Add these stress-busting strategies to your parenting toolbox!
Raising young children can be as rewarding as it can feel exhausting. When the basic challenge of raising little humans combines with the stress of other everyday tasks, it can be even tougher. We cannot predict when life will happen. And there is no pause button for little learners who are still learning how to manage their feelings. Or figuring out how to communicate their needs peacefully. Or treat others with kindness.
It is no wonder that so many parents feel stressed.
For many parents, the feelings of stress can become overwhelming and hard to manage. And our bodies don’t always help us. In fact, those stress feelings boost your body’s production of the hormone cortisol. And cortisol can increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression and anxiety. In the moment when a tantrum strikes, it can also make our stress hard to handle.
With that reality in mind, we want to share some tips for managing stress — for your health and for the health of your family.
1. Let something go.
A long mental to-do list can trigger your parenting stress. Try writing down the tasks in your mind. Then, remove one non-essential thing from the list every day. Not everything is essential. Maybe you have cereal for dinner because cooking feels overwhelming. Perhaps you pass on going to the park because there’s no energy to wrangle car seats and diaper bags. Lowering your stress can make you feel happier. And a smiling grown-up matters much more to your child than the perfect dinner or outing. Go ahead, take something off your list!
Pro tip: If you still feel overwhelmed by the tasks on your list, try passing it on to someone else. Asking loved ones for help or using services for cleaning, meal prep or grocery delivery can help with getting through tough days.
2. Try grounding breaths.
For some, a few deep breaths is enough to regain balance. But others might need a little more than that. A strategy called grounding helps you connect breathing with becoming aware of your space. Find four things to touch, three things you hear, two things to smell, and one thing to taste. After mentally connecting with each thing, take a slow deep breath. This strategy takes two minutes or less and decreases stress levels. As a bonus, doing this — and talking about it — with your children teaches them great coping skills.
3. Shake it off!
When stress peaks, moving your body can give you a mental break. Add in a little silliness, and your mood will get a boost too. Try turning some music on and breaking out your best (or craziest) dance moves. Five minutes of physical activity has been shown to lower levels of stress hormones. Dance with your kids and before you know it you could end up laughing instead of stressing. Walking, hiking, frog jumps and playing tag get families moving too!
4. Treat yo’self!
Taking care of little ones can sometimes take a toll on our self-care routine. It can also lead to forgetting about our own needs. Take a break and schedule some time for yourself at least once a month. Whether it’s a massage, a yoga class, a movie, a date night or a solo trip to the ice cream parlor, what matters most is that you feel good and to share your best side with your little one.
5. Ask for help.
Overwhelming feelings can sometimes become more than just stress. Taking care of our mental health is just as important as taking care of our physical health. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a friend, family member or professional for help. Here are some great resources to find support:
Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990
Child-Help USA: 1-800-422-4453 (24 hour toll free)
Youth Mental Health Line: 1-888-568-1112
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-888-628-9454 for Spanish-speaking callers)
Hibel, L. C., Mercado, E., Trumbell, J. M. (2012). Parenting stressors and morning cortisol in a sample of working mothers. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029340
Anna, Kim (2015) Effect of Working Mom’s Conflict between Job and Nurturing on Parenting Stress – Focus on Mediating Effect of Core Competence in Nurturing Indian Journal of Science and Technology, Vol 8(26), DOI: 10.17485/ijst/2015/v8i26/81177, October 2015 retrieved from http://www.indjst.org/index.php/indjst/article/viewFile/81177/62589
Amy Healton is the director of solution design at Early Learning Indiana, where she leads statewide family engagement and support efforts. Amy earned her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Indiana University and her master’s degree in Child Development and Education from Erikson Institute. Amy has worked to advocate for early childhood education for more than 15 years serving on boards at a state level including Indiana AEYC and Indiana Head Start Association. Amy lives with her husband, daughter and son in Kokomo.