There is nothing quite like it, having your heart exist in another. You watch your heart run off to play on the jungle gym, clunk their head on something as your stomach drops, head to school for the first time as you wave goodbye, or cry over a first break up. No matter how old your child is or what stage of life you’re in, the stress of parenting is a unique balancing act. You want to them to experience the world and live life to the fullest while protecting them at the same time. Those two competing demands alone can create stress for any parent! And there are many more stressors, such as:
- Financial demands
- Fear of not being a “good enough” parent
- Time demands
- Juggling schedules
- Finding help with childcare
- Guilt about not spending enough time with your child
- Finding help with transportation
- Being a single parent
- Distributing childcare responsibilities
- Balancing work and home life
- Worrying about your child
- Having a child with special needs
- Taking time for yourself
- Disciplining your child
Parenting is stressful. You may be thinking: well of course, that’s nothing new! That’s how it’s supposed to be. Some levels of stress can actually be helpful and serve as motivation to go about your day and complete tasks. However, there is a certain point where stress becomes so intense and chronic that it is no longer healthy. Prolonged stress can really take a toll on the body, mind, and spirit. Many parents don’t get a break. And prolonged stress can actually affect your immune system, along with other systems in your body. This means that stress can literally make you sick if you don’t attend to it and take care of yourself! This type of stress doesn’t need to be caused by something traumatic, it can be caused by stress in everyday life and regular activities. Everyone needs some downtime to regroup and relax.
Stress is a very individualized experience. Something might stress someone out to the max, while another person would remain totally chill when experiencing the exact same thing. Even good things can be stressful, such as planning your child’s birthday party. One useful definition of stress is: any life event that you perceive as overwhelming, frustrating, demanding, anxiety-producing, or something that you feel like is tough to deal with on your own. All of those sound like they could be referring to parenting!
So how exactly can stress make you sick? You may notice that when you’re stressed out you are hot, sweaty, have a headache, feel on edge, or can’t concentrate. Your body has a natural response to dealing with stress. It tries to be helpful in order to protect you from potential threats, but the result can sometimes be uncomfortable. When you are stressed, your body releases hormones, both adrenaline and cortisol. According to the Mayo Clinic, adrenaline increases your blood pressure and heart rate, while cortisol diverts your body’s attention and resources away from non-essential functions in that moment. This diversion can actually change your immune system and slow down your growth and digestive processes.
Exposure to cortisol over time can alter the way your body and mind function, because you’re on constant alert for threats and on the defensive. You may notice that things that never used to stress you out have become overwhelming, such as getting up and getting dressed in the morning. This type of stress puts you at risk for a lot of different conditions. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress can contribute to both psychological and physiological conditions such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, obesity, muscle pain, high blood pressure, weakened immune system, and heart disease.
If you are feeling as though you are about to crack, because you don’t feel like you can take five minutes to yourself and just breathe, it is likely time to reevaluate your situation and put some new behaviors in place to help get you some peace! You don’t have to go about dealing with and managing your stress on your own. Counseling can help. A trained professional can help you sort through your daily stressors so that they are more manageable. You will learn more coping strategies to handle whatever is thrown at you throughout the day, whether that is a building block from your toddler’s tantrum, altering your schedule because of a sick child, or responding to your teen’s sarcastic comment.
Many parents don’t feel as though they are “enough.” They feel as though they aren’t doing a good enough job, or they may even feel as though they are failing as a parent. Moments of self-doubt are normal, but it is important to remember that no parent is perfect. Try to have realistic expectations for yourself and your children. There are often multiple ways to handle a certain situation and it is ok to make mistakes. Focusing on your own mental and physical health should be a priority, because if you want to be the best parent you can be for your children, that actually means you have to take care of yourself! You can’t be present with your child and connect with them if you’re running on empty. Counseling can help you learn to prioritize filling your own cup so that you can fill your child’s.
Although your child did not come with a manual, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide a number of resources as well as useful information for parents. Click here [Link out: https://www.cdc.gov/parents/index.html] to view what information they have on children of all ages. Some topics include risk behavior as well as raising healthy teens and overall parenting tips.