Stress Test: How Do You React Under Stress?

How to Set a Healthy Example for Your Kids

From the WebMD Archives

Everybody has a different response to stress. Some people turn to unhealthy habits like eating junk food or vegging in front of the TV. Stress can make it hard for some people to sleep. There are a few common "stress personalities." See which one you might have, and learn how to handle stress in a healthy way that sets a good example for your kids.

1. You get cut off in traffic -- for the fifth time today. Are you more likely to:

a. Hurl a few profanities and hit your steering wheel.

b. Swallow your rage and think about anything but traffic.

c. Pop a pill for your pounding headache.

d. Take some deep breaths.

2. The laundry is piling up, the toilet's overflowing, the kids are screaming, and your partner asks when dinner will be ready. Do you:

a. Yell, "When you figure out how to turn on the stove!"

b. Hide in your bedroom and watch TV.

c. Eat a big bowl of ice cream.

d. Calmly ask your partner to tackle the toilet while you take the kids for a walk around the block to reset.

3. You've missed an important work deadline and your boss is upset. Do you:

a. Get mad at the co-worker who let you down on the project.

b. Lay low in your cubicle until the storm passes.

c. Lie awake all night worrying that you'll get fired.

d. Write down your worries on a piece of paper. Crumple it up and throw it away to unburden yourself. Then, make a plan and talk about next steps with your boss.

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Answer Key

If you mostly answered D, congratulations! You’re a stress-fighting champion who really knows how to handle stress in healthy ways. Keep up the good work and carry on!

If you mostly answered A, you tend to be an "over-reacter" to stress. You may yell, throw things or slam doors, and lash out when you get stressed.

Mostly Bs, and you're a "withdrawer." You probably pull away from conflict and stress and isolate yourself.

Mostly Cs, and you're what psychologists call a "somatizer." You’re likely someone who feels stress as physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, and sleep problems. Or you may turn to unhealthy behaviors like eating junk food.

No matter your stress personality, the key now is to find healthier ways to deal with your stressful feelings -- and then explain to your kids how they, too, can feel better by using those same good coping tools.

The Healthy Way to Deal With Stress

It's important for you and your kids to learn to deal with stress in a healthy way. Stress can cause you to make unhealthy choices, like loading up on sugary foods, watching TV instead of exercising, or staying up fretting instead of getting the sleep you need. All of these can lead to unhealthy weight gain.

If your kids see you handle stress with unhealthy habits like stress-eating, they can learn to do the same things. Actions often speak louder than words when it comes to parenting. You have to set healthy examples for them to follow.

First thing's first: Coping with stress in a healthy way doesn't mean completely overriding or suppressing your natural reactions, says stress management expert Susie Mantell, author of the guided meditation audiobook, Your Present: A Half-Hour of Peace. Instead, manage your reactions and move on.

If you're an "over-reacter," try another way to physically express your emotions besides screaming at people. Go for a run or take a walk with the kids. Or get into the water if you can. "Kicking against the resistance of water is very satisfying," says Mantell.

Physical activity can do more than just help you burn off angry energy. Explain to the kids that exercise triggers the "feel-good" part of the brain. You should feel better and more relaxed when you've spent some time moving.

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If you're a “withdrawer” and tend to slide away and hole up, set a timer. Go off and withdraw for 5 or 10 minutes, but when the timer goes off, come back and face the situation. You may want to listen to soothing music or try meditation while you take your sanity break. Just don't take your self-imposed timeout in the kitchen near the junk food or spend it in front of the TV.

“[You could even] give yourself permission to go scream somewhere," Mantell says. "A friend and I did this at the ocean once, on a cloudy day when no one was there. We yelled and screamed into the breakers everything we wanted to say to the people we were angry at. It felt great!"

If you’re a "somatizer" and you feel your stress through headaches, stomachaches, and other physical symptoms, you might benefit from doing a writing exercise that Mantell often suggests. Write a letter to the person who's the biggest source of your stress, or write about the stress to someone you respect: God, the universe, your beloved grandmother. Then turn the paper over and write a letter back to yourself from that person. "You'll be amazed at what a release you feel," she says.

Deal With the Cause of Your Stress

No matter what your stress personality is or what your main stressors are, everyone can benefit from a few key stress-management tools. These are healthy solutions that are perfect to teach your kids, too:

Breathe deep. Remind yourself and the kids that when something stressful happens, stop and take a few deep breaths before you do anything else to react to it. Breathe in slowly for a count of five through your nose. Hold your breath for one beat. Then exhale out your mouth, sighing, if it feels right. Pretend you’re breathing out your bad feelings. Deep breathing can help you and your kids whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed – it can help at school, at home, basically anywhere.

Summon serenity. Keep sounds that soothe you on your computer or car radio. It can be your favorite music or nature sounds -- whatever makes you calm. For your kids, teach them that listening to calming music can help them relax. Then turn on these sounds when everyone needs to find some peace.

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Move more often. Exercise releases endorphins, the chemicals in your brain that improve your mood and ease feelings of pain. Make time for movement every day, not only when there is a crisis. Try a family walk after dinner so everyone can enjoy the benefits. Work to get 30 minutes of activity a day for you and 60 minutes a day for the kids. It can help your body and mind.

Write it down. Put your feelings on paper to help get them out and leave your worries and stress behind. Keep a journal of what's going on in your life. By writing you can remove yourself emotionally and possibly work out ways to move forward, instead of dwelling on bad feelings, research shows. Or talk to a trusted friend; that can also be a good outlet.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on May 22, 2013

Sources

SOURCES:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: "Physical Activity Reduces Stress."

Kathleen Hall, SD, founder, the Stress Institute; author, Alter Your Life: Overbooked? Overworked? Overwhelmed?

Susie Mantell, stress management expert, clients including the American Pain Society, NYU Medical Center and Brigham and Women's Hospital; author, "Your Present: A Half Hour of Peace."

Peek, C.J. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 2007.

Baikie, K. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. 2005.

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