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Want a Healthier Family? Try Saying “No” More Often

Updated: 6 days ago

We can’t do it all and we’re harming our mental health trying to balance the demands of our busy lives.

Life can be busy and overwhelming for almost everyone in the family. Many parents and caretakers, whether single or in a partnership, find themselves juggling full-time work (or more!) outside the home, in addition to managing relationships, and taking care of their families. No wonder 1 in 4 Americans claim they are so stressed they can’t function.

Kids and teens aren’t immune to the stress of schedule overload. In addition to the demands of schoolwork, children and adolescents are busier than ever with after-school activities, sports, volunteering, and finding critical time to socialize with friends. Some kids may be driving the busy schedule for fear of being left out by their peers, while many teens feel pressured to stack their schedules to impress potential colleges. On top of that, many parents desire to keep kids productive and provide enriching experiences. While all parties may have good intentions, it leaves everyone’s calendar bursting at the seams.

Surveys Show Our Kids are Stressed

Finding the right balance between outside obligations and healthy family life is more important than ever. While there may be some benefits to keeping kids busy, the constantly hectic schedules can have serious mental health consequences for both parents and kids. Surveys in some towns in Southwestern CT show that 27.1% of youth in grades 7-12 reported feeling anxiety in the past year “almost always,” and 27.4% feel their anxiety makes their lives difficult “nearly all the time.” When asked what the source of this stress or worry is, most adolescents in grades 7-12 reported that it stems from academics and post-high school plans. Stress from peers is also a big concern for middle schoolers, while overloaded schedules cause additional worry for high school students. Youth across all grades frequently admit to feeling “a lot of stress” from measures of academic performance and parental expectations.

The Downside of Over-Scheduling

Over-scheduling can lead to chronic stress, which can significantly impact mental health. Without proper work-life balance, parents and kids may experience burnout, exhaustion, and feeling disconnected from social and family life. Busyness can lead to feeling:

  • Anxious

  • Stressed

  • Overwhelmed

  • Inadequate

  • Sad

  • Frustrated/Angry

  • Lonely

  • Hopeless

  • Incompetent

  • Guilty

Overscheduling impacts not only mental health but self-esteem, especially for kids who may already be struggling with self-image. It can feel like a letdown when parents or kids cannot complete tasks or uphold obligations. There are other downsides to over-scheduling the kids, too, including a lack of mastery and focus, the attributes most colleges look for in an applicant.

Recognizing Warning Signs

So what can you do to put the brakes on stress? Learning how to identify stress in both you and your kids is the first step. Stress can affect your body, mood, and behavior. In adults, it can have physical symptoms such as:

  • Headaches

  • Muscle pain

  • Fatigue

  • Sleep problems.

  • Increased anxiety,

  • Increased irritability/anger or other mood changes

  • Lack of motivation and focus

You may also notice an increase in unhealthy habits, such as overeating, new or increased substance use, social withdrawal, or even angry outbursts.

For children and teens, look for specific signs of stress according to age. Kids who are stressed due to overscheduling might feel more tired, depressed, or anxious, complain of headaches and stomachaches, and fall behind in school, resulting in a drop in grades. Remember, every person, whether adult or child, is different and may experience stress differently.

How to Find Balance

Once you’ve identified the stress in your life, the next step is to start thinking about how you’ll handle your overloaded schedule to minimize stress. Finding that balance between work and home responsibilities is critical for parents and caregivers. Setting strict boundaries between work and home life is a great place to start. Find ways to make work less stressful with better time management and good communication with your boss and coworkers, which can help you set the strong boundaries you need. If you work from home, set defined rules with your household about your work hours, how you can be communicated with during that time, and what, if anything, you can realistically get done around the house during the work day. Working with your partner to coordinate household activities at home, especially those involving the kids, can help you manage your schedule.

Practical things you can do to ease the stress:

  • Have weekly meetings with your family to outline the plans for the week

  • Meal plan/prep for the week in advance

  • Reach out for extra support when needed (call a friend, neighbor, family member, or babysitter). Stay active with exercise, even if it’s something simple like a morning walk with the dog or an evening jog

  • Making time for hobbies and friends

  • treat your body well with healthy foods and good sleep

Some kids (and parents) can handle more activities and commitments than others. The golden rule for parents and kids is not to overcommit. Understanding your kids and their limits, whatever they may be, will help you guide their schedules better. Here are some helpful tips:

Don’t forget, when you’re stressed and worried, your kids are likely to feel the same way. Practicing healthy habits to reduce the stress in your life will allow you to help your kids better manage their stress. This will go a long way in achieving a healthy family life balance.

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