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Stress Management Tips for Parents

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Whether you're a stay-at-home parent or a working parent, stress will occasionally creep into your life. How often are you visited by stress? Does it come and go? Does it hunker down and stay for a while? How do we know when stress is impairing our functioning? What can we do to prevent stress from getting out of hand? These are all important questions. Stress can negatively affect health, parenting, marriage, and work. Here are some tips on how to recognize symptoms of stress and manage that stress effectively.

Note: Your first stop should be a visit to your doctor to evaluate the cause of your symptoms and rule out whether you are having any serious physical or mental illness. The following tips should not be considered a substitute for a medical evaluation.  

Some possible symptoms of stress include:

increased illness
decreased sense of satisfaction in life
increased alcohol/caffeine/drug use
sleep disturbance
increased anxiety
weight loss
poor concentration
difficulty making decisions
difficulty relaxing
snapping at loved ones/stressed personal relationships

Some things you can do to manage stress in your life:

Develop a support network. Support networks can include family, friends, or workmates. If you're a stay-at-home parent, it's especially important to reach out to others for support. Get to know the other parents at your child's school, and if possible, volunteer. If you have a very young child, try to find a play group or mom's group. 

Leave time for relaxing. Don't overbook yourself. Be selective about the activities you choose for yourself and your family. Kids need time to unwind just like adults. Stressed parents can create stressed children. Enjoy relaxing with your kids. Have fun playing board games, going for walks, or watching movies together. And don't forget to take time to relax by yourself or with friends. Get yourself a babysitter, and enjoy some kid free time!

Start a hobby. Some hobbies might include crafts, gardening, reading, or playing music. When you cultivate a hobby, you will role model healthy behavior for your kids. Encourage your child to adopt a hobby, or enjoy a hobby with your child. Take a class to learn more about your hobby. You'll meet new people and explore your interest at the same time!  

Exercise. Keep yourself physically fit. Regular exercise is one of the best stress reducers. If you need time away from the kids, exercise solo. Or, make exercising a family activity. Join a gym, power walk, ride your bike, purchase some exercise equipment, or watch an exercise video. Alternate your exercise routine to avoid boredom. Instead of working out to your exercise video one day, take a vigorous walk. Even if you exercise for 15 minutes or less during a peak stress period, you'll rapidly decrease that stress level. And, you'll feel much better about yourself! If you are pregnant or suffer from any medical conditions, have your doctor approve your exercise plan.

Get enough sleep. Rest is important for maintaining good health. If you have difficulties sleeping at night, problem solve with your doctor. If you wake up frequently to feed or comfort your baby, make sure you try to catch up on that sleep. If you're a stay-at-home parent, nap when your child naps. It's more important to rest than get those extra chores done.

If you're a working parent, try to rest during work breaks. If applicable, have your partner share in nighttime child care. Take time during weekends to relax and nap. Have a friend watch your child for an hour so you can rest.

Keep a journal. Jot things down that make you feel stressed. Look for patterns. Try to pinpoint the root causes of your stress. Formulate solutions. 

Keep the clutter at bay. Clutter can become overwhelming. Unclutter your home. Your home should feel like your sanctuary, but if it's filled with clutter, you may feel chaotic and stressed. Take time to organize. And if keeping clutter at bay is difficult because you have young children, pick one room in your house to use as your sanctuary, and keep that room uncluttered. When organizing, work on one room at a time. Don't create stress by expecting the entire house to stay immaculate. Be realistic. 

Delegate jobs to others. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Teach your kids at a young age how to help around the house. Share household responsibilities with your partner. Ask extended family or friends to pick the kids up from school occasionally or baby-sit while you take a break. At work, ask for help if needed, or speak up if your work load is overwhelming.  

Listen to relaxing music or sounds. Get yourself some relaxation tapes, and take time out to listen and unwind. 

Practice relaxation activities. Regularly practice activities such as guided imagery, meditation, yoga, or deep breathing. Access stress management resources to get more ideas about stress reduction activities.

Most important, practice self-compassion. Be gentle and understanding with yourself. Life can be difficult, and we all struggle at times. With a little patience and practice, you'll figure out how to keep keep stress to a minimum!