Decreasing Parental Stress

Parental stress is caused by a variety of factors:  Work, finances, illness, moving, grief and loss, separation, and behavioral concerns, to name a few.  No matter the cause, parental stress is a very real problem for many families today.

Signs of stress include:

  • Sleeplessness or excessive sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Exhaustion
  • Headaches
  • Frequent colds
  • Eating problems
  • Stomachaches

Stress can cause parents to yell at, disconnect from, and even hit their children.  It can also cause some fairly significant marital discord.  In short, stress negatively impacts families in more ways than one.

After a long night in the hospital with Riley, followed by a few nights of watching her breathe…I can hardly move my neck and Sean is officially sick.  Illness in a child can increase parental stress, particularly when that illness necessitates a 911 call.

Stress.  It affects all families at some point.

Below are some tips to decrease parental stress:

1.    Know Your Triggers:  Stress can hit all at once (acute stress reaction) or build up over time (multiple small stressors).  When you begin to experience symptoms of stress, take notes.  Write down what you are doing, time of day, and any other important factors.  Keeping a record will help you determine what causes you the most stress.  Details are important.  The sooner you find your triggers, the sooner you will be able to problem-solve and learn to cope with those triggers.

2.    Focus on Sleep:  The average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night.  The average adult logs 6.1 hours of sleep per night.  On average, we are falling short.  Set a timer on your phone to signal a good time to start your nighttime routine.  Mine is set for 9:30, with the hope of getting to bed by 10:30.  I know there are many parents out there who take great pride in running on empty, but it will catch up to you sooner or later.  Prioritize sleep.

3.    Make Healthy Choices:  Believe me, I understand.  You are parenting, working, and doing 10,000 other things each day.  That’s exactly why you need to make healthy choices.  Healthy eating, including staying hydrated with plenty of water, keeps illness away and helps restore your body when you do experience stress.  20 minutes of exercise per day will also help decrease your stress and improve the quality of your sleep.  Pack some sugar snap peas, grapes, and water in your purse and make healthy choices throughout the day.  Bonus:  When you make healthy choices, you model healthy habits for your kids.

4.    Find Your Tribe:  Parenting is hard work, but you are not in it alone.  Parents who have adequate social support are likely to rely on that support when stress hits.  Talking to a friend, parent support groups, parenting classes, and even getting out with other couples or girls night/guys night are all known to decrease stress.  Find your tribe.  Be there for your friends and seek support from them when you are under stress.  Social support is essential.

5.    Create Boundaries:  If you said yes to every single event and invitation, you would probably never stop moving.  You need to stop moving.  There is no super-parent out there who can take on absolutely everything.  Set boundaries.  Have a limit.  Stick to it.  I don’t bring my kids to every party that comes our way.  We have limited downtime as a family as it is, and enormous parties don’t count as family time.  We make choices and set limits.  I also set limits on office hours, writing responsibilities, and volunteering.  I try to do a little of each, but maintain a balance to avoid stress.

6.    Set Clear Limits:  To this day, the biggest complaint to come through my office is this:  “My kids never listen.”  Kids are programmed to test boundaries and limits, it’s what they do.  Set clear limits/rules in your house.  Post them for all to see.  Review them often.  Amend them as your kids grow.  Review them again.  Yes, they will test you from time to time.  But children who know the rules are children who follow the rules.  Call it a limit, call it a rule, call it whatever makes you feel good…just call it something and make it happen.

7.    Stay Connected:  It can be difficult to find 1:1 time with your child, particularly if you are a working parent or have multiple children.  It’s not about the amount of time you spend; it’s about the quality of the time spent together.  Put away your worries and your electronic devices and just be present.  When you let go and just focus on being with your child, you feel the stress start to melt away.  Give yourself permission to just be present.

8.    Get Help:  There is no shame in asking for help when you need it.  Ask for help with the kids, get a night out with your spouse or friends, and ask for help with the chores.  When stress becomes overwhelming and you find yourself experiencing several symptoms at once, get therapy.  You don’t have to do it alone.  You can reach out and get some relief.  Note:  There is a rumor going around the blogging community that blogging is the new therapy.  While blogging can certainly be cathartic and healing…it does not replace therapy.  Get help now…you will appreciate it later.

Stress can affect your marriage, your relationships with your children, your relationships with your friends, and your overall health.  It’s important to consider stress management each and every day.

How do you manage parental stress?

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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 the forthcoming "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)

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