Question: How Can I Cope With the Stresses of Motherhood, Moving and More?
"I have 4 children ages 15 to 8, and I'm so stressed I could scream...in fact, I do...a lot. I'm in the beginning of the end of a 3-year relationship as well. Yelling and swearing is how I cope. I moved to a new state and have no friends. I hate that I don't have ways to cope. I could lock myself up in my room, but then I would miss time with my kids...and what's worse is I can see the same anger in my kids. How can I change this?"
First, you're smart to be seeking support and new coping strategies. You're dealing with many stressors
at once: lots of change, people depending on you, and not many people you may depend on for your own support. And although it's important to understand that your stress levels can impact your children, it's an unfortunate paradox that this understanding can sometimes put even more pressure on you when it comes to dealing with your emotions. Developing new coping strategies
and outlets for stress, and finding new sources of emotional support
, should alleviate some of this pressure, and help you and your children live a less-stressed existence. Here are some suggestions I have for you:
- Find Ways to Calm Down Quickly
When you feel overwhelmed, your fight-or-flight response, also known as your body's stress response, can become triggered, creating a series of changes that enable you to fight hard or run like crazy as you face various perceived threats. The problem with this is that most of the stressors we encounter these days don't require either of these responses. In fact, when dealing with the demands of motherhood, it usually helps to keep a cool head. Because of this, it helps to have strategies that can enable you to calm down quickly and reverse this stress response, returning to your pre-stress style of functioning. Breathing exercises are a convenient and effective strategy for calming yourself quickly. See this article for more quick-calm solutions.
- Cut Down On Stressors Where Possible
Certain stressors can weigh more heavily on our patience than others, but after a while, virtually any added stress can feel like too much. For example, heavy traffic may be uncontrollable and somewhat stressful, but doesn't it feel much more stressful if you're already running late, hungry, and stressed-out from a day of difficulties? Make a special effort to cut down on the amount of stress you experience by eliminating as many stress triggers as possible, including both the major stressors that drain you and the minor stressors that chip away at your patience and energy. You can spend your remaining resources dealing with only what you absolutely must manage, and you'll likely be less stressed with this shorter list of demands. See this article on how to shorter your list of stressors.
- Make Self-Care a High Priority
Mothers spend so much time, energy, and attention on taking care of the family's needs that they often sacrifice taking care of their own. I know, you've probably heard that a lot, and it's usually delivered as a subtle criticism, like you "forgot" that you have needs, too. I'm guessing you're well aware that you have your own needs, but there's little time to tend to them once you're finished taking care of the needs of your family. This one is tricky, but it's time to make your own needs a priority again--a high one! This isn't to say that you should be getting a mani-pedi- instead of making dinner for your children, but perhaps you can cook a less elaborate meal, for example, and spend the extra would-be cooking time doing something that relaxes you. Self care is challenging for most moms, but we all know that if we don't take care of our own needs, at some point we become less capable of taking care of the needs of others, so think of self care as something you do for your children, too; that should make it easier to prioritize. Start by taking a look at what you may not be doing for yourself, and prioritize activities that would help you the most. Here are some top strategies for self care.
- Enjoy Your Children Whenever You Can
One of the best ways to cope with the stresses of motherhood is to allow yourself to really enjoy the gifts of motherhood: your children. When you're able to set aside some time to enjoy with your kids, the multitude of questions that stress you when you have a million things on your mind can become charming and adorable. When you're not rushed in the morning, a small child's ability to notice the little things can help you remember to stop and smell the flowers yourself. When you have time reserved just for play, it no longer seems like a time-wasting diversion from what's "important." And when you're enjoying what's truly fun and wonderful about your children, two valuable things happen: your children can feel that you're enjoying them more (and they enjoy you more), and you may find that you're engaged in fewer conflicts with one another, which can also reduce overall stress. If you're not already making time for morning snuggles, afternoon games of tag, or family movie night with s'mores or popcorn, these types of activities are important activities to prioritize, and can help you melt away stress by enjoying your children. If you're already making time for these activities, you can never have too many of them! Here are some fun and stress-relieving activities you can enjoy with your kids.
- Get Support
Perhaps most important is taking steps to get greater levels of support in your life. You're taking care of many people, and giving a lot of yourself emotionally, but relationships with children are supposed to involve more giving than receiving on our part (at least until they're grown, and then some). It's important for you to have people in your life who you can depend on for emotional and practical support, which can be a huge stress relief as well. Healthy relationships -- not just romantic or family relationships, of course, but close friendships and groups to which we can belong -- can contribute to lower levels of stress and increased longevity, as well as greater feelings of meaning and life satisfaction. Read more on social support for more information on this. And if you need more support than you're getting, or find that these coping strategies aren't enough, be sure to talk to a professional about how to get the support you need to cope with the stresses of motherhood.
If you follow these tips to create a proactive plan for coping with the stresses of motherhood, your stress levels should be lower, and you should enjoy motherhood more, too. Savor this time in your lives--it goes by quickly!