Being a parent is the toughest job there is and any parent that says they don’t get stressed is lying. Kids can be a real handful and there are times when you feel like you haven’t had a chance to stop and regroup for months. When you don’t have time to unwind and everything feels chaotic, the stress levels begin to spiral out of control. This is something that all parents experience, but we don’t often think about the long term effects.
Stress has a lot of mental and physical effects on you, but it can also impact people around you, including your children. In fact, parenting stress could affect the entire family, which is why it’s so important that you understand how it changes you physically and emotionally, how it affects your ability to parent, and how your children respond to it. Here’s everything you need to know about parenting stress and how it affects your family.
What Causes Parenting Stress?
First, you need to understand the causes of parenting stress. Studies into the stress levels of different people show that, on average, parents tend to be more stressed than people without children. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but parents whose children have left home often report feeling less stressed than people without children. Although stress response varies in everybody and some people are just more prone to feeling stressed than others, there are some common factors that make it worse.
Children with behavioural problems, for example, cause a lot of stress in parents. If your child has specific medical needs, that adds extra stress as well. Single parents are naturally more stressed too because they take on the burden on their own.
Economic factors also have a part to play. Parents that are struggling for money worry about providing for their child and they are more likely to feel as though they are falling short of their duties as a parent.
Your social support network makes a big difference too. If you have close relationships with friends and family, that helps to relieve stress. Having people to help you with some of your childcare responsibilities makes a huge difference to your stress levels.
How Does Stress Affect Parents?
Stress affects parents in so many ways, but it’s the physical effects that you may start to notice first. When you are incredibly stressed, you will feel burned out and exhausted all of the time. Many people also experience headaches, nausea and even chest pains when they experience extreme stress.
In men and women, high stress levels have even been shown to cause or speed up hair loss. If you get so stressed that your hair is literally falling out, you know that something needs to change. In the short term, you can use propecia for hair loss to manage the problem, but you seriously need to manage your stress levels. Unfortunately, these physical effects are only the tip of the iceberg and long term stress can lead to an increased chance of developing serious health problems, like heart disease and strokes.
Stress does a lot of damage to your mental health too. If you don’t find ways to manage your parenting stress, it can eventually develop into serious mental health problems like anxiety and depression, which are much harder to manage.
Parenting stress has a massive impact on relationships too. When both parents are exhausted and feeling low, arguments are far more likely to happen. You also have less time to spend together and people fail to put effort in, so the relationship becomes very strained.
This has a big impact on you personally, but that also has a knock-on effect on your kids in a lot of ways, which is why it’s especially important that you find ways to tackle it.
How Does Stress Affect Your Ability To Be A Parent?
When you are suffering from stress, it can change the way that you interact with your children, even if you don’t realise it. People tend to react in one of two ways; they either withdraw emotionally or they become very irritable and overreact to their child’s behaviour. In both cases, this has a negative impact on your child.
You have to remember that children pick up on the behaviour of their parents. So, if you become emotionally withdrawn, they will do the same, which is an incredibly bad habit to get into from a young age. Protecting children’s mental health is so important, especially during the current lockdown situation. Encouraging them to talk about their feelings and share problems before they spiral out of control is vital, but they won’t do this if you don’t do the same. So when you get stressed out and withdraw, it has a big negative impact on your child’s mental health and that can last for years to come.
On the other hand, if you become irritable and start overreacting to your child when they misbehave, this can seriously knock their confidence. When you are short with them, it puts them on edge and it can make them feel as though they are always doing the wrong thing. Your children look to you to be a caring, nurturing influence on their life but parenting stress can cause you to be the opposite. If their self-esteem is damaged in their early years, children are more likely to have mental health issues in later life.
From a practical standpoint, excess stress also means that you are not on the ball when you need to be. Poor memory and brain fog are common symptoms of stress and mental health issues, so you’ll find that you start forgetting things and your house is generally more chaotic.
How Can You Beat Parenting Stress?
Dealing with parenting stress can be tough because you don’t have the luxury of taking time off very often. But that’s why your support network is so important. If you have family that can babysit for a night so you can unwind or have a date night, it makes all the difference. Beyond that, there are other lifestyle factors that make a big difference.
Eating a healthy diet makes a big difference to your mental health, so pay attention to your food. It can be tough to keep up with healthy eating when you are trying to juggle all of your family responsibilities, but you need to find the time to cook properly as much as possible.
You probably already know that exercise is great for relieving stress too, but most parents probably laugh in the face of anybody that suggests they exercise. Where are you supposed to find the time? The thing is, you don’t need to hit the gym for 2 hours to get exercise. Just making an effort to live a more active lifestyle makes a difference, and there are some great short workouts you can do at home when you have a spare half an hour.
Improving your support network by finding parenting communities is a huge help as well. It gives everybody a break if you can get together and let the kids play (when restrictions allow it). Talking to other people that share your experience helps you feel less isolated too.
Parenting stress is something that we just come to accept because everybody knows that parenting is hard. There is a common misconception that parents are stressed and there’s nothing you can do about it. But that isn’t the case, and parenting stress has an impact on the whole family, so you need to find ways to tackle it.
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