How to Feel Less Stressed as a Parent

Gustavo Fring/Pexels

Source: Gustavo Fring/Pexels

Why are parents so stressed?

Parents are experiencing unprecedented stress right now – the COVID-19 pandemic has created tremendous health and financial strains, as well as an employment crisis.

Not surprisingly, research has found that parental stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression have increased significantly in the wake of the pandemic. The distressing disruptions of the pandemic may also have increased the likelihood that families will experience more traumatic incidents. For example, 29 percent of parents report that their children have experienced more domestic violence, and 42 percent of parents report that their children have experienced increased verbal and emotional abuse in the wake of the pandemic.

At the same time, gun violence in the United States has increased to the point where gun death is now the leading cause of child death (overtaking car accidents, which for 60 years was the leading cause of child death).

These recent events have also made parents uncertain of what they previously considered absolute truths, such as school safety, their health, and access to the friends and hobbies they enjoy.

Research has found that experiencing this uncertainty is likely to increase stress and anxiety. The brain requires a lot of energy to process uncertainty, which drains energy from other important processes in the brain and body, potentially leading to difficulties with memory, executive function, and health issues.

Finally, many parents may also suffer from persistent “brain fog” in the wake of the pandemic, making it difficult for them to function in their daily lives. Research has found that “brain fog” (i.e., an experience of feeling confused or “outside yourself,” mental slowness, or difficulty concentrating or remembering) occurs in both people who have been infected with COVID-19 and those who have it were not, is relatively common due to the stress and disruption of the pandemic.

According to research, how can parents reduce their stress?

So how do we deal with this excessive amount of stress? Is there anything we can do to lower our stress levels?

1. Accept that you cannot be a “perfect” parent. Much of our stress as parents comes from feeling guilty about “failing” our children or worrying that we might be making the wrong decision. However, it is impossible to be a perfect parent, and striving for perfection can be detrimental to both our mental health and the mental health of our children.

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Research has found that intense parenting styles and child-centrism (consistently prioritizing your child’s needs over your own) are associated with increased stress and depression in parents.

To avoid this parenting style, try not to overload your child with activities that stress you out, occasionally prioritize your needs, don’t feel pressured to engage with your child every moment of the day, and let your child play independently. Remember that even being a “perfect” parent shouldn’t be the goal.

Not only is perfectionism likely to cause psychological distress for you as a parent, but being a perfectionist parent can also instill anxiety in your children and make them more likely to become perfectionists themselves. So give yourself a break and remember that all your children really need from you is love.

2. Learn to tolerate uncertainty. The disruptions caused by the pandemic have dramatically increased our uncertainty in daily life. Uncertainty is a major source of stress, and it’s even more distressing for people with high levels of ‘uncertainty intolerance’, people who tend to view any uncertain situation as negative.

Uncertainty intolerance has been linked to anxiety and depression, as well as post-traumatic stress after a traumatic event. Intolerance to uncertainty can also make people less resilient and increase the risk that negative life events will lead to anxiety. Resistance to uncertainty can help engage in behaviors aimed at reducing uncertainty, such as B. Seeking validation from others, exploring all possible outcomes, procrastinating or avoiding tasks, refusing to delegate to others, or being “busy” as distraction only increases anxiety over uncertainty.

If you think you fit this description, research into treating uncertainty intolerance suggests that you should first accept that it’s impossible to be sure about anything in life. It would be helpful if you try to recognize that uncertainty can also lead to positive outcomes (e.g. unexpected achievements). Most importantly, instead of avoiding uncertainty, you can seek out unpredictable or uncertain situations without having others confirm you, analyzing all possible outcomes, or distracting yourself.

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For example, don’t plan anything for the weekend; just go with the flow. Travel to a new place without doing research, try a new activity or hobby that you’re not sure you’ll enjoy. Or turn off your phone for a few hours (our phones are one of the most common ways to avoid insecurity). The more you practice tolerating uncertain situations and realizing that things aren’t as bad as you thought, the better you become at tolerating and accepting uncertainties in your life.

3. Practice mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness may seem tiresome to a stressed parent, but it only takes a few minutes.

Research has found that mindfulness can help parents accept and not overreact to negative life events, understand how they feel about themselves and their children, control their own emotions in challenging parenting situations, and have more compassion for themselves and their children .

Research also shows that mindfulness interventions are very effective in reducing parental stress. How exactly do busy parents learn to practice mindfulness? Mindfulness apps can be a good place to start.

A review of mindfulness apps on iTunes and Google Apps provided expert ratings on various apps and found that Headspace had the highest score, followed by Smiling Mind, iMindfulness, and Mindfulness Daily.

Another study found that the Calm app reduced stress, increased self-compassion, and improved sleep.

4. Try to solve the problem. Research has found that teaching problem-solving skills to parents helps reduce stress and leads to improved child behavior. Parents who are taught effective problem solving also show fewer symptoms of depression and generally improve mental health.

Effective problem solving involves the following steps: 1) clearly define the problem, 2) write down all possible solutions, 3) evaluate each solution individually to determine the best solution, 4) implement the best solution, 5) evaluate whether the solution worked to fix the issue and tweak it as needed.

If you have a problem you can’t solve, allow yourself to think about it, admit it’s hard, and experience your feelings. Research has found that people who engage with stress-related thoughts, rather than disengaging from them, show improved well-being, and stress does not negatively affect them to the same extent.

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5. Look for social connections. Research has found that the support of family, friends, and other parents is essential to parental well-being. Social support can also help you cope with traumatic events and reduce your risk of postpartum mood disorders. Unfortunately, many parents have lost their social support network during the pandemic.

Perhaps now is the time to reform your “village” of support. You can reach out to other parents at your child’s school, find local parent groups, or try a new hobby that involves other people, such as gardening. B. a running club or a tennis clinic. Once you’ve built your “village”, don’t be afraid to ask for help! You may be surprised that other parents are often happy to help.

6. Prioritize sleep: Research has found that parenthood is linked to less sleep, but sleep deprivation is linked to increased stress, emotional dysregulation, and depression.

Get more sleep by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, abstaining from electronic devices an hour before bed, limiting caffeine to mornings and early afternoons, avoiding alcohol and nicotine, exercising regularly, and making sure your Bedroom is calm and quiet place.

7. Redesign challenging behavior. As parents, our children’s behavior can be a major source of stress. To reduce this stress, try to see your child’s misbehavior as a product of their developmental stage and lack of ability, rather than intentional “acting out.” Research has found that parents who view their child’s behavior in this way experience less stress.

8. Seek help from a psychologist. If stress seems to be disrupting your daily routine, interfering with your sleep or appetite, or if you feel it is negatively affecting your relationships, consult a psychologist, counselor, therapist, or social worker.

Therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, is very effective in reducing stress and anxiety symptoms. A therapist can teach you effective ways to manage stress and tolerate negative emotions. Post-pandemic, many telemedicine options are available (therapy through secure video chats). For parents living in rural areas without childcare, telemedicine therapy may be easier.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.