Family arguments at home, often sparked by something minor – and certainly more frequent during lockdown – can be stopped in their tracks with just a few simple techniques, says a BBC doctor.
Dr Rangan Chatterjee, who has 300,000 followers on Instagram and regularly interviews experts in areas such as mental health, tackling online abuse and living a healthier lifestyle, says that tricks like writing a journal at the end of each day and always apologising to children if you fly off the handle at them can make for a more harmonious home life.
The 44-year-old TV and Radio doctor, who’s just released a five-minute wellness podcast, Built To Thrive, told FEMAIL that not letting pockets of stress build, learning how to control your breathing to calm yourself down and using techniques to really get your partner to listen to you can all prevent rows.
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Dr Rangan, who has an 11-year-old son and an eight-year-old daughter with his wife Vidhaata, told FEMAIL: ‘Life just appears a lot more stressful post Covid, we’ve had to keep ourselves to ourselves without the typical outlets that we’ve had to connect with others, to relieve our stress.
‘In the pressured bubble of lockdown – with parents trying to work from home and home-school kids, a lot of us found out what our programming is. A lot of the way we parent is how we were parented.’
Here, he offers his top tips for managing stress so it doesn’t manifest in a family argument…
ALWAYS SAY SORRY TO YOUR KIDS
‘We are imperfect human beings, we’re fundamentally flawed. Role-modelling to our children is really important; tell them: “I didn’t have a lunch break today, I’ve been really busy and my stress has nothing to do with you and it wasn’t very nice for you to hear that”.
We know it really makes a difference. otherwise the kids think it’s them, that they’ve done something wrong, particularly younger kids. For them their parent is everything and they’ll often internalise stress from arguments, thinking ‘I’ve done something wrong to make Mummy or Daddy do that’.
When they’re adults, with their own kids, they’ll play out the same cycle. Being honest and expressing an apology really brings you closer to your kids and helps you ‘own’ your stress – you don’t need to put up this image of perfection.
KNOW THAT LITTLE STRESSES ADD UP TO BIG TRIGGERS
There’s ‘big picture’ stress including trauma, bereavement and divorce – those are what we would call ‘macro stress’ doses.
‘Micro stress’ doses are little bits of stress that we experience every day that, in isolation, don’t do very much – we can handle them just fine.
When we’re not aware of it, they add up, one after the other – it could be a negative comment on Instagram, a negative news story that makes you feel fearful of the world, school homework, an elderly parent needing a lightbulb changing – all these things get you closer and closer to your stress threshold.
Yes, parenting is to do with our programming but snapping at our children is often because we’ve had a really tough day, so be kinder to yourself and reflect on that. Even if you can reduce your micro stress does by just 10 per cent, you can have more head room for your kids.
WRITE A JOURNAL
“For younger children, their parent is everything and they’ll often internalise stress from arguments, thinking ‘I’ve done something wrong to make Mummy or Daddy do that…'”
‘You don’t need to buy an expensive journal, or have a big ritual of writing – but take just two or three minutes every morning, or when you come home from work and write down how the day has gone.
For example: “The kids wouldn’t eat their dinner and I snapped at them, I tried not to but couldn’t stop myself.” Just having a few moments of self-reflection can help.
I recommend patients to ask two questions every evening: ‘What went well and what can I do differently tomorrow?’
It’s so effective, it causes self-reflection, which gives awareness – without that we can never make any changes.’
BREATHE TO CALM DOWN
‘One of my favourite techniques is the 3-4-5 breath, where you breathe in for three seconds, you hold for four seconds and you breathe out for five seconds.
Anytime your ‘out’ breath is longer than your ‘in’ breath, you have to switch off the ‘stress’ side of your nervous system – the sympathetic – and you help to promote the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the relaxation part.
If you do one minute of 3-4-5 breathing before a difficult conversation, you’re going to be much calmer and more reflective.’
DON’T PLAY THE BLAME GAME WITH YOUR PARTNER
‘Communication is everything in relationships and in any scenario, there are three realities – and you only know two of them. You know your intention (what you’re going to say), and you know what a mutual observer might see happening… but you don’t know your partner’s intention, or what’s gone on in their day before this.
If you make an assertion/allegation about your intention, you go ‘over the net’ and once that happens that’s when relationships with partners, children and colleagues can spiral.
For example, one partner might say to another ‘you’re not pulling your weight around the house’. What’s much better in a heated moment, when you’re feeling triggered and that conversation is emotionally charged and destined for trouble, is to wait.
You’re just going to put your partner on the defensive. Instead, wait until the children are in bed and sit down and talk when neither of you is distracted.
When you do speak, stay ‘on your side of the net’; let your partner know how you feel. When you say ‘I feel’, you’re not saying: ‘You make me feel’ – you’re speaking factually and that language will change everything. A partner is much more willing to engage. It works with the kids too.’
AWARENESS IS EVERYTHING
Life is tough, and you’ll never be the only one finding it tough. With awareness you can make a choice and say do I want to continue with that or do I want to try and change it? With pressures of work, it’s not always easy to be as present or as calm as you’d want to be with your kids but awareness is a great way to help manage stress.
Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s five-minute wellness podcast, Built To Thrive, is exclusively available on Amazon MusicInternet Explorer Channel Network