Stress is part of life. And nothing amplifies stress in one’s life more than being a parent. Raising a family is hard work, and while there are many rewards, the reality is, being a parent is a role of active nurturing and intense responsibility for at least two decades before children are independent and ready to launch into the world.
For many parents, what is most stressful is not only caring for a child, it’s the supporting roles of parenting: work, volunteering, cleaning, cooking, and shopping. And then there is the responsibility or overseeing a child’s medical, academic, social and enriching activities. At the end of any given day of parenting, there are a lot of things creating stress that has nothing to do with directly spending time with your child.
The encouraging news-there are many ways you can cope with stress in parenting by taking care of your well-being.
Here are nine self-care skills and strategies to help you manage stress and be a more mindful parent:
1.Accept that Stress is Part of Life. Stress is an interesting process: it is our mind and body responding to pressures, demands, tasks, and responsibilities. Not all stress is negative. In fact, some level of stress can be motivating and organizing helping us to complete tasks and deadlines. Distress is considered problematic stress. Distress can happen from stressful life events, such as loss of a job or reduced income, moving, or having an illness or not properly taking care of oneself coupled with ongoing chronic demands of life. Understanding stress is part of life, can help you normalize the experience and find ways to work on managing stress.
2. Identify How Stress Impacts You. Awareness is a crucial component in managing stress. Ask yourself: How does stress impact me? Does stress show up for you in the form of physical symptoms such as a headache, muscle tension in the neck, head and shoulders, headache, stomach upset and gastrointestinal sensitivities, problems sleeping, disruptions in eating, restricted breathing. Does your stress present emotionally, through feelings of overwhelm, worry, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, and tearfulness? Perhaps stress presents in the way you interact with family, friends, and others in the form of being short-tempted, distracted, impatient, and frustrated? The key to being a mindful parent is spending time identifying how you stress shows up in your life.
3. Take Care of Yourself. Self-care is an essential skill for parents to learn and cultivate. Self-care includes many domains including physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual self-care. Many parents overlook the foundation from which all other self-care happens, which is physical self-care. Taking care of your physical health including getting enough sleep to feel rested, good nutrition and hydration, and exercise creates solid physical health which helps to reduce stress. When parents are taking care of their physical needs, it makes it easier to chose mindful responses to cope with stress.
4. Focus on Breathing. Being in a state of stress will alter breathing patterns. Anxious individuals have disrupted breathing characterized by over or under-breathing and not taking in full breaths. Be mindful of your breathing patterns and throughout the day practice intentional breathing. Simple and easy, yet often overlooked, checking in and making sure your breathing is regulated with full breaths can help reduce stress and improve well-being. There are many different breathing techniques aimed to reduce stress, relax and regulate stress. Some suggested techniques include Belly Breathing, The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise, and Roll Breathing, to read more please go here.
5. Reach Out to Supportive Adults. Staying connected to supportive friends and family will help reduce stress and increase well-being not only in parenting but throughout the lifespan. Finding your tribe of people who understand and relate to the demands of parenting not only helps with feeling connected but shared experiences, support, and wisdom on problem-solving help to reduce stress and can help you cope with the demands of parenting.
6. Meditate. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety, increase mental focus, increases compassion, creativity and boosts the immune system. Meditation is an essential skill to learn, and you can practice anywhere you are, and in doing so, you will reduce stress and improve well-being.
7. Limit Multitasking. For many parents, multitasking is a necessary skill. But there is a downside to multitasking-it increases stress, decrease well-being and takes away from being in the moment happening in the here and now. Be aware of how multitasking impacts your life. Do you drive to work or take the kids to school while eating? Do you eat meals while watching television on scrolling on your phone? When a family member is talking to you, are you on your smart phone or engaged in another activity? Commit to multitask free zones and times of the day, whether it be while you eat, drive or spending time with your family.
8. Schedule Quality Time with Your Child. A large part of raising a family involves the responsibilities and supporting roles of parenting. And as children get older, their demands of academics and extracurricular activities can make it challenging to spend quality time together. Create intentional time each day to connect with your child. Meaningful time spent with your child will reduce stress and help to create and maintain healthy bonds of connection and shared experiences. Consider taking a walk, sitting in conversation, preparing a meal together or playing a game as ways to pause and connect with your child.
9. Be Transparent with Family Members. An essential skill in parenting is to identify what you need when feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Rather than letting your stress impact how you treat those around you, be transparent and share what you feel when stressed. Keep in mind the developmental age of your children, and you can share what is going on with you without scaring or overwhelming your child or partner. For example, the simple act of letting others know how you are feeling, not taking your behavior personally and asking for their support not only goes a long way in building trust and safety in the home. An added bonus, using this skill also models and teaches your children how to cope with stress when they experience it. I often encourage clients and use similar phrases in my home like this, “Today has been a long day, and I’m feeling (fill in the emotion you are feeling). So I may be a little quieter, and I want you to know it has nothing to do with you. You can help right now by (giving the child or partner a request), and I would love to (share an activity such as: hear about your day or read a book) with you or play a game in a few minutes or later on.
My advice as a clinical psychologist and mom to four daughters-embrace and accept stress isn’t going anywhere for a while! But, with focused intention and using self-care skills and techniques, you can manage stress and increase well-being enjoying the journey of parenthood.
© Copyright Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2018