Written by: Melissa Kroonenberg, Registered Psychotherapist & Relationship Therapist
I recently presented these 10 tips to a group of new moms and, since many of the moms found it helpful, I decided to share this information here too! The journey into parenthood is a major transition and I hope that those of you reading this who recently entered the world of parenthood, or are about to enter it, will find this list valuable and supportive.
- Be kind to yourself
Being a parent is not just a lot of work, it is a willingness to endure the consistent state of transition and demand you will find yourself in as you watch your children and family grow over time. To transition into parenthood in and of itself is riddled with massive, simultaneous identity transitions. Your identity as a woman, wife, mother, daughter, employee, friend, all shift and stretch into something different from what it was. These emotional and psychological growth spurts are stressful on the mind and body, even if you are getting enough sleep, nutrition, and down time (which you are most likely not). So the next time you scold yourself for being edgy, or putting the toaster in the fridge, or leaving the laundry lid open during the wash cycle, kindly remind yourself of the transformation taking place and the many demands that you meet and try to say something kind to yourself.
It may sound counterproductive but crying has several psychological, physiological, and emotional benefits. Studies show that crying can help to wash chemicals linked to stress out of your body, which is one of the reasons we feel much better after a good cry. Higher levels of adrenocorticotrophic (ACTH) have been found in emotional tears (compared to reflex tears).
Removing this chemical from the body is beneficial because it triggers cortisol, the stress hormone – too much of which can lead to health problems associated with stress.
- Spend time in nature
Many studies support the notion that being in nature has many health benefits which include stress reduction. Exposure to vitamin D, fresh air, natural light, and the natural beauty of the outdoors all have important impacts on the psychological, physical, and emotional dimensions of your health. Studies suggest that as little as 10-20 minutes in nature per day can have a positive impact on overall health and wellbeing.
- Spend time with other moms (especially those in your “season”)
Finding a group or even one other mom you feel comfortable talking and hanging out with can be extremely effective for managing the stresses that come with parenthood. Finding one in your season (which means those that have children in the same age/stage as yours) is especially helpful as you are more likely to relate to their struggles and feel like they can relate to yours. Additionally, other moms are a great source for resource sharing.
- Make time to just breathe
Breathing helps you manage stress! In times of emotional distress, the nervous system jumps into a higher gear and causes a number of physiological responses. We can begin to sweat, our muscles tighten, and our heart rate increases. You may notice when you feel particularly anxious, your breathing quickens and your chest heaves up and down. However, you can impact these responses just by consciously changing your breathing patterns. Studies have shown that the way we breathe is central to our ability to ease stress. By practicing proper breathing, you influence the body and cause it to relax. You can interrupt the anxious response that you are feeling and eventually be able to calm your nervous system in just a few minutes!
- Check in with your expectations
One of the biggest sources of stress for people is the tension they experience between how they experience their life and the expectations they hold for what they think their life “should” look and feel like. Often these expectations are not even at the conscious level so, many times, it is overlooked as a contributor to stress. One way to identify whether expectations might play a part in your experience of stress is to pay attention to the amount of times you say “should”, “could” or “would” throughout the day. These words are often associated with underlying expectations. Becoming aware of and re-evaluating your expectations can be a powerful way to reduce unneeded stress or tension.
- Be mindful of your internet practices
The internet can be a useful tool for pretty much anything. Whether it’s used to find information, or to connect with others, or for buying groceries when you can’t seem to get out of the house, the internet is chock-full of resources that are alluring for many parents. On the flip side, the internet can also be isolating, judgmental, and misleading, particularly if you are often on social media sites. Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, etc. can lead to an increased sense of stress through the process of comparison. People often only put up the image they want you to see of their life as opposed to the reality of how they live day to day. This can lead people to compare the vast background of their lives with the single snapshots they witness on social media sites. The result is often a sense that others are living more easily, extravagantly, glamorously than you, when the reality is usually much different.
- Use the support around you
It can be hard to ask for help, even when you have people to turn to if you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. However, support systems are one of the most effective resources for reducing stress during difficult times. Supports can include partners, family, friends, community resources, teachers, employers, counsellors.
- Let go of guilt
Being a parent is a breeding ground for guilt. We want the absolute best for our kids because we love them. Anything less than a perfect experience can seem like a failure on our part as parents if we are not checking in with our expectations (see tip #6!) and this can lead to guilty feelings. Checking in with your experience of guilt and giving yourself permission to let go of these feelings can be a powerful way to reduce stress and tension.
- Take a step back
Sometimes when we are in the thick of many stressors, and life is moving at lightning speed, it can be hard to see the big picture and gain some much needed perspective. Taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture can be helpful for battling the many little stressors that can come with raising children. For example, you may have spread plaster instead of butter on your toast this morning, been thrown up on, or been up for three days straight, but are you and your family safe? Are you and your kids healthy? Do you have enough money to live? Are you doing the best you can? Reminding yourself of the larger goals and hopes for your family can be a powerful way to remind yourself that you actually are on track!
Take care, and Grow Courageously!