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Stress: How Much Is Too Much?

While stress is a normal part of life, long-lasting, intense stress can be toxic. Here are some tips on coping with family stress

Stress is a normal response to challenges, especially with a new year upon us. When we are under stress, our heart rate quickens, our muscles feel tense, and our breathing speeds up. These changes are caused by stress chemicals that give us alertness and energy to deal with danger or other problems.

However, stress that is intense or long lasting can be toxic, especially without loving support. Extreme stress, such as neglect or family violence, may interfere with a child’s development, learning, and long-term emotional and physical health. 

Tips for Coping with Family Stress

  • Set realistic goals for you and your family.
  • Recognize the signs of stress in your body, such as sleep issues or headaches.
  • Move your muscles to manage stress. Walk, run, or dance!
  • Take extra care of relationships. Avoid arguing, especially around children.
  • Take “tech time-outs” from TV and other electronics.
  • Model positive stress-coping strategies, like breathing exercises, so children can learn too. 
  • Take time for yourself. Treat yourself often to happy thoughts, memories, photos, and laughter.
  • Ask for help. It takes courage to advocate for your family. Support can come from family, friends, neighbors, and professionals. 

Why Reduce Family Stress?

  • When we manage our stress, we can do a better job as a parent or caregiver.
  • Less stress helps us make better decisions. This keeps us from over-reacting out of anger, fear, and other stressful emotions.
  • We can help children grow in healthy ways by keeping them from intense or long-term stress.

Some households go through periods of extra stress beyond their control, and this can impact brain development, learning, mental health, and physical health. When children have a supportive, nurturing relationship with their caregiver though, it can reduce harmful impacts from intense stress. As you move through this New Year, consider these tips to help your family dial down stress so everyone can thrive. 


Lor is an educator with UW-Madison Division of Extension Eau Claire County. Adapted from “Parenting the Preschooler: Household Stress” from the UW-Madison Division of Extension. Visit fyi.extension.wisc.edu/parentingthepreschooler for references and more information.

Parenting the Preschooler

A preschooler is a whole person with a big, complicated job: growing up! There are important skills they need to learn in the next few years, especially as they get ready for kindergarten. The UW-Madison Division of Extension recognizes grown-ups as the most important teachers, and grown-ups can include mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or anyone else involved in the life of a preschooler. The Division of Extension offers practical tips about healthy minds and bodies, learning and changing, and relationships that we hope will increase confidence and reduce stress when it comes to raising these young kiddos.


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