So how can we best manage our stress? If I had the answer to this, I’d be a very wealthy woman! Stress differs for each person but if you find yourself yelling at your children, breaking down into tears, feeling overwhelmed, comfort eating, trying to shop away your stress, or reaching for an extra glass of wine to get through, perhaps it’s time to take stock.
We all know that parenting is one of life’s greatest joys and as mums we love and adore our children. But being a parent is also one of life’s greatest challenges and it’s ok to admit that at times it’s damn hard and extremely stressful. In the early years, the physical and emotional demands, coupled with sleep deprivation, can often leave parents feeling stressed, lost, helpless and defeated.
Others are taken by surprise by the increasing emotional stress of parenting older children. Parents often feel responsible when their child is being bullied, or failing socially or academically. Handling your child biting another at age 3 can pale into insignificance when compared to working out what to do when your child bullies another child – or starts breaking your rules or openly defies you.
Everyone experiences stress. Funnily enough, some stress is good because it can motivate you to make changes. But persistent stress can wear you down. It can cause changes in your body that affect your overall physical, mental, and emotional health. So if you’re feeling continually stressed, it’s important to make changes.
Let’s also check in on your mood. Depression is more serious and long-lasting than stress, and it requires a different kind of help – it’s not something that you can snap out of. Often it’s not related to one particular stressor. The good news is that depression is a highly treatable condition. It’s also nothing to be ashamed of – one in seven Australians experiences depression. Depression is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of chemical changes taking place within your brain – and seeking help is a sign of strength.
What’s the difference between stress and depression?
While there’s no disputing how horrible it feels to experience high levels of stress, there are key differences between stress and depression. The symptoms of depression are often much more intense, creating powerful mood and physical changes, such as fatigue or despair. With depression, the symptoms are around most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks. Depression persists, and it may feel as if it’s too hard to find the energy to make changes.
Recognising the signs
Depression is serious, but treatable. It changes the way you think and feel. Feeling tired or exhausted, changes in sleep or appetite, reduced sexual interest, increases in physical health problems like pain, walking or moving more slowly are all signs to seek help. Becoming more irritable, avoiding people and places, avoiding things you used to enjoy doing, or not getting the same pleasure from your daily activities are also signs you need extra support. Although the tips below are useful if you have depression, it’s important to get specialist help – because depression often affects motivation, energy, and confidence and, without specialist help, it may persist.
Although many parents swear by a glass of wine to solve their stress, the reality is that drinking, taking drugs, exercising furiously or ignoring your stress won’t solve anything and can lead to more problems. If you’re stressed, you may be feeling that you are out of control or have lost control. It’s important to realise that there are always areas that we can control or change – even if it’s only our own reactions.
Here are some practical tips that may help you take charge:
Increase your problem-solving skills
There’s an entire industry built on teaching executives how to solve problems and make good decisions. As parents, we often have no training… so try this technique – all it requires is a pack or two of sticky notes:
- Get some sticky notes and spend 10 minutes writing down all of the things that cause you stress – big or small, silly and serious.
- Once you’ve littered the wall/desk with sticky notes, take 10-15 minutes and put them into groups based on their theme. If they are complicated themes, break them down. Break them all down into manageable chunks. This is where you work out what is really causing your stress, and break it down into a number of areas that can be tackled, rather than experiencing a lot of overwhelming thoughts and feelings that are too much to comprehend.
- Get your sticky notes back out and brainstorm as many solutions as you can. If you can, invite a trusted friend or family member to help you. If the problem involves your child then invite them to brainstorm with you. Learning how to solve problems is an essential life skill. Allow yourself to be creative in your brainstorming. Find ideas, no matter how out there they seem.
- Evaluate your ideas, choose a solution and make a plan.
- Finally, give your plan a try. If it doesn’t work, try another solution. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, it’s all part of learning to problem solve.
Release your stress hormones
Get some exercise. Exercise helps, even if it’s just a walk. It’s also important to do something you enjoy every single day. Take some time to relax every day. Sing, dance, catch up with friends, get in the garden, take a walk, listen to music, go on a date night – engaging in pleasurable events is good for you! Need inspiration? Check out this list of 101 pleasant things to do.
Take care of your body
Make sure your body has the resources it needs to manage stress:
- aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep, sometimes easier said than done with kids I realise!
- increase your intake of healthy foods
- stay hydrated with water
- exercise regularly
- reduce caffeine – up to three cups of coffee is fine, but stay away from caffeine after 4pm.
- chat to your GP/naturopath about helpful supplements for stress.
Whether from family, friends, an online community, your GP or a mental health professional. Being connected and having someone you can confide in is fundamental for good mental health. Talking with someone you trust can help you find solutions or a new way of looking at an old problem.
If these steps don’t bring relief or if you are still unable to cope and feel as if the stress is affecting how you function every day, it’s important to speak to a professional. You can:
- talk to your General Practitioner
- see a Clinical Psychologist, Psychiatrist, or another mental health professional to learn to manage your symptoms.
- try an online course such as the MindSpot Clinic Courses for treating depression (they’re currently awaiting further government funding)
- find more trusted resources on depression and anxiety at mindhealthconnect