Being a parent is fun, exciting and rewarding – but at the end of the day, it’s also a full-time job. And just like any occupation, parenting comes with occasional feelings of stress and anxiety.
Many parents are familiar with the challenge of trying to juggle raising children and pursuing a career, but career-related issues are just one of the many causes of stress in adults. Anxiety can also stem from relationships, health issues and financial concerns.
When parents are stressed out, children feel it, too. So in case your efforts to stress less during the holiday season didn’t go as planned, here are four tips to help you manage stress in the new year and help your whole family feel a greater sense of calm.
1. Breathe: Studies reveal that observing a very specific way of breathing calms the nervous system. The next time you find yourself stressed out or feeling overwhelmed, follow these steps:
- Sit up or stand up straight, relax your belly and drop your shoulders down and away from your ears.
- Take a nice, slow full breath in, filling the lungs while slowly counting to five. Hold the breath in for a count of two. Slowly exhale through the mouth, as if blowing through a drinking straw, to the count of 10. Hold the breath out for a count of two. Repeat five times, closing your eyes for better focus.
2. Laugh: Laughter is indeed great medicine, especially when it comes to alleviating stress. It feels good to laugh, and science shows that positive emotions are associated with lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Make sure you laugh every day, and try one of the following if you need some help:
- Hang around people who are uplifting, funny and tend to make you smile.
- Seek out movies or shows that tickle the funny bone.
- Pull up funny videos or memes online.
- Purposefully look for the lighter side of life every day.
3. Move: One of the benefits of regular aerobic exercise is its ability to bring balance to emotion. For example, if you feel angry or frustrated, a brisk walk or run can improve your mood. Here are some ways you can also include your children in physical activity to bond and model stress management:
- Walk the dog as a family.
- Strap on your helmets and go for a bike ride. Or, build a snowman together!
- Make household cleanup a fun and active game of racing against the clock. Move quickly from task to task, working up a sweat and having fun with your little one.
4. Imagine: Using imagery to relax is an easy and effective way to reduce stress – all you need is a little imagination and a few minutes of quiet and stillness. Try doing the following exercise daily:
- Close your eyes and take deep, rhythmic breaths (see #1)
- Imagine that you are in a beautiful, tranquil place. It might be a place you have visited or a place you create in your imagination.
- Focus on the colors you see, the sounds you hear and the smells you take in.
- Really tune in and try to stay focused on these details for at least five minutes.
Regardless of which stress management methods you find most useful, it is important to take responsibility for your stress – whether it’s parenting stress or a result of other stressors. Once you are able to find peace and calmness, your children will benefit too!
Interested in learning more about how to identify signs of stress in your preschooler? Read this post about stress-related behaviors and how you can help your child deal with stress.