What causes parental stress, and how does it affect us?


What causes parental stress, and how does it affect us?

We all experience stress, but for some of us, particularly parents, it can be more intense and last longer than others.

The good news is that there are things we can do to relieve stress, and in this short article, I share four strategies. But before that, let's understand the stress in your life a little better.

What is Stress?

Stress is a normal reaction to an outside stimulus that everyone experiences. In small doses, it focuses you on doing well in tests, interviews etc., but when too much stress builds up, it can physically and emotionally affect every area of your life.

If we are asked to do more than our bodies can do, we feel stressed, and let’s all agree that as a parent, stress goes hand in hand. But the first step to managing stress is understanding what factors in our lives are contributing to it.

Parental stress

Parenting is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have but it can also be stressful and emotional. Between the demands of work, home life and caring for a family, it's easy to feel like you're constantly juggling being a mother or father. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression and even burnout. It's important to remember that you're not alone in this, and there are ways to manage your stress. Keep reading for some valuable tips!

The impact of stress on your mental health

Everyone experiences stress from time to time, but it can take a toll on your mental health when it becomes overwhelming. Though it may not seem like it, chronic stress can seriously affect your mental health. Studies have shown that chronic stress can increase your risk of developing anxiety and depression and often affects your sleep, which compounds the effects of stress.

How to manage parenting stress and demanding life events

It may feel like you are not doing enough or not good enough. This can be especially true when dealing with demanding life events, such as a new baby, a sick child, or a divorce. Parents must find ways to manage their stress and positively view these life events.

How does parental stress affect a child?

When parents are stressed, it can cause them to withdraw from their children or to be more irritable and impatient. This can lead to conflict within the family and make it difficult for children to feel loved and supported. In addition, parental stress can interfere with a child's ability to learn and remember information. It can also make them more likely to experience anxiety and depression.

While all families experience occasional stressful periods, parents must find ways to manage their stress to minimise its impact on their children.

The good news is there are ways to manage and support your stress, and I have summarised the four most effective techniques for managing stress below.

Strategy 1: Recognise Your Stress

The first step is to become aware and recognise when you or your children are feeling stressed; otherwise, it will affect how you manage your stress.

How to recognise stress in your life

  • Have you been feeling sad, confused, irritable, angry or suicidal thoughts?
  • Have you been unable to concentrate appropriately or be less efficient or productive?
  • Do you sometimes feel like socially withdrawing and isolating yourself (not because of social distancing or wanting time away from your family or going on holiday for a break)?
  • Do you have body pain or tension, e.g. headaches or painful muscles?
  • Do you have less energy or feel tired, weak or exhausted?
  • Has your sleep been affected? Do you have insomnia, or are you having nightmares?

Do you associate with any of those symptoms?

You would be surprised how many people feel these symptoms but carry on regardless.

It is easy to become complacent even if you notice these symptoms. It is tempting to think you can brush them under the carpet and carry on with your daily activities – like being a mum to your children and running a business. The danger here is that you miss the crucial moment to do something about it before the stress becomes overwhelming – like when your children start to show behaviour problems like being angry, rude, slamming doors etc. or if you begin to make mistakes in your work.

A real world example of parental stress

I mean, if you saw the red light on your car dashboard telling you you need to change your oil, would you ignore that? These are the red lights to get some help.

It's a bit like getting irritated and frustrated with your partner for leaving you to deal with the home, kids and chores but ignoring your frustration instead of perhaps saying something to them, your kids, or even changing your mindset about the whole situation. Then as the irritation is bubbling under the surface, something else happens in the day; you hear something negative on the news, and then the kids might do something relatively minor, like dropping food on the floor.

That frustration quickly turns to anger, and before you know it, your reactions become overwhelmingly and inappropriately loud and shouty. Your child then starts to get irritated or scared by your behaviour. Then, their behaviour becomes too hard to handle, which starts another vicious cycle. So, if you implement these strategies when you first notice the above signs, you will likely reduce stress for yourself and your whole family.

Strategy 2: Acknowledge Your Stress

One of the best things you can do for yourself when you're feeling stressed is to acknowledge that you're feeling stressed simply. It sounds simple, but so many try to ignore our stress or push it away. This can make the problem worse. Taking the time to acknowledge your stress allows you to take control of the situation and start finding ways to deal with it.

If you're unsure how to begin accepting stress, try talking to someone about it. This could be a friend, family member, a therapist, or anyone else you feel comfortable talking to. Just let them know that you're feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, and see if they have any advice or suggestions for how to deal with it. Remember, there's no shame in admitting that you're struggling – we all go through tough times! Acknowledging your stress is the first step toward managing it healthily.

Strategy 3: Know Your Limits

As you begin to recognise the signs of stress in your body, you can benefit from changing your mindset, creating new habits and checking in with your emotions to avoid overlooking stress. There is always something you can do.

Decide what is a priority in your life right now. These days, more parents are working from home, so is it possible to share the responsibility of housework, cooking, feeding, and tidying up? Draw up a rota to get the children involved with chores (if they are old enough).

All this brings us to strategy four.

Strategy 4: Make Time For Self-Care

Self-care does not mean that it needs to be done in isolation. It is an active process and comprises skills you use to meet your needs. You have to invest in your general wellness. It’s not selfish; it is an act of self-love. When you look after yourself, you are modelling this behaviour to your children. Self-care is about eating good nutritious food, staying active and getting enough rest, and gaining skills to manage your children’s behaviour through parenting skills.

These skills then become your “coping mechanisms” to moderate your stress. It’s a bit like turning the volume down on your remote control. So when the ‘noise and chaos’ becomes too loud, you can use your stress coping strategies to moderate and turn it down. You could have a more comprehensive selection of nutritious foods by using less processed foods and opting for whole organic foods. You could try different exercises, for example, yoga, meditation or having short naps (even 10 minutes). Or perhaps learn a new skill or develop an existing skill, such as parenting, to help to increase the coping ‘tools’ in your toolbox.  

I know it is easy to say this, but make the most of the reality in which you find yourself. Change your mindset and focus on what you can rather than what you cannot do. Shifting your perspective like that is also a coping mechanism to moderate your stress levels as it eases the pressure you might feel.

What else can you do?

I’ve mentioned parenting a couple of times. It is an area I am passionate about. Children are our future, and how we treat them and raise them will impact them for years to come. They will become our future leaders in the community, which is why I am dedicated to coaching and supporting as many parents as possible to nurture and raise happy children.

I run workshops and one-to-one sessions covering these techniques and my popular family therapy sessions.

If you are experiencing stress and want practical strategies to overcome that and bring some calm and order to your home environment, please take a look at my one-to-one therapy, family services or parents & children therapy. I would love to welcome you into my private community to support you with whatever challenges you face. With an experienced guiding hand like mine, you can get through anything!

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Every journey is different and there is no “one size fits all” path to transformation. I want everyone to feel acknowledged and validated, so I always invest the time to understand your unique situation, to build trust and create a safe space for us to successfully work together.

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