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How to Handle Parent Stress

  Stressed mum Being a parent can get pretty stressful Juggling the demands of work and family is no simple task. And it's easy for stress to creep in and impact on home life. We asked Svetlina O’Regan to share some ideas about effective ways to reduce stress and bring some balance back to family life.

When stress plays with our parenting skills

We all have bad days from time to time. But when stress levels are high for a prolonged period of time, it will impact on you and your family. Losing patience easily, being snappy, getting upset about things that normally wouldn’t bother you or noticing that you’re not enjoying much quality time with your family are all tell-tell signs that reducing stress needs to move up the priority list. Stress is a vast subject and there are many factors to think about. But here are some ideas which can help to start reducing it:

1. Developing clarity
It is essential to recognise where your stress originates. There are three types of stress to consider: Daily stress is made of the daily pressures. It’s getting ready for school and work in the morning, commuting, fitting everything into the schedule, deadlines, etc. Event related stress is linked to something specific such as a house move. It is often time bound; however its impact can last months and sometimes years like in the case of divorce or bereavement. Internal stress is the least talked about source of stress. It is caused by the way we feel and think and is linked to our past. Thoughts and feelings like “I worry all the time” or “I am not confident” can be a great source of stress and can impact on how we behave and relate to others, including our children. Although it’s helpful to categorise stress here, the sources of stress seldom exist in isolation. Their combination and impact vary. Needless to say the more of it one has in their life, the more challenging it is to manage. Yet a number of small changes can bring about great improvements. To start, make a list of all the things that make you feel stressed, overwhelmed, sad, angry, frustrated, impatient, etc. Take note of negative thoughts and self-criticism. Is your stress mainly coming from your current circumstances (e.g. a crammed schedule, work or a particular situation you’re finding yourself in) or from your thoughts and feelings about yourself? Writing things down is tremendously helpful in developing clarity so write without censoring and look for patterns. It will give you clues as to what to do.

2. Counteracting stress
Knowing what causes you to feel stressed is a good start but it is equally important to understand what makes you feel good, calm and in control. Whatever is happening in your life, along with reducing stress, focus on making yourself feel better, stronger, more balanced and a great way to do this is to learn how to balance your cortisol levels naturally. Start with yourself Like with the safety procedures on a plane, it is essential for a parent to attend to their own needs before those of their children. Being a parent is incredibly demanding emotionally and physically. Looking after yourself as well as you look after your children is paramount to ensure you can give them what they need without running on empty. Be clear about how much rest, leisure time, etc. you need and give to yourself first. Your whole family will benefit. Organise and plan Fire fighting is exhausting. Planning and organisation increases a sense of control and reduces feelings of overwhelm. Being well-organised saves time and energy which in turn allows more time to do the things you really want to do. If you need help with this, check out Julie Morgenstern’s book Organising From The Inside Out. Do more of what you love If you made a list with one column entitled Chores & Responsibilities and in the second column Things That Replenish Me, would it have an equal number of items on each side? Making sure you have enough ‘refuelling’ activities will help you better cope with the challenges of daily life. Think creatively about how you can incorporate more of them into your day and your week. Slow down time Practice slowing yourself right down by paying conscious attention to the present moment. Developing this skill will not only change your perception of time but it will also enhance your quality of life.

3. Increase support
Daily stress Having a strong support network is hugely important for any family. If grandparents or other family members live away, then building a strong circle of friends who can bring practical as well as emotional help can make all the difference. Besides contributing to your sense of belonging, you may also form strong friendships. Event related stress There are situations over which we have no or little control. Losing your job, going through a divorce or dealing with the loss of a loved one is painful - physically and emotionally draining. At those times, it may be helpful to consider what extra support you may need to keep yourself afloat practically and emotionally. Opening up to close family and friends, making sure you’re eating and getting enough rest may sound obvious but will nonetheless help. Your body and your mind are closely linked, so think about looking after yourself physically as well as emotionally. Internal stress Stress that comes from the way we think and feel about ourselves and the world often takes time to reduce and working with a therapist can be a great help. A necessary step is to accept where you are now and learn to not judge yourself for it. By accepting this part of you, you can then work to change and learn new ways of thinking, feeling and behaving.

4. What if I still can’t switch off?
Give yourself time and persevere. Don’t underestimate the time it takes to change and learn to maintain those changes. It can be useful to think of it as developing a new skill or strengthening a muscle. Be kind to yourself, be patient, reward yourself and remember that every step counts. Small changes do add up and will contribute to making a real difference in your life.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------   Svetlina O'Regan

Svetlina O'Regan Svetlina O’Regan is on the Toddle About Panel of Experts. She is a therapist and coach who specialises in working with mothers on issues such as stress management, work/life balance and personal development. Svetlina runs courses for women, group coaching and offers one-to-one therapy.  She works with mothers to help them develop themselves so they can create the life they want for themselves and their family. You can contact Svetlina on 07939 598 779 and you can find out more at