Being a mum is demanding – you’re on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The responsibilities, the workload and the pressures mums face can result in feeling worried, tense or overwhelmed – or ‘motherhood stress’. Heather Lindsay from Blissed Out Mums shares how reducing stress can help you enjoy motherhood more.
What Is Motherhood Stress?
Stress is a normal response to the outward and inward pressures that we feel. It can be a positive factor that helps motivate us to complete tasks and achieve our goals, or it can become so all-encompassing that it has a negative impact upon the quality of life we experience.
The four most stressful areas for mums:
- Stress about not getting things done – e.g. housework / tasks / achieving personal goals
- Stress about not being a good enough woman, parent or mother
- Stress about your child’s behaviour and or development
- General stress – this could be around family finances, problems with relationships, difficulties with returning to work etc…
When a mother has frequent negative or self-critical thoughts, she is more likely to experience negative stress. It is important that motherhood stress is addressed because it can be a contributor to feelings of anxiety, depression and simply less enjoyment from being a mum.
What Happens When We Are Stressed?
The process of stress is both a psychological and physiological (biological) process. Frequent negative and / or self-critical thoughts about any of the above areas, create a perception or feeling of stress which causes a biological cascade of hormones and neurotransmitters called the Stress-Response-Cycle (SRC).
When the SRC is activated the body is flooded with the hormones adrenaline and cortisol and the ‘fight or flight” response is activated. This biological response is great if a mum needs to run away from an attacking bear, but 99% of the time this isn’t the problem, and running away from the kids, the household and the family isn’t an option.
When a mum’s SRC is activated she cannot think as clearly and objectively about the issue at hand and in turn is not as productive or as an effective parent.
To overcome and prevent the occurrence of stress for mums, a two pronged approach must be taken – mindset and relaxation techniques.
How do we know a situation is stressful? Why can one mum handle the complete toddler melt-down and another can’t?
Our brain will perceive a situation as stressful because of our:
- Attitudes and values towards the incident that is occurring and
- Past experiences around the same or similar situations
If a mother only thinks positive or realistic thoughts about her toddler’s meltdown, such as:
- “It’s okay, it’s not a reflection on my parenting but how my child is feeling”
- “Tantrums are a normal part of childhood development and will decrease as my child matures”
- “I know that this will only last a few minutes and then he will calm down”
Her response is going to be very different to a mother whose thoughts are along the lines of:
- “OMG why is this happening to me now!”
- “Everyone is staring at me and thinking that I must be a horrible mother”
- “I am a horrible mother because my child won’t stop screaming”
- “Why can’t she just learn that she can’t act like this?”
The mother who has the first set of thought patterns is going to report lower feelings of stress when faced with her child having a tantrum than the mother in the second example, who will report feeling more stress and overwhelmed by her child’s behaviour as well as feel more negative feelings towards herself in regards to her parenting skills.
Watching your child have a tantrum is not fun for any mother and even for the most calm, cool and collected mum, it will generate a feeling of stress. This is because the SRC is an automatic process. We don’t stand there watching our child scream and deliberately think to ourselves “It’s time to feel stressed and angry right now”- instead we automatically react to the situation.
The key is to learn to act consciously in response to the stress we experience as mums. Instead of letting your thought patterns go down the path of the mother in the second example, stop and pause and think critically about what is going on:
- What am I feeling stressed about right now, and why?
- Are the thoughts I’m thinking supporting or preventing me from handling this situation the way I would like to?
- What can I do to help the situation resolve?
These questions can useful in the moment, but also as part of a daily reflection process that can help you grow as a person and as a mother.
In conjunction with looking at your mindset, it is important to also manage the physiological effects. The SRC creates a flood of adrenaline and cortisol throughout your body which will raise your heart and breathing rate while also shunting blood to your muscles, brain and heart. This is all to mobilise you in case of an emergency which is great, except when it isn’t an emergency.
Using relaxation techniques are a simple and quick way to help reduce the levels of stress hormones in your blood and therefore reduce your physiological experience of stress. The quickest and easiest method is through deep breathing exercises.
Breathing deeply activates the relaxation response. As you consciously breath slowly and deeply, you trick your body into believing that it is in a relaxed state and in turn your heart rate will go down, your respiration rates slows and the production of adrenaline and cortisol is decreased. This happens very quickly and even just 30 seconds of breathing slowly and deeply for a mum who is faced with her child’s challenging behaviour will reduce her perceived level of stress.
There are many other ways to create a state of relaxation including:
- Meditation practices including mindfulness and chanting
- Aromatherapy, flower essences, and other natural therapies
- Progressive muscle relaxation prior to bed
- Sex or experiencing orgasm
When a mother implements strategies like these into her daily and weekly routines, in combination with addressing her mindset and perception about the things in her life that are causing her stress, then this will achieve maximum benefit for herself and her family.
Mums owes it to themselves and their children to be able to manage stress so she has enough energy left to put into the tasks of raising children, running a home, having a social life and perhaps working out side the home as well! Her health can also suffer as chronic stress is indicated as a factor in cardiovascular disease, problems maintaining a healthy weight, heartburn, gastrointestinal upsets, menstrual irregularities and sexual dysfunction.
If you are a mum who is struggling with managing her stress levels then seek help. A motherhood life coach can be a great support, or seek out resources, both online and offline including books, blogs, seminars and workshops that can help you learn practical ways to manage the inevitable but very controllable levels of stress present when raising children.