Less stress for a better family life

Less stress for a better family life
When parents are under too much stress, the whole family suffers! Fortunately, there are ways to manage the ups and downs of parenthood.

When parents are under too much stress, the whole family suffers! Fortunately, there are ways to manage the ups and downs of parenthood.

When you’re stressed out, you become increasingly irritable, impatient, touchy, impulsive . . . “Snapping at your child or partner is a telltale sign of stress,” says Sonia Lupien, director of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress.

Stress makes it difficult to keep your emotions in check. It can also make it hard to sleep, focus, or be at your best. When stress becomes chronic, these symptoms are aggravated. Some people can experience headaches, back pain, digestive problems, or memory loss, while others may start smoking, drinking, or eating more.

From bad to worse

If you’ve just gotten home after butting heads with someone at work or spending two hours in traffic, the slightest provocation could well send you flying off the handle. Lashing out is one of the body’s ways of releasing pent-up stress. Your loved ones can end up taking the brunt of these outbursts, even if they have nothing to do with why you’re feeling stressed.

Stress can also be contagious. “Your unpredictable mood swings can cause your children to start producing stress hormones,” says Lupien. What’s more, according to psychologist Nathalie Parent, stress can make you less available to your child. As a result, your child might begin acting out to try to get your attention.

Come up with a Plan B

To counteract stress, the first step is not to relax but rather to tackle the source of your stress. Ask yourself why a particular situation is making you stressed. Is it because you aren’t in control or because you’re in unfamiliar territory? Once you have the answer, you can tackle the problem by coming up with a Plan B, C, D, and so on. This will give you more control over the situation and lower your stress hormone levels.

People who are stressed out have trouble keeping their emotions in check.

Of course, you won’t always need to resort to a Plan B to feel better. “Simply thinking about possible solutions lets your brain know that the situation isn’t threatening after all,” explains Lupien. “The body therefore has a less acute reaction to the stress.”

For instance, the first time Fanie’s eldest son went to the dentist, he threw a tantrum and refused to open his mouth. When it came time to take his brother, FélixAntoine, for his first checkup, Fanie was stressing out. She decided to prepare him for what to expect: “I told him, ‘You’ll get to sit in a big chair, the hygienist will use a noisy instrument to clean your teeth, you’ll get to choose what flavour toothpaste they use, etc.’ I also let him bring his favourite stuffed animal. Doing all of this beforehand helped me feel more in control and less stressed.”

Marie-Ève, mother of Lily and Charlie, finds it stressful being the head of the family. “My mind is constantly going over an endless to-do list,” she says. A lot of parents are in the same boat! If you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider changing your routine to give yourself time to breathe. “Parents—mothers especially—should learn to delegate,” says Parent. “There’s no reason why, for instance, daddy can’t go to daycare meetings.”

Other tools for managing stress

Accepting that everything can’t be perfect, rejigging your priorities, and lowering your expectations can also help you get a handle on stressful situations. Are there other ways to reduce stress? “Yes, but there’s no magic formula,” says Lupien. “What works for others may not work for you. And just because something worked once doesn’t mean it will work every time.” The key is to keep a couple tricks up your sleeve so that you can try different approaches.

Here are a few tips for managing stress:

Take time for yourself. Is your mind racing when you go to bed? You’re not alone. This is often the only time of the day when the brain is not stimulated. “And your brain hates it,” says Lupien. “It takes advantage of the opportunity to remind you about everything that’s stressing you out, which makes it hard to fall asleep.” Lupien suggests taking a minute every day to let your brain shut off (no books, TV, computer, music, etc.). You could go for a swim, go running, take a walk, pick up your knitting needles, draw, walk your dog, take a bath, or chop wood. Your thoughts will naturally turn to what’s making you stressed, and you can then start formulating a Plan B, C, or D. Best of all, instead of tossing and turning in bed, you’ll finally be able to get some shuteye.

Take a deep breath or go for a walk. The educator has asked to speak to you about your child’s behaviour. Right before the meeting, your heart starts to pound, you begin to sweat, your breathing quickens, and you start to feel nervous. As soon as you notice physical signs of stress, take a few deep breaths: breathe in from your belly and exhale slowly. This will help you regain your composure. You can also try going for a brisk walk.

Get moving. Stress causes you to summon up a lot of energy to respond to a threat, whether real or imaginary. If this energy doesn’t get used up, it can result in mood swings or other symptoms. Studies have shown that regular physical activity makes you less prone to stress.

Laugh. Are you feeling stressed after a day at the office? Sharing a laugh with your kids can counter the negative effects of stress. It’s no joke—laughter helps cut down on stress hormones. “Our family is big on comic books, and we often do imitations of Captain Haddock from Tintin,” says Jérôme, father to CharlesÉtienne, 10; FélixAntoine, 4, and Simon-Olivier, 2. “A good giggle helps release builtup tension.”

And the list goes on. Doing yoga or tai chi, meditating, listening to relaxing music, cooking, doing a good deed, helping a friend, and cuddling with your pet are other ways to unwind. That being said, you also need to address the exact cause of your stress, as simply relaxing won’t make your troubles disappear.

When to ask for help
Are you starting to lose your temper more often? Do you obsess over problems so much that you can’t fall asleep? Are you always tense? If it’s starting to feel as though stress is taking over your life and you’re having trouble regaining control, consider reaching out to a doctor, psychologist, psychotherapist, social worker, or support group. “In therapy, we help people figure out what they have the power to do about the cause of their stress,” explains social worker and psychotherapist Steve Audet. “The goal is to help them realize that they have more control than they think, and that they can improve things and feel better.”
Naître et grandir

Source:Naître et grandir magazine, November 2017
Research and copywriting: Nathalie Vallerand
Scientific review: Dr. Nicolas Chevrier, psychologist