Everyone experiences stress from time to time, but when stress begins to take over large portions of our daily lives, it can feel like the weight of the world is resting on our shoulders. Whether it’s a bad day at work, car trouble, or just a to-do list that is overwhelming, stress can make parenting extra challenging. Children can pick up on our frazzled state and start to show signs of stress too.
The Physiological Explanation:
Stress is your body’s natural response to challenges--releasing hormones intended to support us in getting through a difficult moment. When we are facing a crisis, our brains flood our bodies with adrenaline to physically and emotionally prepare us for “battle.” Of course, most of us aren’t rushing off to literally fight on the battlefield, so that extra adrenaline which supports quick responses reveals itself in other ways, like lashing out at family members or yelling at other drivers on the road. When you are stressed, it is harder to problem solve and easier to snap.
What You Might Experience:
Here are some signs that you are experiencing stress:
- Crying easily.
- Feeling hopeless.
- Worrying all the time.
- Having trouble making decisions.
- Overeating or not eating enough.
- Arguing with friends or your partner.
- Feeling angry or irritable much of the time.
- Being unable to sleep or wanting to sleep all the time.
A buildup of stress over time can also lead to other health problems including, a sore neck or back, upset stomach, headaches, and high blood pressure.
What You Can Do:
We can’t wave a magic wand and make all of the sources of our stress disappear. That’s why it’s so important to learn how to manage stress—both for your children’s sake and your own sake.
The following suggestions can help:
- Identify what’s making you feel stressed. Everyone’s triggers are different. Yours could be related to money, work, your family, your surroundings (traffic, crime), your partner, your child’s behavior, or health issues. Try taking some time to write down your thoughts when you first wake up. Look for any patterns that might help you to pinpoint what is bothering you the most.
- Accept what you cannot change. Consider each of the challenges that are stressing you out. Ask yourself, “Can I do anything about it?” If the answer is no, then focus on “How can I best make it through this?”. If the answer is yes, break down the solution into smaller steps so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. For example, if finding a new job would make you feel less stressed, figure out what would make you a good candidate for a better position and work toward gaining those skills.
- Be patient with yourself. Making positive changes takes time and effort. There may be some setbacks along the way. It’s a good idea to focus on previous times when you have overcome challenges. Remember, you made it through that and you can make it through this too.
- Take care of your health. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and exercising at least 20 minutes each day are all key to reducing stress levels. You can’t solve problems when you aren’t feeling mentally or physically healthy. Don’t let your stress derail the healthy habits you have established.
- Relax! I know. When you feel extremely stressed, the furthest thing from your mind is taking time out to relax. But relaxing can help lower your blood pressure and clear your head. You know what works for you-- deep breathing, meditation, praying, yoga, or listening to music.
- Develop a support network. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s asking your family to pitch in or reaching out to friends--try to take some of the routine tasks off your plate so that you feel less overwhelmed. Older kids can take on some additional chores--have them clean up after a meal. Your spouse or partner could take over bedtime duties a few nights a week. Friends could pick up the kids from school to give you a little time to yourself.
Remember: Learning to manage stress will make you happier and teach your children good habits that they can use to handle stress, too!
(For more parenting tips and resources, visit https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing)