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December 11, 2023
By: TA Editorial Team

 

The following piece originally appeared as “Simple Steps for a Stress-Free Home,” in the Fall / Winter 2024 issue of Tracy Anderson Magazine, available now for digital download and print orders.

 

Life is stressful.

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live, life in 2023 comes with stress.

Stress is not inherently bad for you, because stress is simply an evolutionary response (a state of mental/emotional strain/tension) to adverse or demanding circumstances. It is how you cope with stress that impacts your mental health and wellbeing. The stress of a deadline makes us focus on our work, and inspires us to excellence. However, if there are several deadlines at the same time, then we may feel overwhelmed and unable to perform well. 

When we are stressed our bodies respond by releasing hormones such as adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol. These hormones increase our heart rates, blood pressure, respiration and blood sugar. They also bring more oxygen to the brain,  and increase blood flow to muscles. When the stress goes away, our bodies return to a state of calm and the surge of these hormones dissipates. However, when we are constantly stressed, these hormones stay in our systems, becoming toxic and possibly causing health problems such as diabetes (from elevated blood sugar levels), and hypertension (from sustained high blood pressure). When we are chronically stressed, there are also significant impacts to our mental wellbeing; we may become depressed or anxious as we try to cope with the excessive demands on our psyches.

There is a concept called the ‘contagion of emotion’, which means that when we are around people we can absorb their energy and connect emotionally. For example, there are people who walk into a space and lighten the room with their positive attitude, sense of humor and supportive spirit. They are supportive. They make us laugh. They make light of the heavy. They give compliments. When you leave their presence you feel better for having been around them. But we also absorb negative energy, and when we are around people that are colloquially described as ‘Debbie Downers’, we often feel drained when they leave because they make us feel as if the world is full of problems and nothing we do will ever make a difference.

Acknowledging that life is stressful does not mean that there is nothing we can do to manage our stress in healthy ways. And as parents, we want to make sure that our children build resilience and develop healthy ways of responding to the stress that they will inevitably experience in their lives; whether it is the stress of an exam, a performance, college applications, or challenging relationships. 

If we come home stressed and overwhelmed, it is easy for us to transmit those emotions to our children. This may show up as being easily irritated, losing patience with our children, or yelling at them because we ourselves feel overwhelmed. There is no reason to feel guilty for having those moments as we are only human, but we do not want these moments to happen often, because then our children may feel anxious when they see us because they won’t know what to expect from us emotionally. They will also absorb the negativity of the emotions that we express around them.

To raise emotionally healthy and psychologically strong children who are resilient, we need to role model healthy ways of dealing with stress, and to make their home a safe, calm and stable  sanctuary from the world outside their doors. So how do we create emotionally calm spaces for our children? And how do we help our children develop healthy responses to stress?

First, as parents we should set emotional boundaries around our home that leave our adult stresses outside the door. This requires intention and creating de-stressing routines that allow us to enter our homes with positive energy that transfers to our children. One suggestion is to use your commute time to shed the stresses of the day – through meditation, a calming playlist, a good book, or de-stressing with your workout of choice. You can also create a routine for your return home, such as a hug or a smile on entering, or with an explicit request for having 5 minutes to yourself before you engage. Whatever it is, discuss it with your children so they know why you are doing it, and what to expect when you come home each day.  You won’t be perfect, but when you are not, you can check in with your children and reset to your routine.

Second, create a calm environment in your home. The Danish concept of ‘hygge’ (pronounced ‘hooga’) is a wonderful recipe for creating a sense of calm and contentment in your home. It is a defining characteristic of Danish culture, and is about stepping away from the daily stressors to enjoy relaxing moments with yourself or the people you love. Lighting is key to hygge and the soft lighting of candles is preferable to bright overhead lights; this can also be created with mood lighting with a range of colors and intensities. Another key element of hygge is being present and just being. That means turning off the TV and the tablet and the phone and your mind and being attentive to your surroundings and those around you. Creating a comfortable and cozy environment is an important aspect of hygge that can be created with cozy blankets, fuzzy sweaters, a crackling fire, and comfort drinks like hot chocolate. Another feature of hygge is ‘togetherness’, and research shows that our interpersonal relationships are key to our happiness. So engage with your children through a game, a puzzle or a book. Lastly, create a ‘hyggekrog’:  a cozy nook where you escape the world. You can create such a space for both you and your children. You could do this for your children with a beanbag chair or fuzzy rug where they can read or meditate.  And for yourself, it could be a hammock outside or a chair near a window where you can read a book or journal your dreams.

Whatever  you choose to do, be intentional and purposeful in making your home an emotionally safe and comforting refuge for you and your family.

 

THE HYGGE ESSENTIALS

Mood lighting.

Dos:

  • Light a few candles.
  • Dim your lamps.
  • Use string lights to add a touch of quiet festivity to your space.

Don’ts:

  • Keep overhead lights on.
  • Have excessive sources of blue light.

 

Presence.

Dos:

  • Look your loved ones in the eyes, and listen attentively.
  • Notice your surroundings: the smell of the fire, the texture of the couch.
  • Take pleasure in a treat in moderation, which makes it all the more special.

Don’ts:

  • Check your phone or turn on the TV.
  • Doom-scroll.
  • Binge.

 

Cozy moments.

Dos:

  • Build or decorate your hyggekrog. This could be in the style of a blanket fort with the kids, a rug to lounge by the fire with friends, or an extra cozy reading nook by a window–perfect for one.
  • Try a comforting recipe from our Holiday section (Tracy’s favorite is X).
  • Channel your inner child and go all out with throws, pillows, and sweaters.

Don’ts:

  • Let the adult silence your inner child.
  • Underestimate the power of simple pleasures.
  • Live by anybody else’s rules.

 

Togetherness.

Dos:

  • Turn the mundane magical by inviting loved ones to share simple tasks, like cooking or baking, gardening, or cleaning.
  • Play festive music together, or have a dance party. Experiencing art together fulfills our natural need to belong.
  • Mindfully set aside time to relax–with friends, family, or just yourself.

Don’ts:

  •  Take work calls during relaxation time.
  • Think about productivity.
  • Compare your life to others.