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?

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?



Temporary Emotions

You know that feeling you get when the kids have been bickering for what feels like hours but probably only amounts to 15 minutes?  The racing heartbeat, the clenched fists, and the headache slowly forming?

It’s temporary.

You know that mama bear instinct that kicks in when you witness a child being unfriendly to yours at the park?  When you just want to approach that other child’s mother and confront her.  Teach your child to be nice…you want to yell.

Also temporary.

You know that exhaustion you experience when the kids have been sick for days, make that weeks, and your husband is working around the clock and you just can’t get any relief?  I give up, you think.  How much longer can this go on?

You guessed it.  Temporary.

Despite the fact that it sometimes feels otherwise, emotions are actually a temporary state of mind.  Emotions are simply spontaneous reactions to stimuli that include physiological changes. 

Emotions feel very big at the time, but they are, in fact, temporary.

This is an important distinction to be made when it comes to parenting…

Stop by Mommy Moment to finish reading “Temporary Emotions”.

Three Good Things

Every once in a while, I just have one of those days.

It has nothing to do with the kids.  No, this is not a whine fest about what I wish they would or wouldn’t do.  The kids are busy being kids, and for that I will never fault them.

I’m talking about those days when emotion overwhelms me, for reasons I can’t quite describe.

When the to-do list threatens to completely occupy my thought process.

When the long-term goals become short-term obsessions.

When the laundry piles up, the shopping needs to be done, and kitchen drawers could really use some organizing.

Every once in a while, I have one of those restless days, powerless to quiet the racing thoughts.

Call it overwhelmed.  Call it exhaustion.  Call it mom guilt.

Call it all of the above.

Once in a while, those days just happen…

Please stop by Mommy Moment to continue reading Three Good Things and see how I put away the stress at the end of the day.