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.
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