Commentary by Paula Fraass
Schriever Family Advocacy Intervention Specialist
Being a parent is one of life’s most joyful and rewarding experiences, but there are times in everyone’s life when the demands and hassles of daily living cause stress. The additional stress of caring for children may, at times, make parents feel angry, anxious, or just plain stressed.
Tension is a normal, inevitable part of family life, but by learning ways to cope with and manage stress effectively, you will positively impact your physical and emotional health.
The following tips and relaxation exercises may be helpful in managing stress:
1. Don’t be a perfectionist. It’s not possible to be perfect in all areas of your life. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Realize that you can’t do everything flawlessly and relax unrealistic standards. Set reasonable goals and standards.
2. Take a break. A change of pace, no matter how short, gives us a new outlook on old problems. Take 15-30 guilt-free minutes. Take a bath, listen to music, read a book or try mediation or visualization.
3. Learn to relax. Under stress, the muscles in our bodies stay tight. One of the most effective ways to combat tensions is deep muscle relaxation. Other techniques that produce muscle and mental relaxation are yoga, prayer and deep breathing.
Quick breathing exercise:
- Breathe in slowly through the nose to a count of four
- Hold the breath for a count of four
- Exhale slowly through the mouth to a count of four
- Rest for a count of four (without taking any breaths)
- Take two normal breaths and start over again
4. Exercise regularly. Exercise is an excellent way to combat stress. It works out tension that has built up in the body, allows more efficient combat of stress and helps clear the mind, making it easier to relax.
Quick and easy ways to add exercise to a busy day:
- Get up and stretch while visualizing the stress flowing out of your body
- Take a short walk during lunch or coffee break
- Squeeze a rubber ball
- Dance – play a favorite song and dance around your house
- Participate in a sport, ride a bike, go for a run, play tag with your child(ren), etc.
5. Plan your work. Tension and anxiety build up when our work seems endless. Plan work to use time and energy efficiently. Make “to do” lists. By writing down what’s on your mind, you begin to feel in control and more able to handle life’s tasks. Tackle big, overwhelming projects one step at a time.
6. Talk it over. Learn how to reach out to those around you for comfort and support. Find a trusted friend to talk to about your stress. Just as a pressure relief valve allows steam to flow out of a pressure cooker and keeps it from exploding; talking allows stress to flow out of the body and keeps us from blowing up.
7. Accept what you can’t change. If the problem is beyond your control at this time, try to accept it until it can be changed.
8. Be assertive. Take steps to solve problems instead of feeling helpless. Distinguishing assertiveness (respecting others’ rights and your rights) from aggressiveness and passivity can do much to resolve internal stress.
9. Rediscover humor. Learn to laugh at yourself and the situation.
10. Increase pleasurable activities. Take time to participate in fun, pleasurable, activities on a regular basis. Plan fun family activities together. While it may be difficult to find time in a busy schedule to spend with family, doing things everyone enjoys is the best time invested. Making plans keeps focus on the positive and gives families things to look forward to, especially during times of stress.
Whether a stay at home or a working parent, a single or a married parent, mother or father, parent of one child or several children, by taking a moment to consider these stress management tools and putting them into practice, you’ll increase the ability to remain calm, patient, in control and full of energy.