By: Danny Smith
Quick! Visualize your home on a typical day with every member of the family doing what they might typically be doing. Is it a relaxed and open scene of laughing and sharing the days events and discussing plans, or is there some strife and commotion? Picture yourself, are your energy reserves and attentions spread thin? Are you feeling or expressing criticism that seems to fall on deaf ears, amped up quickly to the heights of stress from small miscommunications? Like many mothers you might be spending a lot of time “running on empty,” frazzled and out of fuel.
From as early as 17 weeks into pregnancy, scientists have discovered a strain on a fetus when the mother is excessively stressed. And now you’re probably thinking, ‘oh great, now I’m stressed out about my stress.’ While it’s true that the effect of stress start before birth and it doesn’t end there—a stressed mother unintentionally transmits stress to a toddler, and in older years it can wedge a distance between you and your adolescents or growing teens. A chronically stressed parent sends out tense verbal and nonverbal cues that children can pick up and it is detectable in their elevated heart rates (part of the fight-or-flight panic mode). Kids may act out in reaction to it, only adding to the overall sum of stress, and it may not be evident WHY they are misbehaving at the most obviously inconvenient times.
The good news is, that self-awareness is the first step towards empowerment. No matter what the external factors are, there are almost always some tactics you can employ to minimize the damage and make your home the cozy retreat from the rest of the world, that we’d all like our homes to be.
Family psychologists suggest things like, getting to know when you’re headed for a meltdown. What are some cues that you’re about to snap? The earlier you can catch it, the better chances you have of slamming the brakes before a full crash. Do you get a headache? A drop in blood sugar? Do you start to get impatient or louder? Do you start saying things that come out sounding totally different than what you really meant to convey? Do you start to go numb? Many different coping issues for many different moms, but it’s all indicating a commonality—-you need a breather.
Indeed, breathing is one of the tips. Many stressed people report a sense that they suddenly become aware that they have been holding their breath. So even though it seems obvious that we involuntarily breathe, when we are in full stress mode, the breathing is shallow and unnatural, so closely tied in with our physical/emotional state. Taking a moment out to breathe deeply, in the full and effortless cadence of a contented, drowsy baby. Tense and untense each muscle group starting with your toes and working all the way up. You’ve probably heard that before It can be annoying to be told that, but it really does help. It’s the next best thing to the sedatives they used to give out like candy to mothers in the ‘50s.
Don’t underestimate the benefits that build up from simply posting a schedule of chores—mothers, especially if they are trying to balance a job and family—need to get better at delegating responsibility to other members of the family (and trusting that the job will get done sufficiently enough, maybe not perfect, but it’s better than pumping your body full of stress hormones trying to tackle it all).
You can also afford yourself a “time-out” when you need one. All things in moderation, of course you don’t want to get into a habit of going off into your room and laying in the dark every afternoon—at that point it would be a sign of clinical depression—but every once in awhile, when you’ve “had it up to here,” and you feel like you might start saying things out of anger that will make you feel worse later, just tell your family—no offense, but I need some privacy for a few minutes–don’t disturb me unless it’s an emergency.
Support groups—occasionally you hear reports about some parents escaping into social media sites like an alcoholic escapes into drink—again, everything in moderation and with self-awareness. But, much good can come from groups especially intended for dealing with stress in online parenting forums—so if you’re an introvert or geographically secluded—you can easily find thousands, maybe millions of mothers who can relate to whatever’s going on. If you live in a city, there maybe IRL group meetings and events too. Time and time again, behavioral scientists expound on the fact that one of the major indicators of a person’s happiness and well-being levels (despite income level or any other factor) is positively correlated with supportive friends and meaningful relationships. Other people can act as a mirror, reflecting certain aspects of our selves as well as our potential—when you have numerous ‘feedback mirrors’ you can avoid feeling pigeon holed into one or two daunting or limiting roles; this can give our lives vital energy and ambition.
No discussion of stress reduction would be complete without mention of the benefits of physical action. So much of most of our lives is sitting to work, and sitting in cars, on our way to sit other places with few opportunities to burn physical energy, the excess manifests through exhausting mental loops of anxiety. Channeling it through your muscles can move your mind off of the same daunting loops, and you may find yourself coming up with your best innovative ideas after involving your body in the act of purposeful movement.
Of course, maybe you don’t sit for work, and you’re on your feet all the time. Get some foot soaky stuff or the quintessential candles around the bathtub. Read novels for pleasure. All that good stuff.
What’s coming up next?
Next week it looks like we’ll be talking about identifying work-from-home scams and we may explore the interesting effect of Mommy Blogger culture.
We welcome your feedback:
If you have a question or topic you’d like to discuss, post it on our Facebook, or email Danny Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org