About stress and parents
Stress is a response to external challenges, pressures or events. These might include things like deadlines, difficult decisions or health scares.
Stress is part of life. Everyone experiences stress, and some stress is OK. It can get you ready for action and give you the motivation to get things done.
But too much stress can be overwhelming, making it difficult to cope with everyday things.
Managing your stress is good for your emotional and mental health and wellbeing. And when your stress is under control and you’re feeling well, you’re better able to navigate the challenges of family life. This helps your child grow, develop and thrive.
Signs of stress
If you’re stressed, your body will probably let you know. In a stressful moment, your heart rate might go up, your breathing might get faster, and your muscles might tense up.
Sometimes these short-term stress reactions can help you deal with stressful situations. For example, they might give you the adrenaline rush you need to get to the bus on time.
But if you keep going at this speed, your body will get exhausted. You might end up with headaches, sleep problems, digestive problems or the feeling that you just can’t cope. This obviously isn’t good for your health and wellbeing.
So it’s important to watch out for signs of stress. These include:
- worrying most of the time
- finding it hard to be tolerant with your partner or children
- having trouble sleeping
- not feeling well – perhaps you have headaches or other aches and pains
- drinking too much alcohol, smoking or using drugs
- not wanting to get out of bed in the morning
- having thoughts like ‘I’m never going to get out of this mess’
- feeling that you’re not managing everyday things like family routines and finances.
Causes of stress
Many situations can cause stress when you’re a parent. These include:
- financial difficulties
- work challenges – for example, managing workload
- relationship ups and downs – for example, with your partner, children or workmates
- life changes – for example, having a new baby, moving house or starting a new job
- big decisions – for example, choosing schools for children or care facilities for elderly parents
- everyday challenges – for example, getting to school and work on time, keeping on top of household chores, or guiding children’s behaviour.
If you know the situations that cause stress for you, you might be able to avoid them or prepare yourself for them. You could even try writing them down.
Coping strategies for stressful situations
Stress is part of life, and you won’t always be able to avoid it. But you can change the way you think about stressful situations.
Unhelpful thinking makes it harder to deal with stressful things – for example, in a stressful situation you might think, ‘What’s wrong with me? I can’t get things together’. But you can replace unhelpful thinking with realistic thinking, which can improve your mood and your ability to cope.
- Challenge unhelpful thoughts. For example, your child cries in the supermarket. You think, ‘Everyone will think I’m a bad parent’. But you could ask yourself, ‘How do I know that people will think this?’ or ‘Would I think this about someone else?’
- Use helpful self-talk instead. For example, you could say to yourself, ‘The shopping won’t take much longer – I’m nearly done. I can get through it’.
- Be realistic. For example, your child will sometimes cry in the supermarket. But maybe they’d cry less if you went shopping after their nap. Or could you try online shopping if shopping in store is too hard?
- Practise. The more you challenge unhelpful thinking and use helpful self-talk, the more automatic it will become.
Stress management through wellbeing
When you feel well and good about yourself, you might be better able to handle stress more generally. That’s why looking after your wellbeing is important.
Focus on the essentials
Stress often means you’re trying to do too much, so it can help to think about what’s most important and get that done. If you find you still have large tasks to deal with, it can help to break them down into smaller chunks – and then focus on the essential chunks.
When you focus on what really matters and also avoid taking on more than you can handle, you’ll feel more in control. This can ease your stress.
And remember to practise self-compassion – for example, remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can.
Stay connected with others
Talking things over with your partner or a family member or friend can help you keep things in perspective.
Spending some time with friends can help too. Even meeting for a quick coffee can be enough, because sharing worries can help you feel supported and better able to cope.
If you have limited time, connecting with other parents through social media or email can help you stay in touch with like-minded people.
It’s also OK to ask for and accept help from family and friends.
If you find it hard to get to sleep, do quiet activities like reading in the hour before bed. Avoid watching TV or using mobile phones and tablets in your bedroom. These can affect your sleep.
If you’re lying awake at night for more than 20 minutes, it might help to get out of bed and read something non-stimulating until you feel sleepy. You could also try doing breathing, muscle relaxation or mindfulness exercises to help you relax.
If stress or worry is keeping you up, try writing down your worries and looking at them the next day.
Avoid stimulants like cigarettes and caffeine and depressants like alcohol if you can.
Try to make time for yourself
If you’re working long hours, think about ways to make time for yourself. For example, you could prepare meals in advance, shop online instead of in person, talk with your partner about responsibilities at home, or ask family and friends to help you with chores at home.
Make time to do things you enjoy, whether that’s reading, watching television, gardening, having fun with family and friends, and so on. Try to do one thing on the list every day or every couple of days, and especially on the weekend. Even if it’s only 15 minutes, it’s still time for you.
Be aware that you might not be able to ‘give to others’ if you’re under stress yourself. It’s important to give to yourself at these times. This might mean that you need to slow down your social life for a while or learn to say no sometimes.
Humour does wonders to melt away stress. Smiling and laughing is one of the best relaxation techniques, and enjoying yourself can really help your stress levels. Try talking with a friend who makes you laugh or watching a funny TV show.
If stress continues: seeking help
If you’re still feeling very stressed every day, it might help to talk to a health professional. You could start by seeing your GP, who can help you make a plan for managing stress. This might include referring you to another health professional for some specialist support.
Stress is often the result of trouble with time management or other issues. It can help to work with a professional on identifying the issues and coming up with solutions.