6 proven parenting stress busters I shared on TODAY for the sake of our health and our kids’ well-being
Let’s face it, “Mommying” has always been stressful, so it should be no surprise that 70 percent of U.S. moms admit mothering is “incredibly stressful.” (A whooping 96 percent also feel that we are far more stressed than our own mothers).
A few factors seem to be triggering Mommy Angst including financial insecurities, a more intensive parenting style where we do more-more more, higher (and sometimes unrealistic) expectations for our kids’ success, a lack of support, time famine, relationship demands, and concern that the world is more perilous for kid raising.
But more significant than the cause is the negative impact unchecked stress has on our health and family’s well being as well as our children emotional health and our parenting competencies.
Moms who face ongoing stress are prone to be more insensitive and harsh as well as more likely to make derogatory comments in an angry tone to their kids.
Studies also should that a parent’s ability to manage stress is a strong predictor of the quality of her relationship with her children and how happy their children were!
Stress buildup can ruin family harmony and destroy physical health.
So how do you know if your stress is harming your kids? Here are two quick tests to find out (and I dare you to take them).
Two Quick “Mommy Stress” Tests
Your Home Climate Test
~ Is your home a place where you and your kids can de-stress?
~ Are there laughs and time to enjoy each other’s company in a relaxed mode?
Your Kids’ Memory of YOU Test
~ If you asked your kids to describe you would they say you are usually calm, take time to listen and are enjoyable to be around?
~ If your home climate is generally tense and your kids typify you as usually “tense, wiped-out and irritable,” it’s time to get your stress in check.
Mom De-Stressors You Can Do Now
The good news is that there are proven de-stressors. For most moms stress management success requires new skills and practice until the new technique kicks in. The secret is finding one strategy that fits your needs. The best news is that you can do these de-stressors with your kids, which means everyone benefits by learning to manage stress in healthier levels.
Mom De-stressor 1: Learn Your Stress Signs
Learning to identify how you react to stress will help you curb your overload mode. Common stress signs include: Rising blood pressure or spiked heart rate (which can make you feel a little dizzy). Speaking louder or yelling. Irritability, more impatient or experiencing lapses in judgment. Imagine how those behaviors affect your kids!
Tune in to your body until you identify your warning signs, then the nanosecond you feel unhealthy stress kick-in one of these strategies to decompress
Mom De-Stressor 2: Take a Break
Giving yourself permission to take a brief “stress break” is often enough to decompress or just give a new perspective. Don’t let your stress affect your kids!
Take a Mommy Time Out: Put up a do not disturb sign door on your bedroom. Listen to relaxing music or plant a picture in your mind of a soothing place. Take five minutes to decompress.
Make a family ‘Stress Box.’ Fill a basket with stress reducers like a notepad and pencil to draw or write stress away; a Koosh ball or clay to work stress out; an MP3 to listen to soothing music. Encourage family members to Take Five and use the box when their stress mounts
Give permission to “Take Ten.” Let everyone in your family know it’s okay to walk away until they can get back in control. Some families create a family signal such as pulling an ear or using an umpire “Time Out” hand gesture that means that the person needs to decompress.
Mom De-stressor 3: Create Solutions for “Hot” Times
Stress mounts for moms at predictable times such as when you just get home from work, in the morning when everyone is dashing to get out the door or at that dinner time witching hour. Identify when you are most likely to be irritable, and find a simple way to curb the friction during that “hot” time. For instance:
If mornings are stressful because your kid can’t decide (or find) what to wear: lay clothes out the night before.
If your car pool is frantic because you can’t find your keys, make an extra set.
If dinners are hectic try doing shopping from grocery one day a week or start a meal-making brigade with your girlfriends where each vows to make one extra casserole so they give one and freeze one.
Mom De-stressor 4: Learn Deep Breathing or Meditation
Deep abdominal breathing, meditation, and prayer are proven to help moderate stress and help the body relax. Best yet, you can also teach the tension-relieving strategies to your kids!
~ Use slow, deep breaths. Inhale slowly to a count of five, pause for two counts, and then slowly breathe out the same way, again counting to five. Repeating the sequence creates maximum relaxation. (Using bubble blowers or pinwheels help younger kids learn to take slow deep breaths to blow “meanies” away).
~ Try elevator breathing. Close your eyes, slowly breath out three times, then imagine you’re in an elevator on the top of a very tall building. Press the button for the first floor and watch the buttons for each level slowly light up as the elevator goes down. As the elevator descends, your stress fades away.
~ Get some yoga on. Adolescents credit yoga as teaching relaxation and breath control. So why not do it with your daughter? Purchase a yoga DVD that you can do at home together.
Mom De-stressor 5: Exercise Together
The research is growing that exercise keeps stress at bay whether it’s walking, bike riding, swimming, playing basketball or something else. The trick is finding the type you enjoy. Best yet, find a strategy to do with your kids so everyone benefits.
~ Walk with your toddler in a stroller. Walk with your kids or find one other mom to join with for a short walk each day.
~ Ride off the tension with your kids! Find bikes at a garage sale.
~ Turn the garage into a gym and workout with your teens. Set up a basketball hoop, an exercise video, or WII to do together
~ Dance stress away with your kids! A ten-minute spontaneous dance session with your kids is a great tension reliever whether the music is a nursery rhyme or Lady Gaga. I guarantee the kids will love it!
Mom De-Stressor 6: Take Time to Laugh
The American Psychological Association alerts us that stressed people often hold a lot of stress in their faces. Laughs, smiles and giggles can help relieve some of that tension. Find ways to bring a little more fun into your life to curb stress and create fun family memories.
~ Read the Sunday comics-together (or at least the funniest ones). Make a tradition of saving the favorite Sunday comics to read together.
~ Start a cartoon bulletin board. Cut out those cartoons, print out those funny emails and put them on the refrigerator with magnets. Slip a copy into your kid’s lunch box!
~ Watch comedies. Forget the scary news (turn it off!) or those dark videos, which can break down our funny bones. Check out those classic comedies and laugh together.
~ Be spontaneous! Celebrate the dog’s birthday by baking him a cake. Eat dinner in reverse. Tape a dollar bill to the garbage can (and not say anything about it) to see who will take out the trash. Just have fun!
Mom De-Stressor 7: Find a Support Group
The truth is we devote so much time to our families, we forget to take time for our social needs whether it be our significant other or our girlfriends.
Relationships help reduce our stress and restore balance.
So find no cost ways to ensure you don’t put your relationships on the back burner.
~ Exercise with friends. Set up a Pilates group or jazzercise class in a home or church building. Just invite a girlfriend or two or three to come over with their little ones. Plop in an exercise video, rotate watching the kiddies, and exercise while enjoying each other’s company.
~ Find a Mommy coach online or off. Don’t stress alone about your kids. Share your concerns with another mom and vow you’ll be one another cheerleader. Talking about your stress with someone who cares can reduce anxieties. Or join a social network with a Mom Chat Room.
~ Schedule date nights. The date doesn’t have to cost anything-a walk, going to the park, watching a rented movie, or sitting in the car in your driveway with wine and cheese. It’s just time alone with your significant other and unwind!
There’s a reason flight attendants always remind us to put on our oxygen masks first, then the kids. We can’t take care of our families unless we take time for ourselves, and Moms are notorious at putting ourselves on the backburner.
Take time for yourself. Make sure to check your stress.
After all, a happy, less-stressed mom makes happier, less-stressed kids–always has and always will.
Sharon Jayson, “Yeah, We’re Stressed but Dealing With It,” USA Today Dec. 2011. “Five ways to help you handle stress,” source: American Psychological Association
Sharon Jayson: “Some Stressed Moms Get Hostile, Some Seem Insensitive,” USA Today, Oct. 6, 2011. Study by lead author Melissa Sturge-Apple at the University of Rochester in New York, Development and Psychopathology; 2nd study by Robin Simon of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, MN published in Social Forces, 2010.
Robert Epstein, “What Makes a Good Parent?” Scientific American Mind, Nov/Dec 2010, p 48.