Have you heard it said that stress is not what happens to us but rather our response to what happens? Stepparenting comes predisposed to stressful situations and relationships. Fear of rejection, competition and poor communication efforts are all invitations to insecurity and the stress that it invokes.
Stress is a physical and psychological signal from your inner self that something is wrong and in need of attention. Conflict, worry, overwrought emotions and anger are but a few of the conditions from which stress arises. Our over-tasked lives, lack of time management and compromised health and finances are major stress activators. Interestingly, even pleasurable events can evoke stress. The mind is incapable of differentiating between positive and negative stressors so it sends the same defenses to address either circumstance.
While conflict and disagreement are the usual precursors to our “fight or flight” response, the nervous system releases adrenaline and cortisol in any situation that threatens to upset the balance of our reactions. These hormones are disbursed through the adrenal gland and while their primary purpose is to regulate our stress, they do cause the heart to beat faster, blood pressure to rise and the boost in glucose levels also affects changes in the digestive system. Muscles tense up and breathing rates accelerate…sometimes to the point of hyperventilation and panic. Eventually, in circumstances of chronic stress, every organic system of the human body is pressed into crisis management. Left unchecked, the progressive accumulation of these symptoms often is attributed to serious ailments such as cancer and heart disease. It is important to realize that these outcomes are not exclusive to adults since many children have been diagnosed with problems related to traumatic stress.
Indicators of stress vary among its sufferers but include:
• Low self-esteem
• Inability to focus
• Fatigue and insomnia
• Unexplainable physical ailments
• Loneliness, depression and phobias
This list is not all-inclusive but it is safe to suggest that any area of physical or mental weakness will be intensified by stress. The built-in defenses of our body whose job it is to rush to our signals for help are broken down by over-stressed conditions. Our immune system is left unprotected and more vulnerable to attacks of disease and illness.
Without minimizing the task of successfully blending two previously independent families it is worth a reminder that our ability to reduce personal stress should be within our control. If our actions and reactions are beyond personal management we need to bring them back under our own devices because mental balance is a prerequisite to appropriate interaction with others.
If your stress is occasional and minor in severity, there are resources and ideas on the internet and in bookstores. Confiding in a friend or trusted family member can be useful. Simple changes in one’s routine or perceptions can quickly reduce stress levels. More intense or clinical stress-related issues may require medical or psychiatric assistance. These resources exist because of the recognition that the problem is pervasive, so do not hesitate to seek professional help. Quality care will also entail the support of your immediate household members but proactive intervention will lessen the long term damage to you and them.
Taking care of yourself first will enable you to be effectively present in the midst of your new family.