Getting grief from crushing stress

In the stress of sheltering in place, we all feel we are getting grief. However, we may not be giving grace to our loved ones. In addition to the strain on our health care system, COVID-19 is taking a toll on our nerves. As a result, our homes may become not-so-serene shelters.

Stress wears on people and that alone can cause health issues. Dr. Richard Rahe, M.D. devoted his life to measuring the effects of stressful life events on physical and mental wellbeing. As a result, he and Dr. Thomas Holmes developed the Holmes-Rahe Scale which measures the effect of stress events on adult immune systems.

They assigned numbers (or Life Change Units) to various stressful life events. Here is a sampling.

Death of spouse                                        100

Death of a close family member              63                                           

 Personal injury illness                               53

 Dismissal from work                                 47

 Change in health of family member       41

Change in frequency of arguments         35

Change in financial state                           38

  Change in living conditions                      25

 Revision of personal habits                      24

 Change in church activities                      19

 Change in social activities                        18     

A cumulative score of 300+ indicates you have an 80 per cent chance of health breakdown in the next two years. A score of 150-299+ indicates a 50 per cent chance, and 150- suggests a 30% chance of a stress-related illness.

Let’s do the math. Some of us could well be experiencing all of the above for a grand total of 463 points.

Getting grief from our kids

In your social isolation, one of your main stressors may be your kids. For example, their unaccountable acting-out may be doing a tango on your last nerve. You need to know that your kids are suffering stresses you do not anticipate. Effects of life-changing events on kids can be unexpected and mystifying. Dr. David Elkins, author of The Hurried Child, states “…children are most like us in their feelings and least like us in their thoughts.“ Remember, teens (let alone preteens) do not have the life experience to be able to put even minor annoyances in perspective. Furthermore, their brains have not “cooked” long enough to fully develop impulse control and avoid risk-taking behavior

Kids getting grief

Here is how I know about non-adult stress. I am a mother of grown sons and a retired teacher. In addition to my life and professional experience, I also explored stressors on young people as a writer. Assessing stressful life events for youth was the subject of my required presentation for my master’s degree in writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University. Adults can forget how crushing events can be for a child or a teen. If a writer fails to appreciate or honestly confront such events, she will write a dead, dull, tone-deaf book. I want to be an insightful, responsive, compelling writer.

More important, if a parent or teacher fails to appreciate the weight of a child’s stress, they risk finding a resentful, poorly-supported, at-risk child. No adult wants to find themselves failing here. You can access a non-adult stress scale here. Some of the Life Change Units will surprise you.

What gives grief to teens

In the end, I discovered three important findings in preparing my presentation. First of all, a pileup of many events over a short time is harder for teens than coping with just one event. Clearly, we are all experiencing quite a pileup. Secondly, on-going, day-to-day stresses and strains have a bigger impact on teens than major events. For that reason, some of us are seeing blowups over trivial irritations. Finally, some of kids’ worst stressors are their own thoughts, feelings, or behaviors—especially getting into trouble because of their behavior.

One day in my teaching career, I calmly, quietly, politely redirected a child’s rowdy behavior. I overheard him report, “Mrs. Holt yelled at me.” I quietly said, “I didn’t yell.” Then louder, I demonstrated, “THIS IS YELLING!” And then softly, “and I didn’t yell.” We laughed. Kids take our disapproval harder than we imagine.  On a grumpy day, it is easy to assume kids are giving you grief. A private discussion will tell you they have their own.

Giving grace to ourselves and our kids

In this over-the-top stressful time, you need to practice gentle, positive self-care—and you need to foster this self-care in your children. There are no end of suggestions out there. You can investigate for yourself.

Giving grace to myself

Here is my personal self-care:

Keep to a reasonable schedule

Downsize clutter, so it is easier to clean surfaces

Drink plenty, eat well.

Listen to soothing music

Play hymns and praise music on my long-untouched piano

Read worthwhile books and view excellent films

Play with my dog

Take deep breaths of fresh air.

Take photos of spring flowers.

Laugh at silly puns and pet videos.

Pray and rediscover scripture

Express gratitude in particular for my husband

Contact friends and family by phone and social media

Use lots of lotion after all that hand-washing

Write of course.

Bead gifts

Organize family photos and remember

Finally, I appreciate the life I have had—one far beyond what I could have expected. I hope to have my kidney transplant. I look forward to more time with Jim and with our grandchildren. I have more to say in my writing. But I also think C.S. Lewis is on to something here: “Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

A plan for giving grace

Be kind to yourselves. Be kind and patient with your kids. Your emotional support means more than any academic work they accomplish. Keep to a reasonable structure, but don’t forget to play with them. Give them opportunities to share their concerns and check for their understanding of the crisis regularly. Equip them to cope. Don’t dump your emotions on them, but share that this isolation is hard for you as well. The potential here is for a greater, healthier bond than you have ever known. In the process, you could also create some fine family memories.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

Jonquil with rain drops giving grace
Jonquil with rain drops giving grace

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