Dr. Courtney Bolton
7 Pivotal Areas for Creating a Less Stressful Home
Based on my research while working with parents of children with a chronic illness, mental health concerns, or significant developmental delays, I discovered seven pivotal areas of focus for increasing well-being and happiness and buffering stressful situations.
Purpose - We often think about purpose as fulfilling our dreams and achieving our goals. True purpose usually isn’t about us. It’s about how we take action in community to further a set of values and principles. That may sound daunting, but your community could be your immediate family, your neighborhood or your work community. Have purpose is about mission, our calling to fulfill a set of values and principles in service or benefit to something bigger than ourselves. This is not about being busy or adding to our to-do list. Busyness does not equal purpose. In fact, keeping busy with the wrong ventures can keep us from missing the important moments.
Presence is how to recognize those important moments. Purpose is about active engagement with the lives we are living and with those around us. This area addresses how much you choose to interact with or ignore your life. If you aren’t present, take a look at the ‘busy-ness’ of your day and ask yourself, what are you doing that is keeping you from enjoying small moments. Are you on your phone, planning activities, checking social media? Now, honestly ask yourself, are you escaping, avoiding or engaging. Reviewing those activities, which are escapes? Which ones allow you to avoid and when do you engage? Where you put your time and your money, you put your presence. Where you focus your attention, you will find what you truly value. Not what you say you do, but where your mind and heart of focused. If you don’t like what you see, this is an area where you may want to assert more control or power.
Power. When people don’t feel in control, anxiety and stress is more potent. The same goes for our children. The important consideration with power is looking at what we do have control over (our own actions/responses/values) and surrendering where we don’t have control. Reasserting control shouldn’t look like dominance over another person or even a situation, but it should be about finding the moments that are empowering throughout your day and week.
Passion & Pleasure. Passion is an exciting, powerful feeling, but unlike pleasure, it’s deep and long lasting and gets better with age and time. Passions speak to dedication and can be lifelong pursuits. My father loved playing tennis and played until the day he died. He wanted to give my brother’s and I the same gift of having something we could enjoy every day into old age. Passions range for everyone from playing bridge with friends to cooking, hiking, running, fishing, playing words with friends, but having something you can enjoy now and continue as you grow older, is critical as we age to weather stress and provide enjoyment. Pleasure - Our bodies are designed and wired to enjoy pleasures. This is enjoyment of life, but in our society, we minimize the importance of making sure that we have pleasure in our daily routines. In fact, the word ‘pleasure is often preceded by adjectives, such as ‘guilty’ signaling we enjoy something we shouldn’t or ‘simple’ making the gift of enjoying them seem small. Pleasures are fleeting experiences compared to passions - a hot bath, good sex, chocolate. Pleasures and passions should both align with your values and principles but they should be reveled - my call to action for you is to figure out what lights you up.
Perspective. The way you view the world, shapes your world and your experience of it, and the way you speak to yourself reflects how you think about yourself and value yourself. Reframing the way we interact with the world to acknowledge experiences that make us sad or lonely but also find the silver linings or opportunities is critical to our well-being, mental health and ability to move on from difficult situations. This is not advocating for ‘toxic positivity’ but rather honoring the experiences we have for what they teach us and remembering that there are better moments ahead, chances for us to redeem whatever mistakes we may have made and to try again. This domain is about flexibility and giving ourselves grace. It’s also important to mention that comparing ourselves to others is pitfall here. Whether it’s in real life or social media, comparison or the ‘grass is greener’ effect can make us believe we need to achieve an ideal that doesn’t exist. I recommend managing your media intake (digital and print - remember, those images are curated and staged). We are not perfect - when we mess up, our kids need to hear it, but they also need to hear us being gentle on ourselves and on others. While Perspective is important, so is the ability to perspective-take.
People - We are hard-wired to be in community with one another, and that brings up a number of wonderful benefits but also creates conflict and other concerns. My primary focus here is learning to engage in empathy by trying to understand someone else’s perspective. Your children need to see you engaging in empathy. This is not the same as enabling others or making excuses for others. It’s more about how we all arrive at our answers based on our journeys. Most of us are still figuring out how our values systems apply to the world around us. We learn everyday, and extending the grace we show ourselves to others is critical to thriving in community. It also allows us to let go more easily when someone does something that annoys or hurts us. This is where I like to teach my kids to wonder aloud, or ask them to explain why someone might do something, or gently present a counter argument.
Planet & Place. Being outside, engaged with nature is not only beneficial to our well-being, but if you aren’t outside and your kids aren’t outside, it is detrimental to their health. The good news is after a year spent on computers working remotely or in school, battling zoom fatigue and what seem like inhumane demands, 15 minutes a day outside can help boost our happiness, reduce our stress levels (lower our cortisol levels & blood pressure) as well as fortify our immunes systems by providing us with Vitamin D, and activating our Natural Killer (NK) cells - yes, the ones that fight COVID and Cancer. Can being outside also reduce the rates of ADHD? There’s some very convincing correlational research that looks like that might be the case. At the very least, when children are outside at early ages, their systems are engaged without being overwhelmed. Risky outdoor activities in early childhood help children learn risk management skills and build confidence too. As you head into summer, try to spend time outside as a family when you can. Being in nature (even when we are alone) gives us a sense of connectedness to the world and belonging. Having a sense of place prevents us from feeling lonely and helps us feel connected to a greater sense of purpose. See how these are all interconnected?
Each of these 7 domains are areas that help us engage more actively with our own lives and with others. Not each of these is going to be an area for everyone to address. For example, you may be excellent at reframing and identifying where you can move forward when you have a set back, you might have a great community of friends, but you may struggle with knowing what your mission or principles are. If that’s the case, beginning to actively think about your purpose and values might be an important area for you to stop and consider.
For parents, these are areas our kids need to see us engaged in - we are social learners. So, they are learning from us and picking up on everything that we do. If we want to raise happy and healthy children, it really begins with the behaviors that we set for ourselves.