Are you a parent feeling stressed, anxious, burned out or overwhelmed (or all of the above)? You aren’t alone. A 2022 WalletHub study named Oklahoma the seventh “most stressed” state. And, as confirmed by the American Psychological Association, we all know that since March 2020, life has changed radically for parents with children under 18.
Given the past two years, it’s understandable and normal for parents to experience these feelings. Being a parent is a demanding job, and parents have more on their plates than ever before.
For some parents, trying to create a work-life balance can be a challenge. Focusing on accomplishing to-do lists, work demands and even finances can begin to take a toll emotionally and physically. If you’re feeling drained or like you have no control over your life, that is normal, especially if something happening in your life now reminds you of something traumatic you experienced in
The good news: as a parent, you have control over your approach to stress or anxiety and the ways you choose to cope and work through these feelings.
Stress vs. Anxiety
Many people experience stress and anxiety at some point in their lives. These are normal human reactions to threatening or worrying situations. They are part of the fight or flight response that keeps us safe by preparing the body to deal with danger.
Depending on the level of severity, both can negatively impact one’s quality of life. Stress and anxiety share many of the same emotional and physical symptoms but have very different origins.
Let’s break down what stress is and how it can manifest. Stress is a response to a threat in any given situation, and it’s a response to an external cause, such as a tight deadline at work or school or arguing with a loved one. Stress subsides once the situation has been resolved. We also experience “good stress,” like trying something exciting for the first time or planning a fun trip.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is a person’s specific reaction to stress. Anxiety is defined by persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even in the absence of a stressor or in situations that aren’t threatening. For some, this can turn into an anxiety disorder, which is one of the most common mental health diagnoses in the United States.
5 Ways to Manage Stress and Anxiety
As a parent, your mental and physical health matter not only for you but also for your children, and your stress levels and how you respond can have a direct impact on them. Before jumping in to managing stress and anxiety, it’s important to recognize that it takes time to understand your patterns of experiencing stress and anxiety. A key to managing stress or anxiety is understanding what either looks like for you and what self-care practice(s) you can implement to help you reduce the day-to-day pressure you may be experiencing.
To begin to better manage overwhelming stress and anxiety, reflect on and implement self-care practices that resonate with you. Start here:
- Be honest about how you feel. Acknowledge how you feel rather than hiding those feelings. Putting on a “brave face” only lasts for so long. Your feelings are valid and they matter. Recognizing how you feel also is a helpful way to model to your children the importance of mental health.
- Identify what stress and/or anxiety look like for you. Symptoms can look different for each person. When you’re having a tough day, stop to assess yourself by asking questions like:
- How am I feeling? Have I experienced this feeling before?
- How does my body feel? Does anything hurt; do I feel tense; am I experiencing any pain?
- What’s the biggest difference about this day compared to a typical good day?
- Remember the concept “less is more.” Choosing to do “less,” or even nothing at all, is a form of self-care and, perhaps counter-intuitively, will help you be more productive in the long term. Hardworking parents may find this difficult to do, especially if you have a busy lifestyle. Find moments throughout your day to do nothing, even if it’s for 10 minutes, to help you begin to incorporate this practice. When you find that your plate is full, consider asking yourself these questions:
- What can I take off my to-do list and tend to later that will help free up more time for me?
- In observing my current schedule, have I overbooked or overextended myself? Have I carved out any time for me?
- Practice more positive self-talk and affirmations. Self-talk, or your internal dialogue, can have a major impact on your self-esteem and self-value. When practiced routinely, affirmations can have a positive impact on your mental, emotional and physical health. Positive self-talk is centered on uplifting ourselves, being understanding and having kind thoughts. It comes from a place of self-compassion and self-love. Engage in positive self-talk by using affirmations or mantras, for example:
- Today I did my best and that is enough.
- I am proud of myself.
- I am in charge of how I feel.
- I am grateful for (fill in the blank).
- Seek out social support when needed. Strong social support can help you work through stress and anxiety. Having a trusted family member, friend, co-worker or neighbor you feel comfortable contacting who you can talk to or simply hang out with can be the remedy needed to uplift you, keep you going and positively impact your mental, emotional and even physical health. When you are struggling, try not to isolate yourself.
You’ve got this!
Learning to cope with stress or anxiety can require some trial and error. It’s important to identify your triggers and responses and find strategies that work for you.
If your stress or anxiety does not respond well to self-care techniques or coping strategies or if you feel that stress or anxiety is affecting your day-to-day functioning or mood, please consider talking to a licensed mental health professional who can help you understand what you are experiencing and provide you with additional support. This is a decision to be proud of, not ashamed of. Your seeking help is also a powerful reminder to your children that it’s OK for them to ask for help so they don’t have to navigate their struggles alone.
Caring for your children is an important job, but caring for yourself is a key part of parenting, too. Self-care practices can help reduce your anxiety, relieve stress and improve your mood. Be intentional in giving self-care the time needed to become a routine that fits into your lifestyle. Start small, and take your time developing a routine that meets your specific needs.
Editor’s note: Katrina Leggins is a licensed mental health therapist, owner of private practice Elevate Mental Wellness, LLC, self-care educator, writer and public speaker. She is an Oklahoma native who is the owner and founder of K. Nicole Writing LLC, an informational and inspirational platform that helps motivate individuals through mental health education, empowerment and inspiration. Katrina also runs a t-shirt apparel line and provides mental health products that focus on raising awareness for self-care and mental health. Katrina can be found on all social media platforms @knicolewriting and at her website knicolewriting.com.