can Help Your Marriage

stress morguefile While it was not a stress-free summer for my marriage, it wasn’t a bad time either. I’ve seen several reports that indicate some stress can actually be good for us and for our marriages, and I have to say I agree in some respects.

In my case, the stressors were outside the marriage, and I think that makes a big difference in staying positive. My husband was in training in another city for several months, meaning date nights were out of the question, and even 15-minute phone calls a day were usually not available. Instead, the kids and I made the best with one or two day visits, or longer when that was possible. I think we viewed it more of a family challenge to handle the circumstances in the best way we could, knowing it would be best for the family in the long run.
Now, three months is much different than an 18-month deployment by a soldier. And unfortunately, a recent RAND Corp. study showed long and frequent deployments hurt military marriages, often leaving them feeling disillusioned. The longer the deployment, the greater the risk of divorce, it said. Often, it had to do with unmet expectations. “Couples who married before 9/11 just didn’t expect that deployments were going to be amped up,” said the study author. Read the study details here. Thankfully, resources are available to help support military marriages, as well as help from family and friends.

Other stressful events that can impact marriages may have to do with traumatic life-events, which 75 percent of us face at one time in our lives. In fact, in a given year, 20 percent of people are likely to experience some kind of a trauma in their life, according to The Greater Good Science Company. So, the odds are not in favor us living free of pain and suffering.

How can we either insulate our marriage from the negative effects of stress, or somehow extract some positive from the experience?

Be a Team
As much as I hate sports analogies, teaming up with your spouse against the problems you face is critical. None of us wants to feel alone, particularly when things are difficult. We went to be heard and have our feelings validated. We want to be encouraged and cheered on. During my husband’s stressful training, we sent him a barrage of encouraging cards and notes to let him know we were behind him. If financial stress is a problem, the couple must work together to attack it bit by bit. “We will get through this together,” is the message that is expressed, whether “this” means a serious illness, a loss of a loved one, a robbery, a job loss, etc.

One couple I interviewed who grew close after being very argumentative early in their marriage describe the shift as moving from opposite sides of the tennis net to playing side by side against an opponent. We as married people have to feel like our spouse is on our side in life.

Even if you can’t physically be together, you can feel like you’re a team, each playing an important family role, and each respected and valued.

Look for Growth Opportunities
“Our success and happiness depend on our ability not just to cope with (stress) but to actually grow because of it,” says Christine Carter from The Greater Good. She explains that the stress we experience as a result of adversity—and how we respond to that stress—tends to predict how much we will benefit from it. The individuals who benefit and grow the most are NOT the ones who are able to avoid the stress. Those who grow the most are the ones who may be shaken up, and then grow as a result.

In my experience, I would agree that people I have known who have overcome cancer or faced dire circumstances often have a unique perspective and wisdom about what is truly important.

And many of the couples I interviewed for First Kiss to Lasting Bliss experienced a great amount of adversity but grew together as a result. That is not to say your spouse must be your only support system in times of stress and need—certainly not. Friends, family, pastors, doctors, neighbors and others in your life often want to help when you are facing a tough time, and they can be part of the learning and growth process when we are ready to make those advances.

It kind of stinks that it takes tough times to truly grow and appreciate the good times, but isn’t that truly the case?

If day-to-day stress is affecting your marriage due to over-scheduling, family conflict, household disorganization, etc., then take action to address the issues. This kind of stress will deplete health reserves and will rarely offer growth opportunities.

What has caused the most growth in your marriage?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Is Anxiety Affecting Your Life and Marriage? 10 Tips to Ease Stress

Since 1980, diagnoses of anxiety disorders have increased 1,200%, reported Nancy Snyderman, MD, on this morning’s Today Show. (See American Anxiety.) The state of the economy, marriages in trouble, overly busy schedules, and a culture that is too constantly “plugged in” were all cited as common reasons Americans have sought help for problems with anxiety.

Another key reason people experience anxiety problems is due to the gap between their high expectations and their ability to fulfill them. Please, take note of this and evaluate your expectations for your life, spouse and family.

Experiencing panic attacks and inability to sleep, racing blood pressure and heart rate, and feeling so worried you can’t move forward on tasks are some of the ways anxiety might get in the way of living life to the fullest–or even being able to leave the house. Thankfully, many patients who have sought treatment from their physicians have been able to relieve some of their symptoms and function better. Only about a third of people who need help seek it out, say experts.

Stress, as compared with anxiety, is often a motivator for accomplishing our goals. Experiencing stress is not necessarily a problem, and usually does not require medical treatment. It may be a sign that changes are needed, though. Take marriage as an example. If you’re feeling stress that you haven’t connected with your spouse lately, this might help motivate you to take a positive action and schedule time together.  On the job, a looming deadline might make you feel stress, but also motivate you to complete the project.

Be aware of your own state of mind, as well as your spouse’s. If one of you is experiencing too much stress, work together to discuss and find solutions.  (I’ll include some practical ideas here.) However, if you or your spouse is experiencing what may be an anxiety disorder, a doctor’s help may be needed.

Our world can often seem too hectic, as if we may never get the chance to take a deep breath. Even on vacations, we may be worried about the work piling up for us back at the office. Following are some ways you may be able to reduce stress in your life:

1)      Dr. Snyderman suggests unplugging at least one hour before bed from all electronic devices including TV. I’ve written a lot about making time to unplug to benefit your marriage and to have time to focus on each other. Another benefit is improved sleep. Keep the TV out of the bedroom. Put the smart phones, ipads, laptops, etc. in their chargers. Facebook can wait until tomorrow, and you can finish your emails later. It’s important to your health and to your relationships to have this hour block before sleep to read, think, talk and to begin your nighttime routine.

2)      Plan your meals. We all have to eat, and waiting until you’re hungry for your next meal is a bad time to be planning what it’s going to be. You’re more likely to grab something unhealthy on the go, or to eat the first thing you find. It takes much less time to plan a few days of meals than it does to run to the store or restaurant each day. In our house, we often make a double or triple batch of something (like tacos, soup, lasagnas, chili, quiche, etc.) and freeze for future meals when we might be rushed. If you have an hour on a weekend, you can make up a few meals for use during the week. Honestly, it doesn’t take much effort, and you’ll be glad you have a homemade meal ready to heat. And it’s less expensive when you buy in bulk and freeze for later. If you have kids at home, teach them to cook and get them involved in helping in the kitchen. Benefits to better meal planning can include improved health (if you choose wisely), saving money, and making your spouse and family feel cared for.

3)      Exercise. I’ve not always been a big fan of exercise, although I force myself to do it even when I don’t feel like it. Truthfully, we all feel better when we’ve gotten some exercise and we’re taking care of ourselves. In the last couple of years I’ve started to really enjoy tennis, and I’ve taken up running short distances. Family walks and bike rides round out my not-too-strenuous routine. The research I’ve read on living longer shows it’s important to keep moving rather than worry about completing marathons. Find an activity you enjoy, such as gardening, swimming or horseback riding, and you’ll be more likely to make time for it. Exercising together can be good for your relationship and can improve your sex life when you feel better about your body.

4)      Nurture social relationships. I’m all about nurturing and investing in your marriage and family. It’s also important to cultivate friendships and in-person social activities, such as volunteering, church groups, neighborhood groups, etc. The research is very clear that social networks help us live longer (see The Longevity Project). And doesn’t time with friends reduce your stress? Just try to avoid comparing how busy and stressful your lives are! Instead, take a walk or take in a cultural activity together.

5)      Many people like me find prayer and/or meditation helps them reduce unnecessary worrying, and stay more calm and positive throughout the day.

6)      Make time to hug and kiss your spouse throughout the day. This non-sexual touch is a known stress-reducer. Also, make time for sex, which is also beneficial and releases bonding and stress-reducing hormones.

7)      Try to reduce travel time by commuting during off-peak hours or working some or all of the time at home if your job will allow it. Combine your errands to save time (and gas). Bring reading or busy work with you for those times when you’re forced to wait, like at the doctor’s office.

8)      Reduce the busyness of your life by cutting out extraneous activities (the fourth birthday party this month) and making time for what you want to be doing. If you don’t have one or two free nights a week, seriously consider paring back.

9)      Make your home a pleasant place to be. Save a little energy and kindness for those closest to you. Take a minute before you enter the house to clear your mind and have a positive word for those at home. Try to reduce clutter and stay on top of regular tasks, like laundry. Encourage everyone in the family to pitch in by assigning small tasks. For example, my kids sweep the kitchen floor, take care of the cat, and make their beds (usually). I do the laundry, but everyone puts their own clean clothes away. My husband and I share the shopping and cooking duties. We have a white board for tasks, so that I don’t have to constantly nag.

10. Before you do any of these, you have to decide you want a less stressful life, and then commit to making some small, doable changes. You might even consider bigger changes, like earning less money in exchange for a less stressful lifestyle.

Lori Lowe is the founder of Marriage Gems and author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo by Ambro courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Stimulus Package for Husbands & Fathers

Job stress. Unemployment. Lifestyle changes. The changing role of the breadwinner. Marital stress. These are issues facing a lot of men today, but we are learning what sometimes happens when some men in crisis reach the tipping point with no one to talk to.

I’m sure, like me, you’ve been alarmed at the rash of suicides, apparently perpetrated by fathers who are in financial crisis. What’s even more shocking is that some of these men are so distraught that they also take the lives of their wives and children. I always wonder, did they really think they had no one to whom they could turn?

Author Darryl Cobbin wrote an article recently that shed light on fathers’ roles in this economy. He explains that these incidents, most recently the apparent suicide of Freddie Mac’s acting CFO, demonstrate how the financial crisis has deeply personal implications that we are not talking about enough.

Cobbin shares his own experience as an executive for Coca Cola, a father of two and a husband to a stay-at-home mother. He shares his decision to leave this corporate safety to venture out on his own, due to downsizing and a job reduction. This private man went public with his own story to communicate that men are not alone in feeling at risk, in feeling that their identity or worth is tied to their jobs.

On the other hand, he says, “You also have to remember that when your kids greet you as you walk through the door at the end of a day of work, they don’t care about your title or paycheck. They love you because you are you…Remind yourself of this fact every day.”

That’s not to say lifestyle changes haven’t been hard on his family, but they have found many benefits, including becoming closer as a family, and spending more time together.

You can follow his story at the Huffington Post. Cobbin is a good example of how opening up communication about your own life can help others relate, and possibly reduce their stress and insecurity. Women need to be alert to stress in their partners’ lives, and to encourage and build them up instead of adding to the worry and stress. Also, encourage your husband’s relationships with trusted friends and family. Men, don’t be afraid to reach out to other men, who may be going through many of the same issues as you.

In my interviews with successful married couples, I’ve learned that it is often in crises that couples grow the most and solidify their foundation. How would your spouse describe your stress level today?

Your Emotional Health Affects Your Heart Health

Since heart disease is the #1 killer of both men and women in this country, you should be very concerned about the health of your heart and your partner’s heart. Barbara Bush is recovering from heart surgery today, and Robin Williams is about to have the same surgery. Former President George Bush nearly broke down providing an update, showing his deep care and concern for wife of 65 years. Most families have some history with the disease.

In a just-released research report, researchers from the University of Utah show that in addition to known risk factors, such as blood pressure and cholesterol, the quality of emotional lives impacts our risk of heart disease.

One fact suggested by the data is that a history of divorce is linked to heart disease. Another is that an unhappy or strained marriage can lead to high blood pressure, obesity and high blood sugar, particularly in women. This can put them at higher risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Hormonal affects of stress appear to contribute to health problems.

The researchers say that “women appear to be more sensitive and responsive to relationship problems than men” … and that “those problems could harm their health.” The fact that women are more sensitive shouldn’t come as a surprise to us, but I do wonder if more sensitive men are equally affected. In any case, here are some conclusions we should have known all along:

News flash to all husbands: Your wives are sensitive and should be treated with care.
News flash to all couples: harboring anger and frequently arguing is bad for your health.

A study released last year seems to show the flip side of this, that daily cortisol patterns (an indicator of stress) are linked to marital satisfaction for women but not men,” said co-author Rena Repetti, a UCLA professor in the department of psychology.

Men showed their cortisol levels drop dramatically after a busy day. Happily married women saw this benefit, but unhappily married women did not.

“Past research has found that men appear to get a health and longevity boost from marriage, while for women, being married is only beneficial insofar as the marriage is high-quality,” Repetti said. “This study is the first to point to daily cortisol fluctuations as a specific pathway through which marital quality affects health for women but not men.”

Repetti explains, “It may be that a chronically unhappy marriage creates multiple occasions everyday when the wife needs to mount a stress response, putting her cortisol levels on a kind of roller coaster ride. The system is under more wear and tear. It’s like driving a car in traffic conditions that are constantly stop and go. You need to repeatedly step on the gas and apply the brakes, step on the gas, apply the breaks. Over time, you create a less reliable system. You don’t stop and re-accelerate as quickly. You don’t recover as quickly.”

My thought is that women frequently care for those around them and don’t prioritize their own needs. Don’t let a heart attack be the first sign that you need to take better care of yourself and your emotional health. If you feel you have an unhappy marriage, please seek out a good marriage counselor.

What do you think about this connection between emotional health and heart health? You’ve heard of people who died of a broken heart—is your emotional heart closely connected with your heart health? What do you need to do to improve your emotional health and reduce stress levels?

Sources: News reports at CBC News, MSNBC.com and Scientific Blogging.

How Has the Economy Affected Your Family’s Stress Level ?

Almost half of Americans report being more stressed than a year ago, according to this week’s USA Today. One-third of Americans are suffering from “extreme” stress. Unfortunately, the survey was taken before the stock market plunged, so the real numbers are probably worse. That stress is affecting eating and sleeping levels, and inevitably how we relate to others, especially our families.

Since most families are affected by these negative economic trends, it’s important to acknowledge the impact it has on our lives and take action to try to remain calm and provide a sense of normalcy to children. I’ve read how some families have skipped going out to dinner and a movie, and instead have a simple dinner at home followed by game night.

If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, turn off the bad news, take a walk or a bath, or call a friend. Appreciate the people you have in your life. One family I know with several young children in the house reports the father’s slow work schedule has allowed him to spend a lot more time with the family. It does create some financial hardship, but they try to look at the positive side as he has always been extremely busy at work. Older children are aware of financial strain, so be honest about any household changes that you need to make. Ask for their ideas in cutting costs, and look for signs of stress in children.

Reach out to others who are facing extreme stress, or if you see signs of abuse or neglect. The USA Today article advises that as stress levels increase, domestic violence and child abuse also rise. Be on the lookout for families in crisis, and help connect them to social service agencies that can help. You may be the only one who sees the signs of a child or adult in need. If you are able, offer to care for a child for a couple of hours while a parent looks for a new job. Or, if you still have a good job, help others who are looking for work network with your contacts.

Be a steady voice amidst the chaos, and remind friends and family that this period will pass, and the relationships they nurture will remain.