Many new parents spend the greater part of the 9 months of pregnancy dreaming and romanticising about their new family constellation and the “bundle of joy” they are about experience. Often the reality of having a baby is very different to the idea, and many parents find themselves somewhat overwhelmed by the adjustments and demands being placed on them in the first few months of caring for their new baby, and during periods of the years that follow when new challenges arise.
In fact, a new study on parental happiness (or the lack thereof) has found that, while anticipatory happiness rose in the year preceding the birth, a significant percentage of parents reported a drop in overall happiness once baby had arrived . Then, each additional child introduces a new level of stress to the family dynamic.
Parental stress, while inevitable and normal, certainly has an effect on baby. Children are well aware of their parents’ reactions and attuned to their emotions. Many studies have indicated that when mum is stressed, the baby is likely to experience stress too . So while some of this stress is inevitable, managing parental stress becomes a priority – not only for the children’s sake, but for your own mental health as well.
The first step is to ensure that you are looking after yourself. It is very easy to forget about your own needs, or at least bump them to the bottom of the priority list, when you have children. However, it is really important that you prioritize your own needs as well. That means ensuring that you follow a healthy diet, get enough rest (wherever and whenever you can) and exercise. Taking out 30 minutes for a brisk walk by yourself can do wonders for your mental state – not only does it get the blood flowing, but it gives you some valuable time to yourself.
Other self care activities can take a few seconds and may seem more do-able if you feel strapped for time and energy:
- breathe – take a long deep slow breath in and an even longer slower breath out
- focus on what you are doing – use your senses to fully notice your actions and surroundings, e.g. with a mouthful of food take a second or two to notice the taste, texture, smell, sounds, and sights
- stop what you are doing and sit with silence (for the few seconds that you get)
- gently stretch – raise your arms above your head or out in front/to the sides, look left and right, roll your shoulders, try and touch your toes.
- take a moment to switch off from the outside world – read an article in a magazine, check facebook (briefly!!), look through your junk mail…