Are you beginning to develop a greater awareness of why and how you experience stress? If so, that’s great. Now, you may want to try some of the following ideas to help you develop healthy and effective ways to better manage your stress.
To help build your awareness of stress and its impact on your life, try the practice of “mindfulness.” Simply put, mindfulness is the ability to be present in the moment. It refers to a heightened sense of awareness. It comes with paying attention to the here and now, not thinking about what happened yesterday, or worrying about what will happen tomorrow. This technique helps clear your mind of all the clutter that stress creates by your simple act of paying attention to the present moment and not getting caught up in the worries that we create for ourselves when we feel overwhelmed. Throughout the day, take a moment and breathe deeply.
Pay attention and notice how you are feeling. Are you tense? Happy? Overwhelmed? Sad? Joyful? Remember not to judge how you are feeling. There are no “good” or “bad” feelings. Be kind to yourself no matter what you are experiencing in the moment. Tuning into yourself in this manner can help you to identify why you are stressed. It can also help you to find alternate ways to respond in the moment to your stress with clarity and perspective.
Use intention and reflection
When you can, take time to reflect at the beginning and end of each day. In the morning, you may want to think about how you want your day to be. Your intentions can be something you want to accomplish or “do,” and they can also be about how you feel, or how you want to “be.” For example, you might tell yourself, “I want to respond to my child with greater patience” or “I will be less critical of myself and others.” Try to hold onto this intention and return to it throughout the day. You may even want to write it down and put it in a place where you might see it during the day.
At the end of your day, take a few minutes to reflect on your day. Do not use this as a time to judge or criticize yourself. Instead, pay attention to what went well. It may often feel as though there is no time for this type of activity, that your days are filled from the moment you wake until the moment you fall into bed. But making this time a priority every day, whether for one minute or 10, can have a profound effect on your sense of well-being and on how you respond to the stressors in your life.
Take care of your own health
This may sound rather basic, but as a parent, your own health and needs may often take a back seat. Taking care of yourself – getting enough sleep, eating well, finding time to exercise or do yoga or to just be in a quiet space – is one of the greatest tools you have for managing stress. When you feel healthy and well rested, you are better able to handle whatever comes your way. Making your own health and well-being a priority will enable you to better manage the daily challenges that come with parenting, and with life!
Create a support network. There is a reason why people say, “It takes a village.” Parenting is often challenging and exhausting, and the demands of parenting intensify if we feel alone or isolated. Finding or developing a network of friends and family who can offer support is an extremely helpful and effective way to lessen the impact of stress. If you are new to an area, or do not have friends or family close by, try connecting to your local family resource center. Oftentimes, these agencies have many forums for new parents to meet one another and to learn about resources in the community.
Ask for what you need
When you are stressed, you may believe that you need to tackle it all. You may feel as though you are imposing on others if you ask for help, or you may worry what others will think if you need assistance. Asking for help and reaching out to others is one of the most important things you can do when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Remember that people are not mind readers! Your friends and family will need you to let them know when you need their support. More often than not, they will be happy to offer their assistance. In addition to getting much needed help, you will be showing your children that they live in a community of people who care for one another.
Focus on things you can control
Identify the things you cannot control and focus on what you can control. You may want to be able to control the things that are causing you stress – your job, your partner, or your family. Yet the reality is that most of these things are beyond your control. You are wasting valuable energy and creating more frustration and stress in your attempts to manage another person or situation. Focus, instead, on what you do have control over, namely, your responses and your choices. By taking responsibility for your own actions and choices, you can develop ways to manage your stress that are not dependent upon another person or environment changing.
When to seek additional support
While stress is often a part of your everyday experience, there may be times when the stress in your life is causing you significant pain or interpersonal conflict. During these times, it may be useful to seek additional support from a mental health professional who can help you to identify the cause of the stress and develop effective alternatives for managing this stress. Remember that taking care of yourself is the most important thing you can do for yourself and for your children.
You may want to seek out the support of a professional if you are experiencing any of the following:
- Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
- Feelings of depression
- Persistent worries or feelings of anxiety
- Concerns or worries related to your relationship or attachment with your baby
- Significant conflict within the relationship with your spouse or partner
- The recent loss of a significant person in your life, such as a parent, spouse, close friend, or relative