Many parents may be feeling like stress is taking over their lives right now, especially those with school-age children, who would probably say their stress level is a 12 on a scale of 1-10.
In fact, many completely identify with and find themselves crying right along with young Blake McLennan from Arizona. Her parents filmed her crying and lamenting how it's not OK that everything is closed and that she can't have play dates with her friends, that school is not taking place and, most importantly, McDonald's has closed its playground. (Google it if you haven't seen it — it's worth it!)
It's true. Stress is at an all-time high and many parents are feeling its sting.
* What should I do about child care?
* What's the best decision about school?
* How am I going to work and have the kids at home trying to do online classes?
* Is my job on the chopping block?
* What if one of us gets COVID-19?
* Will my college student go back to school, or are we stuck together for the semester?
So many questions and so few answers. It's enough to make any parent ask, "Where do I go to resign because I feel like I just can't do it anymore?" Not that you would ever do that, but this is intense. Parenting is stressful during "normal" times, but throw in a pandemic and many parents are wondering how they can continue at this level of intensity and stress.
Here's a word of comfort. Parents and children have gone through pandemics and other incredibly hard things before and they came out on the other side of it. You will, too!
These things may help decrease some of your stress as you trek through this and get to the other side healthy and whole.
* Acknowledge the stress. This seems like a no-brainer, but acknowledge that you are stressed out. Talk with your spouse or a good friend about all that is stressing you. Most everybody can identify with these feelings. Even though they can't do anything to change the situation, they can listen, and that is a huge help.
* Give yourself a pep talk. Chances are pretty great that you are a good parent, so stop telling yourself you aren't. It just creates more stress, and it probably isn't true. Keep in mind that you are having to make hard decisions based on your own unique circumstances.
* You do you. Stop comparing yourself and your situation with others and the choices they are making. The only person who knows what's right for your family is you.
* Breathe! Seriously, to decrease your stress, make time to breathe. Incorporate these times into your day, especially when it feels like your stress is taking over. Just 60 seconds of deep breathing with your eyes closed can help reduce stress and make you less irritable with your children.
* Decide on a routine. Not only will this reduce your tension levels, it will reduce the stress your children feel and act out on. Morning, noon and evening routines and rituals can drastically reduce stress overload for everyone. This doesn't have to be complex. Just little things can make a huge difference.
* Train your brain. Avoid telling yourself, "I didn't sign up for the parenting pandemic plan. This is just too hard." Your brain believes what you tell it. Actually thinking this thought all the time creates more stress. It is hard, but you can do it. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and give yourself and those around you some grace.
* Maintain good health habits. Be really intentional about getting enough rest, eat as healthfully as possible (binge-eating actually makes you feel worse) and exercise. You may not feel like exercising, but physical activity that makes you sweat gets rid of toxins in your body and helps you think more clearly. You hear this all the time, because it's important and it's true, especially in times of extreme stress. You can't be the parent you want to be if you are running on empty all the time. Believe it or not, not doing these things increases your own stress levels and the stress levels of those around you so you kinda can't afford not to take good care of yourself. This is probably one of the most powerful tools you have to keep stress from taking over your life.
* Journal. Putting your feelings and all the things that are troubling you down on paper can help you process what you are experiencing. It also provides another way for you to figure out exactly where your stress is coming from in order to better manage it.
* Manage your intake of news and social media. You really might be shocked at how your anxiety levels decrease when you remove these two things from your day. Try it and see what happens.
* Call timeout. When you feel yourself getting ready to lose it with your kids, consider putting everybody in quiet time (including yourself) for a few minutes so you can get your bearings. Phone a friend, put in a good movie, have a dance party or do anything that will break the cycle you are currently in and redirect everybody so you can continue moving everybody in a constructive direction.
* Schedule time to do fun things. This is vital, especially during high-stress times. Make your own Slip 'N Slide, play in the sprinkler with your kids, play a game of Horse, go on a hike and find a creek to play in, go blueberry picking or plant a garden. Think of play as a necessary escape from reality.
The next time you feel the stress monster creeping up your back, through your shoulders and into your head, take the reins and tame it by using these strategies. The stress will be with us for a while, but we don't have to let it get the best of us!
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.