Stressed Out

You’ve read about how busy is our family, and, if you’re feeling that hustle and bustle is a recurring theme in our household, you’re spot on.

It’s a way of life for us and it’s not slowing down anytime soon. We work at streamlining the stress when we can but, admittedly, we often become overwhelmed. This month, FamFitter begins a short series acknowledging the effects stress can have on family mental health and, more specifically, exploring proactive ways to help alleviate pressures and positively cope.

Stress affects each member of our clan a bit differently. Among us are criers, yellers, shutter-downers and lasher-outers. We’re individuals with separate triggers, so, when exploring healthy ways to manage, we wanted to address individual needs. Adversely, we are always in search of a approaches that are as comprehensive as possible, because it makes implementation much less complicated.

We decided to do a bit of research and ask the advice of a couple of locally-based experts. This month, we chose to focus on the concept of visualization.

Our Family Stress Dynamic

We don’t hate being busy. We admit we made our lives into this hectic little jumble, and we honestly enjoy most every facet of our lifestyle. Still, with two full-time jobs, serving on community boards and committees, church activities, school functions, volunteer obligations and all of the numerous tasks that go into raising four additionally-busy young humans, Mom and Dad are overwhelmed more often than we want to admit. And we’re not the most gracefully-stressed parents on the planet. In our household, short tempers do flare from time to time. Anxieties become a little too-close to sheer, unnecessary panic (Mom) and stresses can manifest into moody passive-aggression (Dad).

Our two oldest children, 15 and almost 13, are no strangers to pressure. Because they both are involved in school sports, student government and are conscientious with academics, their personal stress levels are often significant. Syd becomes overwhelmed and moody. Eli tends to be a bundle of nerves and has trouble keeping his thoughts focused. Both experience anxiety that sometimes hinders them at school and sports, and often affects their ability to get a good night’s sleep.

Our younger two are a bit more sheltered from personal stresses, although most recently our 9-year-old has been struggling at school, and those struggles have led to meltdowns and even shutdowns.

As a whole, we all often experience lack of focus and sometimes, an inability to relax. Of course, personal stress in a household of six (or any household, for that matter) creates webs of stress in which other members inevitably become entangled. We’re no exception; most times, if one of us is exhibiting signs of being overwhelmed, the others are affected.

Exploring Visualization

We’ve read a bit about the benefits of visualization as it relates to many of the areas in which we struggle. On a quest to learn more about it, we spoke with Dr. Randy Schrodt of Integrative Psychiatry, who has worked with a wide range of individuals, including adolescents and athletes. The Louisville-based (but nationally-and internationally-renowned) psychiatrist said, “Visualization can be a useful tool for adults and adolescents alike. Desired outcomes range from improved sports and academic performance to increased concentration and self-discipline. And it doesn’t stop there.”

Dr. Schrodt explained that practicing visualization not only helps to create a mental picture, but can also condition one’s mind and allow the individual to achieve and remain “in the zone” when participating in a task or experience. While the role of visualization varies from person to person, the benefits can be vast. Say a student athlete is utilizing the practice of visualization in order to stay focused while testing as well as on the ball field. By training his/her brain in these areas, that same student is also likely to experience improvement in other areas as well.

“Ultimately, visualization allows the individual the improved ability to remain ‘in the zone’ and this concept then increases their ability to relax and to enjoy experiences more deeply as well,” Dr. Schrodt added.

Further discussion with Dr. Schrodt brought to light the added benefits of anxiety relief, improved sleep and relaxation as well as increased productivity. In addition, we learned that a second-person perspective is ineffective and that, when creating a mental picture for a desired outcome, first-person perspective is key.

“For instance, if Eli is wanting to improve something, let’s say, his free-throw shot. … He needs to be able to visualize how that successful shot looks from his own personal perspective, rather than a birds-eye or even a spectator’s point of view. And this translates into any area where you want to see results … anxiety management, test-taking, personal focus.”

Trying it Out

Energized from the ideas we discovered by speaking with Dr. Schrodt, we wanted to explore and put into practice some different visualization efforts. We read several articles on the subject and found some basic methods we could implement into our schedules without consuming too much precious time.

It seems practicing visualization can be as simple as lying down or sitting comfortably in a quiet space and simply imagining with some focus. This can be done as often as one wishes, but even just once per day for a few minutes has been proven in clinical studies to be beneficial to one’s mental health. We did, however, want to delve just a bit deeper.

Because children are naturally imaginative, they are very receptive to the concept of creative imagery. We decided to start with our kiddos and, for the younger two, we downloaded an app that walks them through basic imagery and relaxation exercises. There are several different programs to choose from, none that are over 10 minutes in length. These are easy, fun and geared toward increasing self-esteem, body awareness and bedtime relaxation.

For the older two, we found a program that uses visualization in combination with other, similar techniques to bring awareness to a variety of personal goals, and gives them tools to organize, maintain focus and manage anxieties. Interestingly, after previewing it with them, we’ve found that it may be just as helpful for Mom and Dad to utilize. We’ll highlight some results in next month’s column (we’ve only just begun to test it out), but the first exercise in itself, geared toward clearing the mind, was interesting and we’d thought we’d mention it here.

Sitting at a keyboard, we set a timer and, for 15 minutes, we type whatever enters our minds. Anything at all, no proper grammar or spelling worries, raw and uncensored – just typing out the cycle of thoughts that occur in the timeframe. Next, we read what we wrote and make a list of the important items that stand out. After that, a check mark is placed next to any item that is out of our control or cannot be helped. (Side note: Listing these uncontrollable items and discarding them turned out to be a cathartic physical representation of things in which we need mental peace.) Finally, the remaining ideas are addressed and basic notes are made concerning ways to address each one.

Overall, this initial exercise seemed to lighten the load a little in terms of current stressers, even if just for a short time. However, we’re excited to continue these simple practices and see where they lead us. We’re hoping to experience some of the benefits we’ve learned can be the positive result of mindful visualization. We’ll let you know how it goes.


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