In yesterday's comedy moment with Michael McIntyre (here if you missed it) I think I laughed hardest as he mimicked the desperate struggle that takes place when you're trying to get a zip on a child's jacket done up under pressure.
We've all been there, right? That's what makes it so funny. We can identify with it.
But in real life it's not so funny. At that moment, when you're under pressure and you fumble and jerk and shout at your child to, 'stay still for just one minute can you?' your heart rate is elevated, your muscles are tense, your breathing has quickened and your blood pressure is up. In short, you're stressed.
If you then have to battle to get kids into the car and they nag and whinge at your for the whole trip, and then you have to battle them to get back out of the car and through the supermarket, or into swimming lessons or off to Nanna's, those symptoms and that stress sticks with you. Your body stays in that heightened state, not getting the chance it needs to reduce the stress hormones pumping around and to return to a situation of (relative) calm and zen.
Some of us live like that - in a perpetually stressed state - for days, weeks, even years, especially when children are small and demanding the majority of our time, but also if there is the additional burden of financial stress, or job stress or family stress.
Stress doesn't just have affect us physically, either. Recognise any of these?
- Getting agitated and frustrated easily
- Feeling overwhelmed, anxious or moody
- Feeling crappy, lonely, worthless or down
- Avoiding other people?
- Constant worry or racing thoughts
- Forgetting stuff and feeling disorganised (more than usual)
- Having a tough time focusing on tasks or jumping from other task to another
- Feeling pessimistic and like nothing good will come of anything
- Eating too much or not eating at all (or very little)
- Drinking too much (alcohol that is)
- Biting your nails, fidgeting, jittering or pacing?
These can also be signs of stress which affects our emotions, how we think and how we behave.
So what do we do about it?
The first thing I do is try to notice when I'm stressed. Tussling with kids zippers is a good sign, so is losing my cool with the kids over little things that are not really their doing. My stress tends to manifest in my neck and shoulders which I find creeping up towards my ears, with the muscles in my neck, upper back and jaw getting sore.
Look back at the lists above and figure out where your stress hides out.
Once you are in the habit of recognising your stress signs you can do something to chill out rather than letting that stress hang around with you all day. My quick go-to for de-stressing is stopping, staying still, closing my eyes, taking a deep breath and lowering my shoulders back down. It's quite therapeutic and only takes a few seconds. Try it now. I'll wait.
OK. What else can we do?
I wrote some de-stressing tips here a little while ago. You might like to read those.
I've also discovered a great list of '52 Proven Stress Reducers' for Parents from the Child Development Institute, a US resource for parents. I like the following:
- Procrastination is stressful. Whatever you want to do tomorrow, do today; whatever you want to do today, do it now.
- Relax your standards. The world will not end if the grass doesn't get mowed this weekend.
- Say 'No!' Saying 'no' to extra projects, social activities and invitations you know you don't have the time or energy for takes practice, self-respect and a belief that everyone, every day needs quiet time to relax and be alone.
- Simplify, simplify, simplify.
You can read the full list here. Everyone will find at least one useful tip, I bet.
It's time now for me to pack a swimming bag, do some dinner preparation, return some messages and order more coffee pods. Ticking things off the to-do list is a stress reducer and where would we (I?) be without coffee?
I try hard not to beat myself up about whether I am doing the right things as a parent, but it's hard. Especially when you get headlines like this one from the Huffington Post: '10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12'.
It's parents week! Not a national initiative, just my focus for the blog this week. I had so much fun writing to a theme last week for Mental Health Week (you can see that here) that I decided to do it all again - this time to my own chosen theme.
First up, let's be clear, this is parents week, not parenting week. I am not going to give you tips on how to make home made playdough, build a water wall or make funny faces out of dinner vegetables (although I've tried all of these things. The playdough is great, the water wall was of more interest to me than the kids and the vegetables? Pah! There was no fooling my boys). Nor am I making suggestions for dealing with tantrums, bed wetting or picky eaters. The interweb is chock full of that stuff already.
Nope, I'm going to talk about the experience of being a parent - the good, the bad and the ugly. I'm going to share stories - mine and other people's. I'm going to rant a little bit about parental guilt. There will be Self-Improvement Thursday, on Thursday, with some tips for looking after you, and of course there's a TED talk because I love a good TED talk.
In fact, I'm starting the week with Jennifer Senior's TED talk. Jennifer is a journalist and anthropologist (the Wikipedia definition of an anthropologist is 'a person with an extensive knowledge of anthropology' - thanks for that Wiki). Her first book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood came out earlier this year and her TED talk made me cry. Her suggestion that parents should live by the notion of 'first, do no harm,' attributed (perhaps not accurately) to the medical profession's Hippocratic Oath - is just brilliant. If we all worked on the basis that as long as our kids are fed and clean and not physically or psychologically badly damaged and that whatever else we can do for them is a bonus, how much easier would this gig be?
Here's Jennifer Senior's talk. Oh and if you're not a parent, thanks so much for reading anyway! Hopefully this week's posts will be as interesting to you as (I hope) they are to the parents reading. After all, parents or not, we're all just people and we're all in this life together :-)