Three Tools to Calm a Stressed-Out Family

By Dr. Debra Rezendes, HMT Resident in Marriage and Family Therapy in Northern Virginia 

The last three months of 2020 has brought a wave of stress and anxiety for most families. While I share the sentiments of wanting to be whisked away to a secluded beach, our present circumstances allow us to be intentional about integrating stress-relieving tools into the fabric of our family. I am sharing my well-loved top three stress busting family tools. I invite you to play around with them in your family to see how they work for you.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation technique in which the individual is asked to tense a particular muscle group for a period of time. The individual is then asked to release the tensed muscle group. This technique helps individuals to recognize the feelings of relaxation and tension. This aids in their ability to become more mindful of physiological reactions to stress. I have found that this exercise works well with individuals who may be indifferent to relaxation techniques that focus on silence and stillness, such as meditation.

PMR would likely work well with a variety of individuals, especially those who find it difficult to complete relaxation techniques that require them to clear their minds. The entire PMR sequence does not need to be completed to be effective. Individuals could yield significant benefit from engaging commonly tense muscle areas, such as the neck, shoulders, and arms.

Try the video and the script with your children to see which one you like the best. Children also tend to enjoy playing “parent” and walking their parent through the script as well. It is a great way to destress and model healthy ways of coping with stress.

Creating a Symbol of Relaxation

In a previous role as a resiliency trainer, one relaxation technique that we would teach clients centered on helping them to identify a symbol or mantra that conveyed relaxation. Often, clients would choose a word or phrase that helped them to remember to calm down and let go of mounting stress. Sometimes, clients would choose an image that would convey a sense of peace.

When working with families, sometimes the family would pick a word that would help remind all of them to take a break and calm down. From a family’s perspective, these symbols of relaxation were helpful because it conveyed a lot of information easily when individuals were stressed and had a difficult time communicating needs. When I have used this technique with families, there has generally been a positive response. Individuals tend to enjoy thinking about and choosing their word or image. Sometimes, it takes an individual a couple of tries to find an image or word that works best for them. I always encourage my clients to give themselves permission to change the image or word as needed.

Family Tip: Children love to create silly symbols or mantras. These silly symbols and mantras can be extra helpful in defusing stress and tension. 

Children’s Sleep Mediation 

This relaxation tool could be a great resource for children, especially children who may have a difficult time with emotional regulation or settling down for sleep. It may be helpful for parents and children to complete this exercise together. By completing this activity as a parent-child dyad, parents can emphasize the importance of building emotional regulation skills while also positively influencing their own emotional regulation skills. Allow your child to pick the sleep meditation to give them some healthy forms of control. 


About Dr. Debra Rezendes:

Debra has over ten years of community and clinical work with individuals, children, parents, and families and has been published in the Journal of Happiness Studies and Autism Research and Treatment. She received her doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy from Eastern University and has gained specialized, intensive training in emotionally focused therapy (EFT) and Theraplay. She also has skills in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), strengths-based therapies, self-compassion training, attachment-based therapies, play therapy, and solution-focused therapy.

Dr. Debra Rezendes is a Resident in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working towards licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist in Virginia. She works under the supervision of Marianne S. Coad, MAMFC, LMFT, LPC-S. In the event that clients have any questions or concerns about Debra’s work, her supervisor can be contacted at, (703) 657-9721, or 10379-B Democracy Lane, Fairfax, VA 22030.

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