Written by Dr. Claire Nicogossian, Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Stress is a part of life and nothing amplifies that emotion 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 made up of active nurturing and intense responsibility for at least two decades until children become independent and are 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: working, volunteering, cleaning, cooking, and shopping. And then there is the responsibility of overseeing a child’s medical, academic, and social needs. At the end of any given day, there are a lot of things creating stress that have nothing to do with directly spending time with your child.
There are many ways you can cope with stress when it comes to parenting. Here are nine self-care skills and strategies you can try:
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 meet deadlines. Distress is considered problematic stress. Distress can happen from stressful life events, such as loss of a job or reduced income, moving, having an illness, or not properly taking care of oneself coupled with the ongoing chronic demands of life. Understanding stress is a part of life can help you normalize the experience and find ways to manage it.
2. Identify How Stress Impacts You
Awareness is a key component of managing stress. Does stress show up for you in the form of physical symptoms such as a headache, muscle tension in the neck, head, and shoulders, problems sleeping, and change of appetite? Does your stress present emotionally, through feelings of worry, anxiety, and irritability? Perhaps stress presents in the way you interact with family, friends, and others in the form of being short-tempered, distracted, impatient, and frustrated? The key to being a mindful parent is spending time identifying how 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 exists in physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual self-care domains. 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 practice intentional breathing throughout the day. 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 you can try, such as Belly Breathing, The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise, and Roll Breathing.
5. Reach Out to Supportive Adults
Staying connected to supportive friends and family will help reduce stress and increase wellbeing. Finding your tribe of people who understand and relate to the demands of parenting not only helps with feeling connected but also help to reduce stress and help you cope with the demands of parenting.
Meditation has been shown to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety, increase mental focus and boost the immune system. Meditation is an essential skill to learn, and you can practice anywhere you are; in doing so, you will reduce stress and improve your overall health.
7. Limit Multitasking
For many parents, multitasking is a necessary skill. But there is a downside to multitasking: it increases stress and takes away from being in the moment. 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 smartphone or engaged in another activity? Commit to multitask-free zones and times of the day, whether it be while you eat, drive, or spend 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, the demands of academics and extracurricular activities make finding time together challenging. 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 full of shared experiences. Whether it be a walk, sitting in conversation, preparing a meal together or playing a game, find time every day 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. Rather than letting stress impact how you treat those around you, be transparent and share what you feel. 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. An added bonus – using this skill also teaches your children how to cope with stress when they experience it. I often encourage clients and use a similar phrase 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 hear about your day or read a book with you or play a game later on.”
My advice as a clinical psychologist and mom to four daughters is to embrace and accept it, stress isn’t going anywhere for a while! But, with focused intention and proper self-care skills and techniques, you can manage stress and increase wellbeing so you can enjoy the journey of parenthood.