Stress is a fact of life for parents. If you’ve got kids, you’ve got stress! Fortunately, it’s possible to learn strategies for managing life’s inevitable curveballs without being left feeling defeated or overwhelmed. Here are five parent-proven strategies for putting the brakes on stress so that you can be the calm and caring parent you want to be.
1. Shift your thinking
You might not be able to eliminate the source of your stress, but you can control your reaction to that stress. The secret is to learn how to pick up on the early warning signs that you are becoming stressed before you’re completely flooded with emotion. You will likely need to experiment with different techniques and activities (relaxation breathing, mindfulness meditation, exercise, calling a friend, knitting, solving a puzzle, for example) before you stumble on the strategy—or strategies—that work best for you. There’s no one-size-fits-all stress solution, in other words.
2. Accept your feelings
Accept the painful emotions and let them flow through you, reminding yourself that feelings come and feelings go and that you are not your feelings. This is more effective than trying to suppress painful emotions (a strategy that tends to result in the suppression of positive emotions as well as negative emotions) or dwelling on painful emotions (which ties up cognitive resources, leaving you less equipped to solve problems or to connect with other people).
3. Rewrite your inner monologue
Pay attention to the message in your head and replace any unkind or unhelpful messages with calming and affirming statements, like “I am doing the best that I can in a difficult situation” (my personal mantra). And learn how to recognize and steer clear of these types of thinking traps, which can wreak havoc on your thinking, moods, and behavior:
• All-or-nothing thinking: “You always . . . ” or “You never . . . ”
• Jumping to conclusions based on limited evidence: “The doctor didn’t return my phone call. Obviously, he doesn’t care about our family.”
• Worst-case scenario thinking: imagining the worst.
• Emotional reasoning: treating your feelings as objective fact and refusing to consider any evidence to the contrary.
• Taking things personally.
• Telling yourself how you “should” act and ignoring all other options.
• Hostile attribution bias: assuming the worst about other people’s intentions.
4. Shift into action mode.
Taking action toward solving a problem (even something as simple as making a phone call) engages the rational-logical part of your brain, which can help to reduce feelings of anxiety and sadness.
5. Take mini-vacations from the worry.
Taking action is important, but there’s nothing wrong with taking mini-vacations from the worry to give yourself a mental health break. You need and deserve a break—and your child needs and deserves a parent who is practicing good self-care. So go for a walk, talk to a friend, read a book, or find a way to do something nice for someone else (something that can really help to get your mind off your own worries).
This Guest Post is by Ann Douglas and adapted from her new book, Parenting Through the Storm: Find Help, Hope, and Strength When Your Child Has Psychological Problems (Guilford Press). Ann is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting and the creator of the hugely popular The Mother of All® Books series.