Stress is a fact of modern adult life, especially during the holidays. It can be difficult to gather the energy needed to maintain a career, home, family and social life. When your personal reserves are running low, your relationships suffer. In addition to a number of serious physical symptoms, stress contributes to anxiety, anger, irritability and depression. When you’re overwhelmed with these emotions, the normal antics and issues your child participates in could be just enough to send you into an adult tantrum.
It’s normal to encounter feelings of stress from time to time. However, it’s important to know how to manage the effects so that your negative emotions don’t compromise your relationship with your children.
Your Mood Sets the Tone
Don’t underestimate the power you have to shape your child’s thinking and habits. Numerous studies have connected parental mood to children’s long-term mental and emotional stability. Children learn their sense of self-worth from the way their parents interact with them. When you are suffering from the effects of stress, you aren’t able to respond to your children with complete loving-kindness. A pattern of negative interactions over time erodes self-esteem. In extreme cases, children can suffer real neurological effects that threaten the development of healthy social skills.
Maintain calm. If your child confronts you with questionable behaviors, maintain calm, no matter what. If these confrontations happen while you are already suffering from the effects of feeling overwhelmed, do whatever works to keep yourself from responding in anger. Excuse yourself to an isolated space for a few moments. Take some deep breaths. A brisk walk around the block, jumping jacks or any activity that shakes up the body and clears the mind works to keep you from saying something you might come to regret.
Laugh and have fun. Participate with your friends and family when they are doing fun activities or are having engaging conversations. Laughter can reduce stress and make you feel better. Lightening up about stressful or negative thoughts can also make you happier and more present in the moment. Having fun and spending time with your family and friends is what holidays are all about. When your friends and family are having a good time, focus your attention on this even when you’re busy. Prioritize these special moments.
Practice mindful breathing. This helps refocus thoughts. Paying attention to your breathing can clear the mind and help you focus on the present moment. Deep breathing helps reduce anxiety and stress. Being in the present moment will reduce distracting thoughts. Repeat this practice several times a day. My favorite is STOP: Stop, Take a breath, Observe what you are feeling and Proceed with a smile.
Reducing the Effects of Stress
Parents can use some simple coping techniques to lessen the effects of stress on their daily mood.
Get rest and take breaks. While you may be “playing host” to a large gathering of family and friends, understand that your body and mind need rest. Leave yourself time each day to reset. Make sure to give yourself at least seven hours of sleep each night.
It can be helpful to delegate tasks of preparation to others ahead of time so there is less on your plate to begin with.
Set aside time to sit and do nothing. If you’re by yourself and everyone else is occupied, close your eyes and rest for a few minutes.
Avoid making plans or doing chores right before bed. Give yourself at least 30 minutes to wind down when heading to bed. Turn off your phone, computer and TV during this time.
Prioritize self-care. Keeping up with your busy schedule wears you down bit by bit. Taking time to relax and make yourself feel good gives you the energy to tackle life’s problems without succumbing to irritability or anger. Make time in your day to exercise, eat a good meal, read or partake in your favorite leisure activity.
Extend empathy and compassion to yourself. It is vital that you show yourself the same respect and consideration that you show to others. Give yourself a break when you’re having a hard day. Don’t force yourself to continue trying to fix problems when you honestly don’t have the mental and physical energy. Ask your friends, family and support system for help when you need it.
The best way to combat the effects of stress on the parent-child relationship is to be proactive. By taking care of yourself on a regular basis, you increase your ability to handle stressful situations. With a mindful attitude, parents can keep their stress from negatively impacting their children’s future.
Anthony Cupo is a trained mindfulness facilitator (TMF) from the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He is a co-owner of Stepping Forward Counseling Center, LLC and has been meditating for over 30 years.