Parents: 10 things to do when you're stressed
Whether you’re the parent of a tantrum-loving toddler or an eye-rolling, rule-pushing teen, having kids can be stressful. And, obviously, stress can lead to a host of nasty byproducts.
“There have been countless studies about the medical conditions caused by stress,” says Snowden McFall, a corporate trainer, stress expert and author of “Stress Express: 15 Instant Stress Relievers.” “In fact, some research has found that between 60% and 80% of doctor’s visits have an origin of stress. That’s a lot!”
According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can evolve into a number of mental and physical conditions, including anxiety, depression, headaches and chest pain. And adding insult to injury is the fact that, for parents, stress often trickles down to the kids, while, ironically, you are trying to teach your children how to deal with their own stress. (In other words, if you lash out every time you feel stressed, there’s a good chance your child will eventually model that behavior.) No pressure there!
But stress doesn’t have to have a starring role in your life, even if it does make a cameo every now and then. Parents can take advantage of various practical, stress-reducing tools.
“Stress can be manageable,” says McFall. “You just have to be conscious and deliberate about it.”
Wondering what to do when you are stressing out? Here are 10 simple, expert-backed ways to relieve stress.
Practice physical self-care
According to McFall and a number of studies, the single-most important thing you can do to deal with stress is to get enough sleep.
“If you get less than six hours of sleep, you’re at a cognitive disadvantage, plain and simple,” she says. “Additionally, [you’re] over four times more likely to catch a cold or virus. Not something a parent wants to hear!”
Of course, the million-dollar question for parents everywhere is: How can I get more sleep? While you may not be able to stop your child from wandering into your room in the middle of the night because of a bad dream, there are a few things you can do that will contribute to a solid night’s rest.
“Remove all devices from your bedroom, and make sure your alarm clock has red numbers not blue, since blue light interferes with sleep,” says McFall. “Avoid checking email, texts or social media at least two hours before bed, and make sure your room is cool, dark and quiet. If you have time, a hot bath before bed can also help you sleep better.”
2. Do yoga
It’s been proven countless times that exercise, in general, helps with stress reduction, but yoga in particular comes with a few bonuses.
“As with other forms of exercise, the physical practice of yoga — the asanas — helps to manage stress,” says Baxter Bell, M.D., a yoga therapist and author of “Yoga for Healthy Aging.” “But additionally, yoga often uses breathing techniques and a short, guided meditation. Together, these three things help to regulate the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for revving us up or calming us down.”
In other words, it helps us control how we physiologically and emotionally react to things that may cause stress off the mat.
If you can, aim to practice a few times a week. If that’s not possible, Bell recommends busy parents engage in a short, restorative practice at home for 10 to 15 minutes after the kids are in bed.
“When you’ve been putting yourself on the back burner all day, the best thing you can do emotionally is take time for yourself,” Bell says.
3. Try the ‘thymus tap’
Feeling anxious or flat-out spent? Try the biofeedback-derived thymus tap.
“This technique can be very powerful when you’re feeling stressed out about the future,” says Lauren E. Miller, a corporate coach and author of “5 Minutes to Stress Relief.” “It helps to realign your energy system with an inner confidence.”
Here’s how to do it:
Using your fingertips lightly tap on your thymus, which is located approximately two inches down from the lowest point in the U-shaped dip at the base of your throat.
Lightly tap as you say, “I have faith and confidence in my future, my future is secure, I am secure.”
Repeat for one to three minutes.
Change up your normal routine
Try volunteering. It can reduce stress, and if you bring your little ones along, it will help them acquire good values.
“When you do something for someone less fortunate, you forget about your issues and cultivate gratitude,” McFall says. “Additionally, you develop greater human connections, which decrease isolation and loneliness, both of which can contribute to stress.”
Don’t know where to begin? Volunteer Match can connect you with local volunteer opportunities.
5. Make time for friends
Let’s be honest here: Parenting can be exhausting. Sometimes a good old-fashioned girls’ or boys’ night is the perfect antidote for feeling stressed out by kids, work and household duties.
“My girlfriends and I have a monthly standing Friday night date, where we leave the kids with our partners or sitters and head out for a night of fun,” says mom of two Nicole Schultz of Scarsdale, New York. “I swear, I can be super stressed out or in the worst mood, but as soon as I get out of my house and we get together, we’re laughing for three hours straight. I always come home revitalized and feeling recharged, even if it’s a late night!”
6. Spend time in nature
The next time you get the urge to do the dishes or scroll through Instagram when your little one is taking a nap, consider weeding (or reading!) in the back yard instead. The reason? Spending time in nature is a proven stress-reducer.
“I used to always rush home after dropping my daughter off at preschool so I could take care of household chores, check email and generally get organized,” says Abby Garrison, of Highland Park, New Jersey. “While I was getting stuff done, none of it was making me feel good. Now I take a 30-minute walk — sometimes with friends — after I drop her off, and it makes me feel so happy and refreshed.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter can help with a number of things, including improving your immune system, improving your mood and, yep, relieving stress.
“When you’re present, you laugh more in life, which has proven physiological benefits, even if it’s fake,” says Miller, who practiced this tactic when she was contending with a cancer diagnosis. “When I drove to radiation every day for six weeks, I would fake laugh until I evoked authentic laughter to help my body heal. I definitely think it helped.”
Check in with yourself mentally
8. Change your narrative
If you find yourself listening to a never-ending stream of thoughts about all the things that “have” to get done each day (and subsequently feel overwhelmed), try flipping the script.
“In yoga, we practice something called pratipaksha-bhavana — the art of cultivating the opposite,” says Bell. “When you’re plagued with negative thoughts — such as ‘I have to meet with this person’ or ‘I have to do this with the kids’ — try cultivating the opposite. Think about the positives and how you get to meet with this person and how you get to do these things with the kids.”
9. Prioritize your values
Being a parent means juggling a number of things at any given moment. Are you going to be able to do each and every one of them at 100% all the time? Of course not. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, check in with your mental priority list. (For example, is it essential that you organize your pantry when your child needs help with her homework or just wants your undivided attention? Probably not. In moments like these, when you’re trying to get a million things done, start with the most important and go from there.
“Know what you value most in life,” says Miller. “When your priorities are clear, decisions come easy. Stress often creeps in when you forget what you value most in life. When you spend most of your energy on ‘nonessentials,’ you begin to feel depleted very quickly and stress kicks in. When you pay attention to and create moments every day that nurture what you value most, your thinking becomes clear, and you feel a sense of inner peace.”
10. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness, a proven stress-fighter, can help you to be in the present moment, while giving you the opportunity to observe your emotions as a spectator, as opposed to being controlled by them. While you don’t need to be seated in lotus pose to practice mindfulness, the Mayo Clinic describes it as a “type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling … without interpretation or judgment.”
There are a number of ways to practice mindfulness, including focusing on your breath at any given moment throughout the day, or meditating in a more structured and traditional way, either on your own or with guided help from an app like Headspace.
“Whether you just received unexpected information about a family member or discovered you won $1,000, stress is a reality that happens all the time in everyone’s life,” says Bell. “It’s important to be conscious of your thoughts and how they make you feel. With these momentary check-ins, you can better prioritize what happens in that moment and the next more effectively.”
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