Everyone experiences stress, it is a bodily response to a demand. Stress becomes problematic when a person perceives that they do not have the adequate resources to respond effectively to a demanding situation. Parents (and especially caregivers of children with special needs) often feel stress due to the demands of being a parent. Understanding this, being able to recognize potential stressors in your life, and developing ways to cope is essential to maintain cognitive, emotional, and physical wellbeing.
A Note about Stress:
Stress cannot be eliminated, but we can learn how to manage it better. With practice, we can keep our stress at healthy levels that keep us alert and motivated to face challenges. If you ever feel that your stress is too overwhelming, remember that professional counseling may help.
Parenting is a stressful job. High levels of parenting stress can result in:
- Low parenting satisfaction
- Less responsive parenting
- Lower sense of parent competence
- Marital discord
- Less effective use of directives towards the child
- Higher risk of child maltreatment (neglect and abuse)
There are several signs and symptoms of stress including the following:
- Physical: fatigue, headaches, nausea, chest pain, muscle spasms and numbing
- Mental: forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, inattention, poor problem solving
- Emotional: anxiety, depression, hopelessness, worry, anger
- Behavioral: isolation, diminished sexual drive, sleeping/eating less or more
Understanding Your Stressors:
Before implementing any coping strategy, it may be beneficial to determine some of your stressors. Some of the most common stressors are listed below.
- Child Related (poor language skills, embarrassing public behavior, disruption at home, tantrums)
- Medical and Health (sleep disturbance, food intolerance)
- School (accommodation issues, peer relationships, lack of awareness by school personnel)
- Marital (intimacy, non-child activities, single parenting, limited dating opportunities, conflicting parenting styles)
- Siblings (embarrassment around peers, limited time devoted to those children who are not special needs)
- Financial (treatment expenses, prescriptions, special diets)
Learning to Cope:
Tip: Consider turning your cell phone off (or at least put it on silent) when completing any of these activities. It pays to disconnect from the outside world for a while. And remember, anything they are calling you about can wait and if not, others can deal with it. We are not superheros, nor do we need to be.
- High stress situations are bound to happen. When deadlines approach and calamities at home arise, remember to take a time out and take a moment to address the situation. Try leaving the room if you are in an argument or taking a minute at your desk to stop. At this point, focus on your breathing. A clear and calm mind is usually best when dealing with stressful situations.
- In moments of stress, it is important to focus on our breathing. Is it slow, calm, and deep or fast and agitated? Taking a moment to slow your breathing down can clear your mind and decrease your stress reaction. Sit in a comfortable position with your feet flat on the ground (or lay down). Close your eyes. Take one slow, deep breath in through your nose. Hold it briefly. Exhale your breath slowly out from your mouth. Repeat this process several times, focusing only on your slow, steady breaths. On your exhales, visualize your muscles relaxing and the tension leaving your body.
- Try setting aside at least five minutes of time when you know you can relax in a quiet and comfortable space to practice visualizations. Close your eyes, relax your breathing, and begin to picture your own personal oasis. Place yourself in this oasis. Develop your surroundings using all five senses. If you are on a beach, focus on how the sand feels under your feet. Is it warm, wet, and soft? Can you hear the waves lapping up against the shore or feel the cool wind? Can you smell the salt water or the fresh air after a rainstorm? The more you practice your visualization, the easier it will be to summon it when you need it most.
- Practice progressive muscle relaxation. Begin in a comfortable position, either lying down or with your feet flat on the ground. Starting at your feet, begin to slowly tense your toes and then slowly relax them. Repeat this process of tensing and relaxing your toes three times. Move to your whole foot next and repeat the tensing and relaxing pattern again for three times. Slowly move up your body, stopping at each location that you are able to tense.
- Consider keeping a stress journal to help you identify the regular stressors in your life and the way you deal with them. Each time you feel stressed keep track of it in your journal. As you keep a daily log, you will begin to see patterns and common themes. Make sure to track what caused the stress, how you felt physically and emotionally, how you responded, what you did to make yourself feel better.
- Go to sleep. Your body rejuvenates during sleeping hours making you healthier and more equipped to start a new day. Consider keeping your bed and bedroom an intimacy and sleep sanctuary. If you have trouble sleeping, try eliminating everything you do in your bed other than sleep and sex. Things like watching television or reading can impede upon your sleep cycle. Teach your body that when you enter your bed, it is time to sleep.
- Exercise! When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins that create a natural high. Exercise helps regulate sleep, decrease tension, decrease depression, and increase your immune system. If you don’t feel like hitting the gym, try yoga to help stretch your muscles and improve your breathing. Simple stretches can also benefit your body since many people experience stress in their bodies. Try taking a few moments during the day to roll your head, stretch your neck muscles, roll your shoulders, and stretch your body. At night, pick a few simple stretches that you enjoy doing and try to do them every night before going to bed to start unwinding and prepare your body for rest.
- More than just walking the dog, animals have therapeutic influences on their human companions. Petting an animal can decrease your blood pressure and help you live a longer life. Take a moment to care for and love a creature that will love you back unconditionally.
- Laughter is truly one of the best medicines. Watch a comedy or spend time with your favorite funny friend.
- Depending on your religious preferences, prayer can help you reflect, gain perspective, relieve pressure, and find hope and support.
- Sometimes, spending time with friends is all we need to alleviate some tension. Having a conversation can add different perspectives, allow our frustration to vent, and give us a feeling of community instead of isolation. When faced with a stressful situation, it is important to remember that you are not alone, many others face similar hardships, and there are several resources you can pull from to be successful.
- Try meditation. Start in a relaxing position and begin to empty your mind of anxiety provoking thoughts. Try repeating a word that has no emotional connection, such as “om” to aid in clearing your mind. The more you practice, the easier this exercise will become.
- If reading relaxes you, schedule time during the week for a quiet hour in the most comfortable part of your home. Curl up on the couch, in the bath, or in your favorite nook and transport yourself with a good book. Make sure to pick a time when the house is quiet or you know that someone else in the house can handle anything that arises.
- Everyone needs a little indulgence once in awhile. Take the time to slow down and pamper yourself. Try taking a warm bath with scented candles or going to the spa, these are wonderful ways to ease muscle tension and leave your stressors at the door.
- Remember that everyone copes differently. Activities such as cooking, listening to music, cleaning, going for a car ride, gardening, dancing, or sitting at the local park are all wonderful coping strategies if they work well for you.
Remember: Taking care of yourself is not a selfish act. If we are well, than it is easier to give freely to others around us. If we are depleted from worry, depression, or fatigue, we are less equipped to deal with everyday stressors for both our families and ourselves. Giving back to yourself will not only replenish your resources it also reminds us that we are worth it.
These are some of the concepts and activities that we incorporate into our social skills, parent education, and therapy programs at Learning Dynamics. Contact us if you feel our programs may be of assistance to your family.