Summer vacation has officially kicked off as schools across the country close for the year, leaving many families with scheduling conflicts. While summer vacation equals fun for many students, it may lead to added stress for parents and caretakers. Finding day care options for children out of school and even planning family vacations can leave parents feeling stretched and stressed.

“There is social pressure on families to schedule vacations or spend increased time with your children during the summer months. These silent demands can lead to added stress, especially if it’s not the best time financially or if taking time off from work is difficult,” says licensed psychologist, Dr. David Palmiter Jr., Public Education Campaign Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Psychological Association. “Setting expectations about vacation with your family can help lesson these stressors, but it’s critical to also take steps to manage stress in healthy ways.”

Stress related to summer break or vacation planning can increase reliance on the unhealthy behaviors many people already use to cope with everyday stressors related to money, work, personal and family health matters, and raising children. APA warns that increased reliance on unhealthy behaviors to manage stress, such as drinking heavily or overeating, can lead to long-term, serious health problems.

The Pennsylvania Psychological Association offers these strategies to help families better manage summertime stress:

  • Understand how you experience stress. Everyone experiences stress differently. How do you know when you are stressed? How are your thoughts or behaviors different from times when you do not feel stressed?
  • Identify stressors. What events or situations trigger stressful feelings? Are they related to planning family vacations or to other situations such as family health, financial decisions, work, or something else?
  • Recognize how you deal with stress. Determine if you are using unhealthy behaviors to cope with the stress. Is this a routine behavior, or is it specific to making decisions about family vacations or other situations? Put things in perspective—make time for what’s really important and plan only the family activities that are right for you.
  • Set realistic expectations. Don’t expect summer to be better or different from other times of year and help your family to do the same. Have conversations about the summer activities that fit into your family’s schedule and make compromises if necessary. For example, take a day off work to pack a picnic and go to the park or the beach if it is not possible to take an elaborate vacation.
  • Find healthy ways to manage stress. Consider healthy, stress-reducing activities—taking a short walk, exercising, starting a project, or spending quality time together at home. Keep in mind that unhealthy behaviors develop over time and can be difficult to change. Don’t take on too much at once. Focus on changing only one behavior at a time.
  • Ask for professional support. Accepting help from supportive friends and family can improve your ability to persevere during stressful times, even if that stress is a result of family vacation planning. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, you may want to talk with a psychologist who can help you manage stress and change unhealthy behaviors.

“By coping with stress in healthy ways, parents can set a model for the rest of the family,” says Dr. Palmiter. “People who handle stress in unhealthy ways may alleviate symptoms of stress in the short term, but end up creating significant health problems over time, and, ironically, more stress. So it is important that parents take necessary steps to better manage their stress—related to summer vacations and year round—and help their children do the same.”

Source: Pennsylvania Psychological Association Newsletter, June 2011