Real vs Perceived Stress in Life


Every family who is raising an autistic child feels it every day. Every military family raising a child with autism may perhaps feel it every hour with the additional stressors of military life. How we handle that stress everyday and having positive, effective strategies to cope with it is very important.

There are volumes of books written about coping with life, stress, anxiety, fear, anger, disappointment, depression and all the other related side effects of stress. I am not going to purport to be an expert on managing the effects of stress. I am far from it. I find myself at times taking out my frustrations from stress in life on my family, co-workers, extended family and friends. It’s certainly not fair, but it unfortunately happens from time to time. I do think though, that I TRY harder than most people to manage the emotions that stress on the family can bring. I know what is at stake if I lose my cool all the time around my wife and kids – especially autistic kids in a family stressed out living with autism. I know that is a big claim to make, but when you have many sources of stress in your life how you handle the by-products of that stress is an daily importnant task. Also important, and what I want to focus very briefly on is discerning REAL stress versus PERCEIVED stress.

Let me ‘splain.

Today I happened to catch the end of the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees series. It was game 5 and the winner would move on to the next round in the playoffs. It was the bottom of the ninth, at Yankee Stadium, with two outs, and the Yankees are down by one run with Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez at the plate to save the day with a homer. Can you imagine the REAL stress in that situation! Tens of thousands there live and millions at home with all their eyeballs on you to see if you are going to be the stud or the dud. That is pressure. That is stress. And performance in that kind of situation is extremely difficult and extremely stressful.

Then, moments later, the game is over. A-Rod could not pull it off. The Tigers win! And the television cameras start to pan all around Yankee Stadium to get the reaction from the fans, the ones who expected the Yankees to eventually move on and win the World Series! Why? Because that is what the Yankees do! They win! And the high expectations that all the fans had for their team came crashing down with one final at-bat. What disappointed me was when the camera stood still on one group of fans who were openly weeping and holding their hands to the top of their head. The disappointment must have just been too much for these two ladies adorned from head to toe in Yankee apparel and beads. Now that is an example of reacting to PERCEIVED stress!

See the family who deals with the real daily stress caused by the rigors of autism has REAL catalysts to deal with, and how they react to those very REAL stressors will add to or take away from the success of the family unit. Parents HAVE to handle the stresses in the home with the precision and professionalism of a trained counselor if their emotionally troubled auttie will ever have a chance in life. Our kids watch us closer than we could possible understand. Don’t be fooled by their perceived aloofness. They are watching your behavior and reactions to life more than they ever hear your words. The ladies in the stands are reacting to PERCEIVED stress. I’ll ask you this? Did those ladies have any ability to directly affect the win or loss of the Yankees? Did they Play in the game? Did they coach the team from the dugout? No. They sat in the stands, booed at the Tigers, cheered for the Yankees, probably ate nachos and drank their favorite beverage (or two or three).

To breakdown and cry because a team you were “watching” and “rooting for” is NO cause to openly weep as their was no direct loss of anything of significance financially, maritally, relationally or as a parent – some of the true benchmarks of importance in one’s life. Those two will go home, sleep it off and go to work tomorrow virtually unaffected. Why do people react that way in those situations? It is difficult for me to comprehend that level of fanaticism and emotional involvement in something they have no direct control over. It is perceived stress as there is no direct loss of anything of value if it doesn’t work out. Because they won’t lose anything of true value there is no reason to get all worked up for nothing.

In our life as parents of special needs children we have control over many of the decisions or experiences that happen in our home. Our level of emotional intelligence and ability to decipher perceived stresses from real stress in our own homes is markedly important. A poor reaction to stressors in life will directly affect the family. Mood swings, anger, anxiety, worry and other emotions and behaviors harbored on over time will rub off and negatively affect your spouse and kids. First of all, avoid the perceived stress in life. Your team, or insert silly behavior here _________, isn’t worth the effect the by-product behavior has on everyone around you! Next, when real stress comes, then act appropriately. When life (another nickname for “stress”) happens do you freak out, or do you remain level-headed? When it gets too tough do you hit the bottle, or God-forbid your spouse or children, or both? Do you take it out in other ill, ineffective methods on others? Do you behave in an unhealthy way? If you are reacting to perceived stress – stop it. It’s a waste of your time and blood pressure. If it’s real and you still are blowing it…

Find a better way friend. Seek help. Today. Hit the nearest professional help, your knees, or both – whatever it takes to cope with stress more effectively.

I work on this myself daily, in all aspects of my life and will continue to work hard at controlling my emotional intelligence. It is a fight, it is a battle, but who in your household is not worth your best efforts to be the best example in the home?

In Advocacy,