The joy and happiness of becoming a parent is one of the most wonderful and rewarding parts of life. It’s a time of high emotion that can be affected even further by your circumstances, how long you were trying to conceive for, and any health problems your babies may have. While the dominant emotions are positive feelings of love and gratitude, there’s no denying that it is also one of the most stressful times of your life too. With the pressure of trying to do your best as a parent, the element of the unknown and the weight of responsibility that you feel having these tiny miracles of life so utterly dependant on you, worry and stress can soon start to impact on your health and happiness. Being able to recognize and deal with your stress will enable you to reduce its harmful effects and enjoy the amazing experience of bringing up your babies.
Stress is a natural response to situations that may involve some form of harm to our loved ones or us. It was an essential survival mechanism for early man, preparing his body for the flight or fight response that kept him alive. We still feel the physical effects of this response even when a situation isn’t life or death, and there are multiple causes of stress in every aspect of daily life. When you feel stressed, your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes faster and shallower, your muscles tense up and you start sweating. Your mouth may go dry, and your body may start to shake, especially your hands. This occurs because your brain is activating the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, in preparation for you to run away or defend yourself. Virtually everyone experiences this reaction to some degree when faced with something that is unpleasant or worrying, but once the stimulus is removed, the effects dissipate. There’s nothing to be concerned about in the normal course of events, in fact, the stress response can be an important factor in producing your best performance at critical times. The problem is when you are under constant stress, and this reaction becomes chronic. If your body is constantly on a state of high alert, the stress hormones are circulating through your system in high doses all the time, which puts a strain on your body that can lead to physical health problems and trigger mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.
You will almost certainly be familiar with the physical symptoms of acute stress described above. You should also have some idea of how well you cope with stress normally. Your personality can have a significant influence on your ability to deal with stressful situations. For some people, the events in their life that others would find stressful merely roll off their shoulders, so they can shrug them off and feel none the worse. Others tend to spend their lives in a perpetual state of worry about one thing or another, unable to quit fretting about anything and everything in their lives. Most of us lie somewhere between these two extremes, but being conscious of your tendencies when it comes to feeling stress is an important piece of knowledge that will allow you to identify when your stress levels are getting out of control. If you feel exhausted, teary, down, tense, irritable and have trouble sleeping, these are all indicators that your stress levels may be too high, and that your body is struggling to deal with having too much adrenaline and cortisol in circulation. Don’t ignore these symptoms, act as soon as they arise to prevent long-term damage.
Dealing with Stress
Being a new parent is bound to make you tired and irritable, and your emotions are probably yo-yoing as well. Dealing with these problems is part and parcel of parenting, and there’s no magic cure for them, but you can take steps to avoid the chronic stress that will make you ill.
- Get some help. Don’t struggle on alone, feeling that you must manage all by yourself. Even if it’s just once a week or so, have someone around who can care for the babies while you take some time to rest, exercise, work on a hobby, or whatever you find relaxes and restores you.
- Don’t neglect your relationships. You and your partner are bound to be undergoing some stresses and strains, so be aware of how well you’re getting on and talk about any issues either of you has that need resolving. Becoming resentful of one partner not doing enough to help will contribute to a deterioration in the partnership, which is undesirable both for the two of you and your babies. You could try some sessions of online marriage counseling to address any problems before they get out of hand, and don’t get so wrapped up in yourself that you forget that your partner has feelings and problems that they are trying to deal with too.
- Be informed. Sometimes worry is caused simply by not being sure you’re doing the right thing for the babies. If this is the case, visit your health professionals and ask their advice, or consult knowledgeable friends, find a good book at the library, or see what you can find out on the Internet. One word of caution, if you go for the Internet search option, do make sure you only read information from quality websites with writers who know what they are talking about.
- Practice stress relief techniques. You can spend ten minutes here and there having a meditation or mindfulness break, just to ease the flow of data around your brain and give it a bit of a re-set. Try out some different techniques to see which one suits you best, and make a little time every day to chill and divert your mind. You can do this while nursing or feeding the babies, as you will still be awake and aware should they need your attention.
Recognizing that you are feeling chronic stress is the first stage of dealing with it, so don’t put your feelings down to this being a normal state of affairs for new parents. Be aware of your feelings and take steps to nip chronic stress in the bud, before it takes over your life.