First things first, it’s important to remember that parental stress is common. You should never feel bad or guilty about getting stressed and overwhelmed from time to time! But, if these feelings last for an extended amount of time, they can harm your family dynamic and relationships if left untreated.
Luckily, there are plenty of simple steps you and those around you can take to help ease feelings of stress and overwhelm. Let's run through what parental stress is, what can trigger it, and cover some tips for managing it to help you through.
What is parental stress?
Parental stress describes the distress parents experience when they feel that they can’t cope with any aspect of parenting. This can include feeling that the demands placed on them are too high and that they don’t have the time and necessary resources to meet them as well as they’d like to.
Common causes of parental stress
It’s common for parents to experience stress caused by their child’s temperament, or from factors that impact their parental functioning, such as finances, time constraints or other responsibilities like work and their wider family commitments.
Other triggers of parental stress can include…
- having a child with behavioural issues
- being a single parent
- economic pressures
- social isolation
- concerns about a child’s development and health
- feeling sleep deprived
- worries that their baby is spending too much time away from home with a carer
- having a young baby who’s crying a lot or suffering from colic.
Remember that even though you may feel isolated when you’re stressed, you’re never alone. Lots of parents go through and overcome feelings of stress and overwhelm.
What are the effects of parental stress?
Parenting stress can have an impact on how you feel as an individual, as well as the relationships you have with your family, friends, and colleagues.
The effects of parental stress can include parents…
- experiencing lowered self-esteem
- becoming socially withdrawn or emotionally unresponsive
- finding it hard to focus
- getting upset and frustrated easily
- overreacting to their children or others close to them.
All of these can potentially have negative outcomes on their child in the long run if the stress is not resolved. Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can manage your stress as a parent to help maintain a positive family dynamic.
Tips for managing parental stress
While there’s no one magic way to instantly resolve the stress you’re feeling as a parent, there are certain techniques and practices you can put in place to ease the pressure and to make sure your little one is happy, healthy and feels loved.
Talk about it
As the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. Talking to those close to you – your partner, friends, or family – can help normalise any stressful feelings you’re experiencing.
It’s important to remember that no one is Super Mom or Dad, and every parent can benefit from the support of others from time to time! They've likely been in the same boat at some point, so they’re bound to empathise with what you’re feeling.
Share the load
Even though you may feel like you’re carrying the weight of parenting on your own, it’s important to remember that it’s ok to ask for help and support at any time. After all, it takes a village to raise a baby!
If you live with a partner, set clear responsibilities for both of you, and make sure you stick to them to avoid becoming burnt out.
Planning and getting organised can seem daunting. But even starting will small tasks to help you in the morning – like making a healthy breakfast the evening before or laying out your and your little one's outfits for the next day before you go to bed – can help you to feel less rushed off your feet and more prepared.
Get plenty of rest
While tiredness and being a parent, unfortunately, go hand in hand, lack of sleep can contribute to parenting stress if it goes unresolved for too long.
It’s important to sleep or rest whenever you can. If you’re struggling to sleep, try not to worry too much about it and focus on building a healthy, practical, and positive sleep routine. Worrying about sleep won’t help and it can make it harder to fall asleep when you finally get the chance.
Time spent outside surrounded by nature can reduce your levels of the body’s main stress hormone cortisol. So, on days when you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed or worried, it can often help to make time to step out of the house.
You don’t even need to adventure far. Even a simple walk in your local park while your baby sleeps in their stroller can be enough to clear your mind.
Pursue your hobbies
It's sometimes easier said than done, but when you're a parent, it's so important to carve out a slice of time every day that's just for you.
Whether you head to the gym to start a new class, learn a craft, or just set aside half an hour every evening to read a few chapters of a good book, personal time spent doing something you enjoy is a great way to decompress and relieve stress.
Focus on the positives and be patient
If you’re experiencing stress, you may also be aware of what triggers it.
Whether it’s unrealistic pressure from those you follow on social media, judgemental people, or juggling the weekly shop while trying to keep your little one happy – adapting so that you can avoid unnecessary contact with things that worry or aggravate you can help you feel better.
Remember that just because you’re stressed and experiencing negative emotions, you’re not failing as a parent. These feelings are common, you’re not alone, and you’re strong.
Focusing on the positives – your baby’s smile, a hug with your partner, jokes shared with friends, or cuddles with your furry four-legged friend – will help you to experience the joyful side of parenting. In turn, this can make it easier to cope with the not so sunny side when times get a little tough.
Try not to bring home stress from work
Once you’ve returned to work after having a baby, it’s easy to feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. If your job is stressful, it can be tough, but it’s important to separate your career from life at home.
Try to decompress by talking to a friend, your partner, or a co-worker before you log off or head home to your little one. After all, there's nothing better than seeing their beaming smile and giving them a snuggly cuddle when you walk through the door.
Consider seeking professional help
If you find that you're excessively stressed or continuously feeling worried, don’t try to bury your feelings and solider on. Instead, seek support from your doctor or a therapist. Sometimes, just discussing your feelings can help you to combat them.
Parenting Mental Health supports parents with a 24/7 digital peer community, emotional support services, events, and training courses so they can be present, patient, and prepared.