It’s not exactly a secret. Being a parent is stressful business. But what happens when the stress becomes too stressful? Is there a certain point where ordinary parenting stress becomes too great to handle?
A small amount of stress in life can be fine, helpful even. It can push you to adapt and evolve, to learn new skills and expand your boundaries or change your worldview. It can make your personal relationships stronger.
But when stress begins to impact your health and when it begins to have a negative impact on your family, kids and parenting style, that’s when it might be time to make a change. Here are a few things you can do if you’re experiencing increased stress as a parent.
Recognize the Symptoms
Firstly, be able to recognize the symptoms. Sometimes, you may think that you’re not that stressed, but your body could be telling you otherwise.
Are you experiencing the physical and emotional symptoms of stress, such as headaches, back pain, gastrointestinal issues, stomachaches or increased irritability? Are you relying on coping mechanisms a little more than usual (either healthy or unhealthy coping mechanisms, whether it’s three glasses of wine in the evening instead of two, or the need for more quiet time than normal)?
Everyone experiences stress differently, so determining your personal stress symptoms can be an important first step in managing your increased stress as a parent.
Narrow in on the Real Cause of Your Stress
If you can, try to determine the real cause of your stress. Often, parenting stressors aren’t as black and white as they seem. You may think that you’re experiencing increased stress because your child is acting out more recently or you’re spending more time around them than normal, but maybe it’s not your child that’s the actual stressor.
Maybe, instead, it’s the problem that, because you’ve increased your caregiving hours in each day, you’ve lost your “me” time or you’ve given up on your workout routine, both things that can negatively impact your mental health.
Maybe your stress isn’t even related to your child — maybe it’s related to work, money or your relationship with your partner — but your child’s normal mischievous behavior seems 10x worse because of these other areas of discord in your life.
So, rather than chalk all of your frustrations and stress up to problems with your identity as a parent, try to narrow in on what’s actually causing your stress. Then, take active steps to solve those issues, whether it’s enrolling in marriage counseling with your spouse, or hiring a babysitter twice a week so you can go to the gym or hang out with a friend.
Recognize Your Own Psychological Responses
The first step to breaking a bad habit is acknowledging the habit actually exists. Once you start to identify your stress symptoms and the real cause of your stress, you can start to identify patterns in your behavior. Maybe every time you have a bad day at work, you get into a fight with your partner. Maybe every time you skip your yoga routine in the morning, the kids are just a little harder to handle.
Once you start identifying patterns in your behavior and emotions, you can do your best to break those patterns. Maybe you realize that you absolutely do need that yoga in the morning. Maybe, if you have a bad day at work, before you get in the car with your spouse, you ask for a little quiet time for you to calm down, so you can avoid any potential fights that are sparked by your heightened emotions.
Create a Support System
Lastly, create a support system for yourself. This is much easier said than done, but it’s well worth the effort. Whether it’s just simply talking to your partner, seeing a therapist twice a month for an hour or talking to your children’s other caregivers or teachers, let someone in your life know that you’re experiencing difficulties and that you might need a little extra help.
Even if that person you speak to isn’t able to assist directly, they may be able to point you in the direction of some additional resources.