By Raising Children Network
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Stress is a normal reaction to changes and challenges, such as those that come with being a parent. It’s easier to deal with stress if you know the signs, as well as the things in your life that might cause it.

Mother holding baby

What you need to know about stress

Stress can happen when people experience change, frustration or something that they are worried they might not be able to deal with.

Normal stress can help us focus and get things done. It is possible to feel ‘good stress’ – for example, when you’re facing a number of challenges that you feel you can handle.

But too much stress can be overwhelming, making it difficult to cope with everyday tasks. Too much stress can also lead to illness or behaviour that gets in the way of your ability to parent effectively.

Stress is caused by stress triggers. A trigger might be a certain event that affects you, like having too many people around or when your child cries for a long time. You might notice that events such as these cause you to feel more stressed. In other words, you might start worrying more, not sleeping well or not feeling well.

If you know what your stress triggers are, it can be easier to deal with stress.

Some signs that you might be stressed

You can expect to feel stress from time to time. Tiredness, daily duties and things that happen in your life can combine to make you feel like it’s all too much.

Some signs of stress might be:

  • worrying about absolutely everything
  • drinking too much alcohol, smoking too much, or using drugs
  • finding it hard to be tolerant with your children
  • not getting enough sleep
  • not feeling well – perhaps you have headaches or other aches and pains
  • feeling unenthusiastic about things
  • not wanting to get out of bed in the morning
  • having thoughts such as ‘I’m never going to get out of this mess’
  • feeling that you’re not getting enough time with your partner or your children
  • feeling that you’re not managing practical everyday things, such as family routines and finances.
Cortisol is a hormone in your body related to stress. Your body’s cortisol levels can rise at the end of a long or difficult day, making it hard to relax. If this is happening a lot, you will be experiencing high levels of stress.

Simple tips for coping with stress

  • Try to look after your physical health – eat well, get some exercise, and try to make time for rest.
  • Try to focus on the things you absolutely must do. Avoid taking on any more than you can handle. Making a plan can help cut down on worrying. Family routines can help you feel more on top of things and take your stress down a notch or two.
  • Talk things over  with your partner or a friend before issues become bigger. If this is hard to do, you might want to try keeping a diary to record your thoughts and feelings. This might even help you offload some of your feelings.
  • If you have some large tasks to deal with, break them down into smaller, more manageable tasks.
  • Spending some time with friends can be a real help – even meeting for a quick coffee can be enough.
  • Stress often means you are trying to do too much – try setting realistic goals for your day.
  • Avoid stimulants like cigarettes and caffeine (or depressants like alcohol) if you can.
  • If you feel tired, try to get more rest. Just grabbing a quick nap can change your mood.
  • Slow down your social life as much as you can for a while.
  • If you’re working long hours, try to reduce work or school hours.
  • With a new baby or older children with active lives, it can be easy to forget to take time for yourself. So try to do something you really enjoy each day.
  • Humour does wonders to melt away stress, and provides instant relief. Seeing the funny side of things will make you feel much better. Try getting hold of a friend who makes you laugh or watch half an hour of comedy on TV.
  • Make a list of things that you enjoy. Try to do one thing on the list everyday, or every couple of days. If possible, take a holiday or some time on the weekend to relax and take it easy.

Positive thinking and self-talk
Positive thinking and positive self-talk are effective ways of dealing with stress. They increase your positive feelings and therefore your ability to cope with stressful situations.

To put positive thinking and self-talk into action, try the following:

  • Challenge negative thoughts about things that cause you stress. For example, your child screams in the supermarket. You think, ‘Everyone will think I’m a bad parent’. You could challenge this by asking yourself, ‘How do I know that people will think this?’, ‘Would I think this about someone else?’, ‘What I can do to deal with this problem?’
  • Be realistic about what can be done. For example, if your child screams in the supermarket, it might be too much to expect it not to happen at all. But perhaps you could change the situation so the screaming is less likely to happen. Might your child scream less if you went shopping at a different time of day, for example?
  • Develop positive self-talk statements that are useful to you. For example, you could say to yourself, ‘The shopping won’t take much longer – I can get through it’, ‘People are minding their own business – they’re not looking at us’, ‘Who cares what other people think?’, ‘I can do this’, ‘I will stay calm’.
The more you practise positive self-talk, the more automatic it will become in your life. Start practising in one situation that causes you stress, and then move on to another one.

Relaxation strategies for parents

There are some very easy ways to unwind. Reading a magazine, watching some television, finding some time for your favourite interests – simple things can make you feel better about your day.

Anything that reduces your physical or mental tension can ease your stress levels. This might be going for a walk, reading a book, or doing some gardening, yoga or meditation.

Some people find shopping relieves stress. This might help but beware of the downsides, such as spending more than you can afford. There are also tapes or CDs available in public libraries and bookshops that can help with relaxation.

You can read more in our articles on breathing and muscle relaxation techniques. You could try these techniques in response to any stress triggers you have identified.
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  • Last Updated 02-02-2011
  • Last Reviewed 18-12-2009
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