How To Cope With Parenting Stress And Anxiety
Carly Snyder, MD is a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist who combines traditional psychiatry with integrative medicine-based treatments.
Parents, especially first-time parents with a new baby at home, are often expected to feel some anxiety about things. From whether their baby is sleeping too much or getting enough to eat, so if they are crying too much, every little thing can seem like a very big issue when you are a new parent. Fortunately, this parenting anxiety often goes away, or at least gets better with time, and as a parent gets more experience with their baby, especially once they have a few more kids.
If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
Ways To Cope With Chronic Stress
“Its key to recognize stressful situations as they occur because it allows you to focus on managing how you react,” Dr. Stoll says. “We all need to know when to close our eyes and take a deep breath when we feel tension rising.”
Use these tips to prevent or reduce chronic stress.
1. Re-balance Work and Home
All work and no play? If youre spending too much time at the office, intentionally put more dates in your calendar to enjoy time for fun, either alone or with others.
2. Build in Regular Exercise
Moving your body on a regular basis balances the nervous system and increases blood circulation, helping to flush out stress hormones. Even a daily 20-minute walk makes a difference.
3. Eat Well and Limit Alcohol and Stimulants
Alcohol, nicotine and caffeine may temporarily relieve stress but have negative health impacts and can make stress worse in the long run. Well-nourished bodies cope better, so start with a good breakfast, add more organic fruits and vegetables, avoid processed foods and sugar, and drink more water.
4. Connect with Supportive People
Talking face to face with another person releases hormones that reduce stress. Lean on those good listeners in your life.
5. Carve out Hobby Time
Do you enjoy gardening, reading, listening to music or some other creative pursuit? Engage in activities that bring you pleasure and joy; research shows that reduces stress by almost half and lowers your heart rate, too.
6. Practice Meditation, Stress Reduction or Yoga
Anxiety During Lockdown And Other Triggering Times
During a time of crisis, such as the coronavirus pandemic, it’s particularly important to manage your anxiety. While it’s reasonable to be more concerned than usual about safety, you also need to ensure that your anxious thoughts don’t themselves becoming damaging.
The term “coronanxiety” has been coined for this particular situation, where anxiety has become more widespread, but anxious feelings can also extend beyond the dangers at hand.
In addition to all the techniques mentioned above, here are three more worth trying during difficult times:
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Why Are We So Anxious
There are many reasons why anxiety is on the rise. Although many of the physical threats our ancestors faced have been reduced or ruled out, more abstract threats have replaced them. These include worries about the economy or environment, and anxieties about our appearance, social standing and professional success.
Many aspects of modern life could also be to blame. Research in the journal “Computers in Human Behavior” highlighted the damaging impact of social media use on anxiety, for example. And a study in the British Medical Journal drew a link between increased air pollution and raised anxiety.
Taking Steps To Manage Stress
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Know The Facts About Covid
Sharing the facts about COVID-19 and understanding the actual risk to yourself and your loved ones can make this pandemic less stressful. For most people, the risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 is thought to be low, with 80% of people recovering without special treatment. Older adults and people who suffer from underlying medical conditions may be at a higher risk for more serious complications and possible death.There are simple things that you can do to help prevent the spread of the virus, while also protecting yourself and others. Regularly check the Alberta Health Services website for the latest guidelines and information.
Smoking Drinking And Drug Use And Stress
You might find that you smoke, drink alcohol or use recreational drugs to reduce stress. However, this often makes problems worse.28
Research shows that smoking may increase feelings of anxiety.29 Nicotine creates an immediate, temporary, sense of relaxation, which can then lead to withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
Similarly, you may use alcohol as a means to manage and cope with difficult feelings, and to temporarily reduce feelings of anxiety. However, alcohol may make existing mental health problems worse. It can make you feel more anxious and depressed in the long run.30 It is important to know the recommended limits31 and drink responsibly.
Prescription drugs, such as tranquillisers and sleeping tablets, which may have been prescribed for very good reasons, can also cause mental and physical health problems if used for long periods of time.32 Street drugs, such as cannabis or ecstasy, are usually taken for recreational purposes. For some people, problems start as their bodies get used to repeated use of the drug. This leads to the need for increased doses to maintain the same effect.33
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How Much Stress And Anxiety Is Too Much
The point at which worry and anxiety become unhealthy is when they immobilize us rather than inspire us to act.
Whether we’re worried about things in the future, or so stressed and anxious we can’t move forward, the stress takes a toll on our minds and bodies, and affects our health. Excessive or unmanaged anxiety can become unhealthy if it takes the form of an anxiety disorder, for example.
Quick Ways To Cope With Anxiety
If your anxiety is sporadic and getting in the way of your focus or tasks, there are some quick natural remedies that could help you take control of the situation.
If your anxiety is focused around a situation, such as being worried about an upcoming event, you may notice the symptoms are short-lived and usually subside after the anticipated event takes place.
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Health Conditions/issues Stress Busting Tips
When stress becomes overwhelming, its time to calm down. These tips can help you deal with health conditions or medical issues without blowing your top.
Get all the information you can.
Knowledge is power, and it can help you cope. The more you know about your condition and treatments, the more in-control you will feel.
When you are faced with a debilitating medical condition, you cannot handle it alone. Recognize that you need help, and dont hesitate to reach out for it.
Have a good cry.
Trying to stay strong in the face of a serious medical condition might help at first, but over time the lack of falling apart can take a toll. You deserve the time to grieve the situation you are in; allow yourself to cry, scream, rant, and otherwise take out the stress before it makes you even sicker.
If your medical condition will be a temporary one, consider it a wake-up call, and start planning the rest of your life accordingly. If you are facing a terminal illness, make plans for the time you have left.
Find a spiritual advisor.
Even if you are not a religious or spiritual person, finding someone who can talk to you about what comes after might be a helpful step to put your illness in perspective.
Recognising Your Stress Triggers
If you’re not sure what’s causing your stress, keep a diary and make a note of stressful episodes for two-to-four weeks. Then review it to spot the triggers.
Things you might want to write down include:
- the date, time and place of a stressful episode
- what you were doing
- a stress rating
You can use the diary to:
- work out what triggers your stress
- work out how you operate under pressure
- develop better coping mechanisms
Doctors sometimes recommend keeping a stress diary to help them diagnose stress.
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Taking Care Of Yourself First
Whats a person to do?
People are so burned out, Pender said, and what I tell people is that its just so important to take care of yourself.
Experts have a number of recommendations for coping.
Pender suggests doing a self-checkup. Ask yourself how youre doing. Are you tired, anxious, depressed? Use what you see in yourself to take action.
She also recommends limiting your exposure. That means cutting back on your television and social media time.
Especially before bedtime. Sleep is really important, and turning off your phone an hour before sleep will help, Pender said.
Ackrill said people shouldnt assume theyre alone in this battle.
Some of us are more resilient, but most of us are struggling, she said. Dont assume that the person beside you is doing better.
It has taken enormous effort to face all of this, Ackrill added. Nobody has not spent energy on it. Even processing the news. I dont know who can watch the Afghanistan story and not be impacted. No matter what you believe, human suffering is painful to see.
Pender also recommends getting regular exercise. And dont think that means you must sign up for a gym or a sports league.
Rather, find time to get outside and walk or garden anything simple that brings you fresh air and makes you move.
Dont overthink it or overdo it, she said, because all that will do is add stress.
She also urges people not to turn to substances for relief. Alcohol, drugs, or smoking is not the solution, she said.
A Few Notes On Anxiety Disorders
There are several anxiety disorders recognized by mental health professionals. The most common of these include:
The sudden escalation of physical symptoms can be distressing, to say the least. It might include feelings of terror, including the certainty that death is imminent. Panic disorder might include a feeling of suffocation, chest pain, sweating, or fear that is so intense it makes you feel as though you are going crazy.
Social anxiety disorder
This is an intense fear of social situations, or any situation in which you could be judged by others. It might include something as intense as being unable to go out on a date with someone new, or something as simple as being afraid to answer the phone.
Generalized anxiety disorder
This disorder includes a feeling of perpetual dread, worry, and fear that doesnt seem to have any true basis. You might be afraid or worried about almost anything in life, whether it is something that should cause stress or not.
Fear of enclosed spaces, heights, flying, stairs, or even certain foods can be considered a phobia, especially if the problem interferes with your everyday life for example, if you are so afraid of stairs that you refuse to climb them, your everyday life is affected every time you go to a public place.
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Avoid Drugs Alcohol And Stimulants
Stimulants are chemicals that excite your nervous system, making it work faster and harder. Using stimulants can worsen your anxiety symptoms, so cutting these out can help you to manage your anxiety. Some of the most common stimulants are:
- caffeine, which is found in coffee and tea
- nicotine, which is found in tobacco products such as cigarettes, chews and vape pens
- drugs such as cocaine.
Its ideal to avoid alcohol and drugs in general when youre experiencing anxiety. If youre using substances to feel better or to relax, you might become dependent on them and they could make you feel worse in the long run.
Spend Time With Friends And Family
Social support from friends and family can help you get through stressful times.
Being part of a friend network gives you a sense of belonging and self-worth, which can help you in tough times.
One study found that for women in particular, spending time with friends and children helps release oxytocin, a natural stress reliever. This effect is called tend and befriend, and is the opposite of the fight-or-flight response .
Keep in mind that both men and women benefit from friendship.
Another study found that men and women with the fewest social connections were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety .
Having strong social ties may help you get through stressful times and lower your risk of anxiety.
Its hard to feel anxious when youre laughing. Its good for your health, and there are a few ways it may help relieve stress:
- Relieving your stress response.
- Relieving tension by relaxing your muscles.
In the long term, laughter can also help improve your immune system and mood.
A study among people with cancer found that people in the laughter intervention group experienced more stress relief than those who were simply distracted (
Try watching a funny TV show or hanging out with friends who make you laugh.
Find the humor in everyday life, spend time with funny friends or watch a comedy show to help relieve stress.
Not all stressors are within your control, but some are.
One way to do this may be to say no more often.
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Try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
CBT is a type of therapy that helps you to tackle your problems by breaking them down into manageable chunks. I found this type of therapy useful and helpful when copying with my anxiety as I have learned several copying techniques that I try to apply any time I have a panic attack. If you are unfamiliar with what CBT is then I highly recommend you to read this article on the NHS website which explains in greater detail what CBT is.
What Causes Anxiety
If you notice that quick tips havent been working, you may want to consider seeing a professional for help. Especially if you believe you have GAD and its interfering with routine activities and causing physical symptoms.
A mental health professional can help with streamlining the process of identifying your triggers, maintaining long-term strategies through behavioral therapy, medications, and more.
For example, if your anxiety stems from a trauma you experienced in your past, it can be helpful to work through that with a licensed therapist. On the other hand, if youre brain chemistry predisposes you to chronic anxiety, you may need to go on medication to manage it.
Anxiety may always be a part of your life, but it shouldnt overtake your day-to-day. Even the most extreme anxiety disorders can be treated so that the symptoms arent overwhelming.
Once you find what treatment works best for you, life should be a lot more enjoyable and a lot less daunting.
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How Do You Cope
To cope with plain-vanilla anxiety, “get real,” as they say. “Separate out the real risks and dangers that a situation presents and those your imagination is making worse,” advises Ross. It’s a twist on the old adage: “Take control of the things you can, and accept those you can’t change.”
“Ask yourself: Where can you take control of a situation? Where can you make changes? Then do what needs to be done,” she says. “What things do you simply have to accept? That’s very important.”
Very often, it’s possible to get past an anxiety cycle with the help of friends or family — someone who can help you sort out your problems. But when anxiety becomes overwhelming, it’s time for a therapist, or perhaps medication.
Here are two strategies that therapists use to help us conquer anxiety:
Challenge negative thoughts.
Ask yourself: Is this a productive thought? Is it helping me get closer to my goal? If it’s just a negative thought you’re rehashing, then you must be able to say to that thought: ‘Stop.’ “That’s difficult to do, but it’s very important,” Ross says.
Rather than becoming paralyzed with anxiety, here’s another message you can send yourself: “I may have to take a job I don’t like as much, may have to travel further than I want, but I’ll do what I have to do now. At least I will have the security of income in the short term. Then I can look for something better later.”
Learn to relax.
Make Gratitude A Regular Practice
Several studies have revealed the positive effects of expressing gratitude. While studying brain activity, National Institutes of Health researchers found subjects who showed more gratitude had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that has a huge influence on our stress levels. Plus, gratefulness also activated the regions associated with dopamine, one of those feel-good neurotransmitters. To reap these stress-reducing benefits, write down your feelings of gratitude daily in a journal, or by sending little notes to friends or family letting them know how much you appreciate them.
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The Importance Of Managing Stress
If youre living with high levels of stress, youre putting your entire well-being at risk. Stress wreaks havoc on your emotional equilibrium, as well as your physical health. It narrows your ability to think clearly, function effectively, and enjoy life. It may seem like theres nothing you can do about stress. The bills wont stop coming, there will never be more hours in the day, and your work and family responsibilities will always be demanding. But you have a lot more control than you might think.
Effective stress management helps you break the hold stress has on your life, so you can be happier, healthier, and more productive. The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and funand the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet challenges head on. But stress management is not one-size-fits-all. Thats why its important to experiment and find out what works best for you. The following stress management tips can help you do that.
Coronavirus Update For Students
Whether you’re a current undergraduate or an A-level student hoping to go to university in the foreseeable future, if you’re worried about the current COVID-19 situation, advice on coronavirus and your wellbeing has been provided by the mental health charity Mind.
Student stress can be caused by a number of factors, including:
- struggling with your mental health
- loneliness, homesickness or relationship difficulties
- finding it hard to save money or deal with debt
- harmful use of, or withdrawal from, alcohol or drugs.
There are a number of common reactions to stressful circumstances such as these, including:
- Behavioural – these could involve avoiding or escaping from the situation and turning to alcohol or drugs, a change in appetite or an inability to concentrate.
- Physical – you may experience an increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, headaches, butterflies and over-breathing.
- Psychological – stress can lead to fear, panic and the feeling that something bad is going to happen.
‘Stress is a normal, and in some cases, helpful part of everyday life,’ explains Kate Aitchison, team manager of the counselling and mental health team at Newcastle University. ‘The adrenaline that comes as part of our stress response can be motivating and actually help us to perform better. The difficulty comes when stress tips over to distress. When stress is having a negative impact on day-to-day life, when it stops you achieving, relaxing or communicating – thats when some support may help.’
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What Happens To My Body When I Experience Stress
People react differently to stress. Some common symptoms of stress include sleeping problems, sweating or a change in appetite.6,7
Symptoms like these are triggered by a rush of stress hormones in your body which, when released, allow you to deal with pressures or threats. This is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response.
Hormones called adrenaline and noradrenaline raise your blood pressure, increase your heart rate and increase the rate at which you perspire. This prepares your body for an emergency response.8 These hormones can also reduce blood flow to your skin and reduce your stomach activity. Cortisol, another stress hormone, releases fat and sugar into your system to boost your energy.9
As a result, you may experience headaches, muscle tension, pain, nausea, indigestion and dizziness. You may also breathe more quickly, have palpitations or suffer from various aches and pains. In the long-term, you may be putting yourself at risk from heart attacks and stroke.10
Practice Kindness Compassion And Gratitude
If you are hunkered down in a small space with family or friends, try to be kind and generous in your interactions and how you are thinking about yourself as well as others. Practicing kindness and compassion can help us all cope with the stress of having less private space and the uncertainty of global events. To learn how to practice self-compassion and extend this to others, check out Dr. Kristin Neffs Self-Compassion website.At the end of each day take time to reflect on what you are thankful for. Try and be specific and notice new things each day, for example, I am grateful that it was sunny at lunchtime so I could sit in the yard. You could start a gratitude journal or text friends randomly to let them know what you appreciate most about them. Encourage other people in your home to get involved.
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What Can Prolonged Stress Lead To
Stress is a natural reaction to many situations in life, such as work, family, relationships and money problems.
We mentioned earlier on that a moderate amount of stress can help us perform better in challenging situations,34 but too much or prolonged stress can lead to physical problems. This can include lower immunity levels,35 digestive and intestinal difficulties, e.g. irritable bowel syndrome ,36 or mental health problems such as depression.3 This means it is important to manage your stress and keep it at a healthy level to prevent long-term damage to your body and mind.
Get Enough Sleepbut Not Too Much
The thought of hiding away under the covers sounds pretty great when there’s so much to deal with beyond your bedroom door, but sleeping too much isn’t the answer. Research shows that the more you sleep, the more tired you actually feel. Plus, studies that have shown an association between chronic oversleeping and diabetes, heart disease, weight gain, and even higher rates of death . Adding health problems to your already heavy load is only going to exacerbate your stress levels. That said, too little sleep can make stress worse, too. “When you are tired and depleted, things look worse and less manageable than when you’re rested,” Smith says. The sweet spot to aim for, per the National Sleep Foundation, is between seven to nine hours of shut-eye a night.
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How Can We Handle Stress In Healthy Ways
Stress serves an important purposeit enables us to respond quickly to threats and avoid danger. However, lengthy exposure to stress may lead to mental health difficulties or increased physical health problems. A large body of research suggests that increased stress levels interfere with your ability to deal with physical illness. While no one can avoid all stress, you can work to handle it in healthy ways that increase your potential to recover.
There are several other methods you can use to relax or reduce stress, including: