We are introducing an occasional series of guest bloggers. Dr Kate Joseph, a chartered clinical psychologist, is our first specialist.
Her pocket book, Managing Stress, co-authored with Dr Chris Irons, is aimed at teenagers and students but we believe it can also relate to other age groups. She writes:
Ideally a person’s home is a place where they can relax. However, those who have a difficult time with one or both parents will usually find that it also increases their level of stress in other areas of their life; for example with friendships, relationships, life at university and/or money worries.
It is not your fault that you have a difficult parent but it is your responsibility to try to do something about it. The first step I recommend is learning to understand your own emotions.
It is common for some young people to feel hesitant or even ashamed to talk about their difficult relationship with a parent and some feel that if they haven’t been physically or sexually abused it doesn’t count. In fact emotional abuse can be just as damaging both emotionally and psychologically.
There are different types of emotional abuse. It can range from having very critical and hostile parenting to having a neglectful parent who gives you hardly any attention. Being ignored by your parent can be equally or even more damaging than if they give you a hard time.
Going to university is a massive change and transition in a young person’s life with new experiences both academically and socially. It is important to feel you have a support network to enable you to manage all these changes at once.
If you have unsympathetic or uncaring parents it is vital to share your difficult feelings with other people to get a sense of perspective and to feel supported otherwise you risk your feelings escalating and leading to more serious problems like depression, panic attacks or even suicidal thoughts.
One important thing to be aware of is that a vicious cycle can arise between stress that lasts for an extended period of time and relationships. Difficult family relationships can exacerbate stress and chronic stress can make it harder to manage and maintain relationships with family and others.
One way forward is to find someone else you feel you can rely on, perhaps another family member or a sibling who may understand what it is like to have that particular parent. You could also try talking to your GP, confiding in a good friend, or approaching a counsellor at university. Don’t worry about the cost - almost all universities offer free counselling for students.
One popular coping strategy is mindfulness, which we write about on page 29 of the book. (MHP also has several blogs on the subject) There is also ‘safe place imagery’ when you use slow breathing and create an image of a safe or soothing place in your mind. (MHP also has a blog on visual imagery.) This can be particularly helpful when people’s home environment doesn’t feel safe.
If your parents don’t look out for you it’s important for you to work out your own work/study/ life balance. It’s also important to eat well, take exercise and get enough sleep. Adolescents need around 7 – 9 hours sleep a night and research shows that about 50% of students do not sleep enough. We cover all these topics in the book.
There are also chapters on difficulties with studying like procrastination and dealing with setbacks. Some people with demanding parents feel under pressure to get good grades and try to be perfectionists. We have covered how to manage this and show how you can still have high standards without suffering the stress that can come with perfectionism.
We describe how to develop a learning mindset rather than an achievement mindset so you learn from your achievements as you go along rather than seeing everything you do as a sign of success or failure. We believe in focusing on your journey rather than your destination, as this makes it less likely for you to give up when studying becomes tough.
I hope this book will help readers develop their own toolbox to manage stress for life at school, university and beyond.
Managing Stress by Kate Joseph and Chris Irons is now available. : https://www.amazon.co.uk/Managing-Stress-Pocket-Study-Skills/dp/1352001772