Creating a Happy Home Life
UW Health Services
Most articles focused on “how to manage your stress” usually include some discussion of work-life balance, including previous UW Health ones. And for good reason. More than half of all working moms and dads experience work-family conflict and find it difficult to balance the two.
Shilagh Mirgain, UW Health psychologist, comments that frequently, we believe home is where we can recover from the stress of the work-day, re-charge and relax. But that’s not necessarily true.
A few years ago a study from Penn State found that people’s stress levels actually went down while at work and increased while at home. This was true whether they had kids or not. And the researchers found an interesting gender difference – the women they studied reported being much happier at work than at home, while men were only moderately so. They also found that things evened out on the weekend – both genders were a lot less stressed.
“What this study suggests is that it is the act of juggling both work and home life in the same day that is truly the challenge,” explains Mirgain.
She notes that we can’t draw any definitive conclusions from the study – it is only one, after all. However it does offer some important implications for managing work-life stress, like why do people feel stressed out at home?
Mirgain suggests that we spend our best hours at work, by the time we arrive home we are tired and don’t have as much time or energy to focus on our home life. Trying to get everything done in the short span of the evening, coupled with the growing tendency to stay connected to work even after-hours can take its toll.
An Interview with Dr. Mirgain
Dr. Mirgain was recently on NBC-15 to talk about ways to create more happiness at home. Watch the interview
“When we are at work, we have a dedicated time during which we are focused on a singular topic – our job responsibilities. And at the end of the day, we can walk out of the building and leave that behind. We don’t necessarily have the same ability with our home life. It continues to make demands on our time whether through personal appointments or even phone calls that can’t wait. Trying to meet all of the demands on our time can wear us down,” observes Mirgain.
At work, there also tends to be clear expectations while at home it can be a seemingly never-ending – and sometimes unrewarding – set of responsibilities. We can find satisfaction in bringing a work project to a close, but just when you think you’re in for a quiet evening at home, one child gets sick, a spouse has to work late, and the other child remembers a big assignment that’s due tomorrow but hasn’t been started. It’s no wonder many parents have expressed at one point or another, “I can’t wait to get back to work because being at home is stressing me out.”
But Mirgain also notes that it is not just families that experience the pressures. According to some research, women without children were found to be more stressed at home than women with children. This may be partly due to women occupying the role of “emotional caretaker” in relationships.
“Women are more likely to keep the emotional temperature of the marriage and be the first ones to notice problems. They also tend to be the ones who keep connections to family and the larger community going. Feelings of frustration, exhaustion and even resentment can surface when women feel their roles are undervalued or go unnoticed within their home life,” explains Mirgain.
Strategies for Creating a Happier Home Life
The good news is that there are strategies to help create a happier and more balanced home life.
Acts of Love
Being mindful of the division of labor – and ensuring everyone has a fair share of the load – can help all members of the household feel valued and supported. Mirgain suggests dividing chores in a way that feels good to everyone. Whether it’s making a list and assigning tasks or using a calendar to plan out the week, a little bit of planning can help everyone be prepared for the week ahead. And just as you would do at work, managing expectations and maintaining clear communication about roles and responsibilities help everyone feel that the task distribution is more balanced.
Mirgain also points out that sharing responsibilities includes tending to the emotional tasks of the household as well. Studies show that when husbands take greater ownership of the emotional work, wives are actually happier and healthier. Everyone in the home should be engaged in the emotional well-being of the family.
Check It at the Door
Mirgain comments that it’s relatively common to come home from a stressful day at work and inadvertently take your stress out on your family by being withdrawn or short tempered. But parents who cope with stress in healthy ways model positive behavior for their kids and help them learn to manage stress more effectively.
She suggests pausing before you walk through the door at night. Do some deep breathing or listen to calming music while driving home to help put you in a better mood before you interact with your family. When you do see your family, try connecting with them in a positive way – by offering a hug, greeting each other and creating some space to connect and hear about each other’s day before getting caught in the to-do list of the evening’s tasks. When you do, you’ll all feel calmer, more centered and more connected.
We’re all guilty of having high expectations for what we can accomplish in a limited span of time. Identify your priorities and focus on those important tasks first. If dishes don’t get done in an evening, the world will continue on. Keep in mind you haven’t seen each other all day, and with kids there may just be a small window of time during which you can see each other. Make connecting with each other the priority and accept that you may not get everything done. If scrambled eggs and toast are all you have time to make for dinner, that’s okay. You don’t have to be perfect, just good enough.
Create Some Space
“When we feel overwhelmed, it is easy to go on autopilot,” comments Mirgain.
She points out that everyone needs a space in which they can recharge and decompress. Figure out what that space is for you. For some people it is social interaction with family and friends. For others it may be quiet time reading a book or pursuing a hobby. Still others may find refuge in a nightly walk or run. Everyone in the family needs to ensure they are taking adequate time for themselves and also together as a family.
“Spend one weekend a month or one night a week as a family doing something together. These are often our best memory making moments that help create a happy and healthy life,” says Mirgain.
Read More by Dr. Mirgain
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Date Published: 05/23/2016