How to manage mom stress

Parenting can be more stressful than flying a rocket ship to the moon (maybe). Here are some concrete, real-life tips to help you keep your cool through all ages and stages.

If you meet a mom with perfect hair and immaculate makeup who smiles sweetly and tells you how she has parenthood all under control, don’t worry – she’s lying through her whitened teeth. Parenting is a rollercoaster we embark on day after day and we never know if we’ll end up screaming and sobbing with our heads upside down or laughing and panting as our car pulls to a stop after an exhilarating ride.

After both my pregnancies (a girl the first time and twin girls the second), I went through periods of stress and anxiety caused by exhaustion (THREE bad sleepers!) and the pressures of juggling work and a household. Each bad bout only lasted a few months, but they were pretty tough while they lasted. To help you avoid or weather similar rough patches, here’s the best personal and professional advice I could find on managing stress at each age and stage of your children’s lives.

FIRST-TIME MOMS

Everyone will tell you to sleep while the baby sleeps, not to worry about the housework and to take time for yourself – but if you’re like me, you’ll ignore all their advice and end up exhausted and frazzled. Here are some alternative tips that might work for you.

  • Join a mothers’ group: Meeting up with a bunch of strangers can feel contrived at first, but there’s no better source of support and understanding than a bunch of moms who are going through the same thing as you. Search online for mothers’ groups in your local area or enquire at your local hospital or church. I know moms who’ve made lifelong besties at mothers’ groups.
  • Practice mindfulness: When I had my first daughter, I spent a lot of time worrying about the 47 other tasks that needed to get done rather than focusing on the present moment. My heart raced and all my muscles were tense as I tried to rock the baby to sleep or get the dishes done before she woke up – it was a pretty stressful way to live! Over time, I’ve gradually learned to “rock the baby to rock the baby” – in other words, push those invasive thoughts out of my mind and focus on the task at hand. I’m still not perfect at it, but I get a little better every day.
  • Go for a walk: Unless there’s a hurricane or an alien invasion, try to get out for a short walk every day. The fresh air and sunshine will do wonders for your state of mind.
  • Meet up with friends: When you haven’t slept more than a two-hour stretch in weeks and you’ve been wearing the same sweatpants for four days, it’s easy to decide that being a hermit is much easier than facing the outside world. DO NOT cancel that coffee date – you’ll feel a billion times better once you’re away from the pile of laundry and having a laugh with your friend.
  • Have a epsom salt bath: You have to find new and imaginative ways to have “me time” in the first few months of your baby’s life because days at the spa are on hold for a while. A nice epsom bath soak is a simple indulgence that can help you relax at the end of a stressful day.

MOMS OF BABIES

As adorable as they are, those helpless little critters can leave you feeling physically and emotionally drained at times. Here’s how to cope.

  • Take 10 if the baby won’t stop crying: Researchers at the University of Oxford found that the human brain is hard-wired to respond strongly to the sound of a baby crying, so it’s natural for you to feel stressed when your little one has been crying for ages. Leave the baby with your partner and go for a short walk. If you’re home alone, leave them in the safety of their cot and lock yourself in the bathroom for two minutes until you feel calmer.
  • Call a friend: When you’re having a hard day, you may feel like nobody wants to hear about your problems or like it’s just too hard to pick up the phone. Trust me – as long as you call a supportive friend or family member, you’ll feel so much better afterward.
  • Exercise: Ah, this little nugget. I know how hard it can feel to do any exercise at this stage, but even a short walk or 10 minutes of body-weight exercises in your living room will get those feel-good endorphins flowing and make you feel proud of yourself for doing it. See our article on 5 easy ways to integrate exercise into your life.
  • Get some online support: We spend so much time on our phones, so we may as well seek out some support there. I’m part of a secret Facebook group of like-minded mamas created by a mom I know and it’s been my lifeline for nearly five years. I also have a Whatsapp group with two of my best mom friends – it’s our safe space to vent about anything that’s on our minds.
  • Write everything down: To reduce the stress of forgotten commitments, write down important appointments, events and to-dos on a family calendar that hangs somewhere central in your home.
  • Turn off your screens: A recent study found that screen time was associated with moderate or severe depression among U.S. adults. Once a week, turn off all your screens (or ask your partner to hide them!) for the whole evening. (Eek – I must do this too!)

MOMS OF TODDLERS AND PRESCHOOLERS

Toddlers and preschoolers can seriously test you with their tantrums and unreasonable demands. Here’s how to cope with the terrible twos and threes.

  • Do some deep breathing: Deep abdominal breathing has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to relax. Sit or lie down with one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Take a deep breath to the count of five, letting your belly push your hand out (your chest shouldn’t move). Hold for two counts and release to a count of five. Repeat 10 times.
  • Take up a hobby: As your children start to get older and more independent, you should have a little more time for you. Your hobby can be inside the home (such as baking or painting) or outside the home (like book club, mountain biking or dancing). My husband started an amazing vegetable garden and food forest as a way to get away from the kids without leaving the house – and now he feeds the family with his hobby!
  • Do something by yourself: Every so often, do something by yourself for yourself. Climb a mountain, go for a swim at the beach or pool, or treat yourself to a nice lunch.
  • Have a laugh: Laughing is another proven stress reliever, so tickle the children, put on some silly costumes or speak in a funny voice. You’ll feel more relaxed and connected with your kids after a good gigglefest.
  • Prepare for the week ahead on Sunday: Do your grocery shopping, bake or cook a big batch of food for the week, get all the laundry done and prepare your kids’ bags and outfits for day care or preschool. These little steps will help you stress less all week.

MOMS OF SCHOOL-AGED KIDS

Homework and soccer games and birthday parties, oh my! School brings a whole new set of things to think (and worry) about. Here are some top tips to manage it all.

  • Beware of overscheduling your kids: While it’s wonderful for children to play sports and pursue their hobbies and interests, there can be too much of a good thing. If you’re constantly feeling frazzled as you run from one after-school activity to the next and your children seem tired and irritable, it’s time to cut back. One sport or activity per child in addition to school is plenty, especially in the younger years.
  • Learn to say no: Another way to reduce stress is to politely decline invitations to social engagements and school committees. If you’re usually a “yes mom”, this will take some practice. Try, “Thank you so much for thinking of me. I would love to, but we have been extremely busy recently and we need some downtime. Maybe next time!”
  • Prepare for school the night before: Nothing will make your cortisol levels rise faster than shouting at your children to find their shoes and brush their hair as you frantically make sandwiches in the kitchen. Preparing lunches, outfits and schoolbags the night before will help make mornings so much smoother.
  • Play uplifting music: When you feel tension rising in the house (either yours or your children’s), put on some music that you know everyone loves and watch everyone calm down a notch almost instantly.
  • Have a dance party: Who can be cranky or stressed when they’re dancing? Nobody, that’s who! Have a spontaneous dance party in the living room or declare every Friday night Disco Night and don sparkly costumes as you rock out to the Bee Gees as a family.

MOMS WHO JUGGLE SEVERAL KIDS

The struggle of juggling the demands and schedules of a schoolkid, a toddler and a newborn (or any other multi-kid combo) is REAL. You can do this, mama.

  • Meditate: Although I’d wanted to take up meditation for years, it took the stress of dealing with three very young children to finally take the plunge and commit to it. More power to you if you succeed earlier! There are plenty of great meditation apps out there that only require 10 minutes a day and send you daily reminders so you don’t flake out. I use Calm and I love that the sessions are guided, so I’m not sitting there alone trying to chase thoughts out of my mind. I’ve learnt valuable techniques to control stress, anxiety and big emotions that I’m now able to apply in my everyday life and with my kids.
  • Ask for help: We tell new moms not to be afraid to ask for help when they need it, but for some reason we stop telling parents to reach out after their second child. Don’t be afraid to tell friends and family when you’re feeling overwhelmed and you need a hand (or a hug).
  • Take 10 with your kids: When I’m racing around trying to get all the chores done and my kids are complaining and whining for attention at my feet, I sometimes drop everything and go sit with them for 10 minutes. I might read a book, play a game or just give them cuddles, but that usually resets everyone and allows me to get back to my tasks with a calm mind and happier kids.
  • Don’t forget about yourself: It’s easy to let self-care go when you’re juggling several kids, but try to keep up your exercise routine, alone time, dinner with friends and date nights with hubby. They probably won’t happen as often as they used to, but that’s OK. You’ll absolutely appreciate it more when it does happen!
  • Hire help: If you feel like you can’t stay on top of everything that needs to be done each day (and your finances allow), consider hiring some part-time help. It could be a housekeeper who comes every two weeks, a nanny who gives you a hand with the kids a day or two a week, or a live-in au pair who helps you with the children and the housework in exchange for room and board and some pocket money. A little help can go a long way in saving your sanity.