Stress Buster Tips for Parents

Parents are no strangers to stress.  In fact, “stressed out” is often the baseline for new and old parents alike.  The fact is that we all have a lot going on in our lives.

An impromptu poll of my Practical Parenting Facebook community reaffirmed what I already suspected:  There are different sources of stress during different stages of parenting, but all of those stressors are equally taxing.  Readers identified potty training, babies mouthing objects, and lack of time for self-care as major stressors.  Those readers are not alone.

The most common sources of stress for parents include:  Lack of time, financial concerns, relationship issues (both with spouses and friends), protective instincts (trying to avoid all dangers for children), and lacking personal time or time for self-care.

It helps to know a little bit about the meaning of stress.

Stress occurs when events trigger our natural fight or flight response.  When the fight or flight response kicks in, your body might experience:  Increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, muscle tension, or rapid breathing.

Common symptoms associated with stress include:  Headaches, insomnia, difficulty making decisions, increased anxiety, and difficulty maintaining daily activities. 

Sound familiar?

Below are some stress buster tips for parents…because it’s hard to be at your best when you’re under stress.

1.    Self-Care:  New parents often identify focusing on self-care as “indulgent” or just “impossible”.  Older parents tend to get into a cycle of always going and forget to take time for them.  Good self-care increases your self-esteem and confidence as a parent, and sets a good example for your children.  Keep individual size snack packs of healthy snacks available at all times (think snap peas, Edamame, and almonds), factor in time for a shower (even if it means waking up early), and set a timer for bedtime.  Poor eating zaps energy and lack of sleep is a recipe for stress.  Research indicates that keeping that smartphone on might actually be impeding your sleep.  Disconnect one hour before bedtime to ensure better sleep.

2.    Quiet Time:  We insist on quiet time for our kids, but then we start cleaning, organizing, and emailing.  Parents need quiet time to restore relaxation too.  Get a 20-minute yoga tape, practice deep breathing exercises, or at least read a book.  Their quiet time should be your quiet time too.

3.    Schedules:  Schedules are a mom’s best friend.  You can’t possibly plan for everything that will happen during the day, but you can have a schedule in place so that you know (give or take) what comes next.  Having a daily plan is like the ultimate grocery list:  You know what’s on tap and what should be happening at any given time.  Things will always change a bit depending on that the day brings, but knowing what comes next takes some of the guesswork out of your day…which relieves some stress.

4.    Release Emotion:  Stuffing all that stress, anxiety, and even anger will only increase your stress.  It’s true that we have to be careful about how we cope with stress in front of our children, but we also need to take care of our own needs too.  Let out the tears during an extra long shower, verbalize your frustrations as they arise, and phone a friend.  Let the stress out to let the calm in.  Pretending that stress doesn’t exist doesn’t do anyone any good…in fact, it teaches your kids to strive for some version of perfection that doesn’t actually exist.  Note:  Laughter is a great way to release emotion, so fire up the 30 Rock and let your laughter out!

5.    Care for your Relationships:  When parenting becomes stressful, adult relationships are generally the first thing to take a hit.  Put time into caring for your marriage.  Cheer each other on, communicate often about what does and doesn’t work, and ask for help.  Be specific about your needs.  Need help with the groceries?  Say that.  Need help cleaning the house?  Say that.  Focus on your friendships.  Parenting can be isolating.  You have to be a good friend to have good friends.  Don’t let those friendships slip away.  Find time for coffee or at least a weekly conversation.  It’s good for your soul.

6.    Exercise:  Parents often put exercise aside due to time constraints.  Research shows that 20 minutes of daily exercise decreases stress and increases self-confidence.  Find your daily 20.  Enough said.   

7.    Find your Tribe:  Parenting is a lot of wonderful things, but it’s also tiring and not particularly easy.  Find a group of parents (whether through an organized class or just at your local park) to have in your tribe.  Having people on your side who understand what you’re going through and might even have some suggestions can be invaluable.  Parent friends will help normalize your feelings when you feel alone in the world.  Find your tribe.

8.    Parent Time Outs:  We all have our breaking points.  What we do when we reach those breaking points is what matters.  It is perfectly acceptable to take mom or dad time outs; in fact, it’s often necessary.  Take ten minutes to take a few deep breaths and calm down when things get stressful.  Give your kids some play doh, markers, or another calming activity and just take a break.  Trust me, it works.

How do you de-stress when the going gets tough?



About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)