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Pregnancy and parenting stress

Updated: May 21

Check out this quick guide for parenting stress.

I don't think anything can quite prepare us for the reality of parenting. Before I had kids I had loads of ideas of how I'd do things. I often saw stressed out parents - that's not for me I said, I'd do it differently. Then along came my four kids 🙂 It can be hard when dealing with stress as parents.

So what have I learned about pregnancy and parenting stress as a parent of four and a therapist? From my many hours of supporting other parents along their journey as well as my own four?

Stress - it's part of the package in one way or another.

I remember telling my mother when I had my 12 week scan if all was ok I could stop worrying....she reminded me that being a parent means we probably never stop worrying. She was right, but, there are many ways we can gain control so it doesn't become too much.

Why the hell can't we calm down?

As parents we are primed for protection of our young - our ancient ancestors would have had an inbuilt survival system that alerted them to danger and helped keep their young alive. That's probably, in my opinion, why we become so hyper sensitive to things in pregnancy and parenting - we are meant to notice the dangers.

However in our modern world, the lines between something that we need to respond to and things we don't become blurred -and your primitive, survival brain can't tell the difference. It also doesn't help that this early brain responds to your environment roughly 1/3 second before you are aware. What does this mean? By the time you've had the thought "calm down" the early brain has already decided there's a predator and you won't be calming down until it's gone. It's not often we will be facing a tiger or something that's an immediate threat.

So how does this stress response affect us?

⚡Stress ⚡

💥We feel it physically, mentally and emotionally. Stressful events will affect everyone in different ways.

🙇Physical signs - tension all over, bodily aches, bodily symptoms such as digestive issues, headache, dizziness, fatigue, loss of or increased appetite, being unable to sleep or frequent waking.😧

😥Emotional signs - feeling on high alert to everything, an increased startle response, feeling irrational, overestimating danger, maybe feeling you can't focus on everyday tasks, feeling tearful.

😤Behavioural signs - arguing over everything and nothing, procrastinating, increase in unhealthy coping mechanisms - alcohol in excess, gambling, etc. Nail biting, and similar habits. Some people may want to reach out to others while some may withdraw completely.

🙇We may experience some or all of the above, or may have bouts of each one. Great eh. 😤

It comes as no surprise that trying to work, parent or sleep in a body that is primed for survival, won't feel very pleasant. Attempting to just not think about it and calm down likely will only work minimally if at all. Your brain wants you to know there's a predator remember. 🦖

What can we do then to help ourselves❓

💨BREATHE 🌬️ Let's start with the basics. Yes we are all breathing already, hopefully. We can breathe to live or we can breathe effectively. If we are breathing in a fast, shallow breath, our primal brain and autonomic nervous system gets the message - more danger. ⚠️ So it becomes a cycle. You have control over this - control your breathing and you send the message to the brain that all is ok. Aim to keep your breaths slow, steady and even all the way down to your belly. 🌈Colour breathing is very useful - imagining breathing in or around your body a calming colour, bringing with it a sense of ease. On the out breath, imagine that colour changing and taking away tension.

It helps to take a few moments each day to think about your breathing - are you breathing in a tense, stressy way. If so, just take a few moments to regulate those slow steady even breaths.

😬 Expressionless face. Now and again across your day, ask yourself are you holding tension in your body. Think face, arms and feet/legs. Our face is where we hold lots of tension, probably to communicate danger to those around us ( in a primitive response / subconscious way). Taking a few moments in stressful feeling to create an expressionless face is really useful - this tells our survival system that there is nothing we need to respond to. Our arms and legs are often tense and primed for fighting or running - so it helps to check these and focus on actively relaxing them.

😌 Ground Your Senses 😌
We are being bombarded with all kinds of sensory input all day. The 54321 technique can be a great grounding method.

5️⃣ Look around your surroundings and find FIVE things you can see, look at those things and describe them.

4️⃣ Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you.

3️⃣ Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This could be any external sound.

2️⃣ Acknowledge TWO things you can smell.

1️⃣ Take one slow deep breath. By using your senses in this way, you can help to ground yourself in the moment.

😆 Laugh 😃
Humour is a great antidote to anxiety. Don't take everything too seriously - most of the things we worry about won't actually matter in 5 years time, and probably don't even matter at the time. Save it for the serious stuff.

If you are able, movement is the best way to discharge all those stress hormones flying around your body. Your survival brain is ensuring your body is primed for action, and often when stressed, exercise is the last thing we feel like doing. Even 5 minutes per day is better than nothing.

📝 Plan ✍️
Having a clear solid plan for ways to deal with stress will give your brain a message that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that you'll get through it. Having a strong future focus is the perfect way to take yourself from emotional panic to logic.

❓Ask yourself - is the thing I'm worrying over fact or opinion? Am I really seeing this for what it is, or is my parenting super scanner alerting me to predators that aren't there.
⌛Limit ⏱️
Avoid constant watching, checking, reading social media. Other people's perfect lives and parenting styles online are often showing only the bits that they want you to see- it doesn't show the full picture so it's easy to feel we can't measure up. We may see the parents who are finding it all easy posting on Instagram - but the ones who are struggling, maybe Instagram isn't top of their to do list. Not only that, but it doesn't take long to get absorbed in loads of useless information online and feel overloaded.

🤔 Remember - each phase, be it newborn, teething, toddler tantrums, school worries, teenage issues, are all temporary - the things that kept me awake when they were younger I can't even remember them now, so they obviously weren't that important. I know it sounds useless at the time, but it really is true that whatever you're going through is a temporary thing - like a cloud passing the sun. It will move on, and you probably won't remember it.

🙂 Accept - you don't have to get it right. Yes, that's true. You absolutely don't have to get it right so stop stressing over it. It is actually useful for our kids to see us make mistakes and put them right, learn from them and move on.

🦸‍♂️We don't have to be a superhero either - we don't have to solve all our kids problems, and it's probably best if we don't. Kids need to learn to think and solve for themselves - we do them no favours fixing everything, so it's pointless stressing over it.

If you want some help with all this, I offer pregnancy and parenting mind calm sessions.

Get in touch
Claire 🙂

WhatsApp 07782551543
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