By Elicia Clarke @thepawsitiveproject
Becoming a parent can be such an exciting and joyous time but it doesn’t come without its challenges. Poor sleep, changes to your usual self care routine and unsolicited advice from others are just a few of the reasons many parents experience stress. Here are 5 tips that may be help with emotional ups and downs of parenthood.
1. Become familiar with your inner voice
There is a link between the way you think, feel and behave. If you have been feeling stressed or overwhelmed it can be helpful to listen to the way you speak to yourself to see if your self-talk is maintaining that stress. You may notice that your self-talk can be broken into two categories, your inner coach and your inner critic. Your inner critic may tell you things like, “I’m doing a terrible job” or “I should have known that” whereas, your inner coach may tell you things like, “You’re doing the best you can” or “I didn’t realise that, now I know for next time”. Many of us don’t pay attention to the way we talk to ourselves so our inner critic can be chatting away, contributing to our stress without us realising.
Becoming aware of your inner voice doesn’t mean that you need to stop your inner critic, but it provides you with a choice of whether you want to listen to it or not. If you notice your inner critic, you can try replacing the thought with something your inner coach might say. A good way to do this is to think about what you would say to a friend in the same situation. If you’re having trouble reframing the thought, try reminding yourself that your thoughts aren’t facts. Sometimes repeating the inner critic thought in a silly voice (may I suggest Elmo), can help us feel less emotional about the thought and help us take it less seriously.
2. Set small, achievable goals each day
Oprah Winfrey once said, “You can have it all. Just not all a once”. If your to-do list appears to be never ending or there just aren’t enough hours in the day, set yourself 3 main things you would like to accomplish each day. Make sure that the goals you are setting yourself are achievable. For example, it may not be realistic to expect that you will have the entire house clean or an entire work project completed when you also have a little person who needs your attention. Splitting goals into smaller, more manageable tasks can prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and give you a sense of accomplishment more regularly. Some days, you may not complete all of those tasks and that’s ok too. There’s always tomorrow.
3. Have a flexible routine
Routine provides predictability and security for children but it also has a multitude of benefits for adult mental health. Having a routine does not mean that you have to be doing the same thing at the same time every day, it can be general such as getting out for a walk each morning or knowing that you go to the library on Fridays. The key to routine when you have children is flexibility. Even the best laid plans can inevitably fall apart when there are little people involved. Viewing your routine as a general guide rather than a hard and fast rule can help you adapt when things all of a sudden have to change.
4. Adopt the self care mantra: little and often
When I was at University and we had large assignments, I had a lecturer who used to tell us “little and often”. He suggested that it was more effective to write the assignment for a small amount of time each day rather than try to complete it in one go. I have adopted this mantra when it comes to self care as a parent. Prior to having a child, my self care consisted of multiple yoga classes per week and long coffee dates with friends. Now that I’m a parent, long stretches of ‘me time’ feel like a luxury. Instead, it can be more helpful to approach self care as something that can be done in bite size pieces throughout the day rather than sitting down for a degustation.
Try making a list of things that energise you and fill your cup. Try scheduling these things in to your week but bare in mind that they may not look the same as before you were a parent. Be mindful of falling into the trap of ‘all or nothing’ thinking e.g. If I can’t attend a yoga class for an hour at a studio there is no point. Instead look for variations such as 20 minute yoga flows on YouTube or an app that you can do at home.
5. Let go of the idea of balance and embrace the idea of the globe
After I returned to work when my son was 6 months old, I remember desperately searching for information on work/parenting balance. I had this visual in my mind of a set of scales where work sat neatly on one side and being a parent sat on the other, perfectly balanced. This idea can be very restrictive as life very rarely works out that way. When it didn’t I found myself feeling stressed and feeling like a failure (hello inner critic), but in fact I had set myself up with unrealistic expectations. Instead of balance, it can be useful to view different priorities as being like countries on a globe. Sometimes that priority will be sitting at the front, like a country facing the sun while others sit at the back, experiencing darkness. It doesn’t mean that the priorities at the back aren’t important, it just means that they aren’t the most thing important in that moment.
This doesn’t have to just apply to work, it can apply to household duties or any other priorities that can be conflicting. For example, when the house is a mess but your baby wants to have a cuddle, it can be helpful to understand that in some instances you need to decide which one of those priorities are going to be your focus and you’ll commit your attention to. This helps prevent feeling like you ‘should’ be doing something else because you have decided on your focus for that moment.
It is important to remember that while some stress during parenting is common, if you are experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or your baby or you feel sad or anxious majority of the time, that you discuss this with a professional.