Raising children is wonderfully rewarding, but it can also be quite stressful-even more so than most jobs, researchers have found. And chronic stress, if unchecked, can lead to mental and physical health problems such as depression, fatigue, poor digestion, hormonal imbalance, and a weakened immune system. That's why it's important for moms and dads to take small practical steps each day to lower their stress. Here are several that really work.

Letting Go of Stressful Thoughts
The way we think has a tremendous impact on the way we feel. We all worry about our children's well-being, and many of us have stories like this mom:

"I got a message at work that the daycare staff had phoned me. I called them and called them, but their line was always busy, so I left and drove over. It's true, I usually assume the worst. I was sure Jasmine had gotten hurt, and I worried about all the horrible possibilities the whole way. When I got there, they said she was fine, they'd had some trouble with their phones, and they just wanted to ask me about my payment last week. I felt a little silly about getting so worked up."

Don't assume the worst. Untrue, illogical, or overly negative thoughts just increase a person's stress level, and often make him or her overreact. Letting go of these thoughts is like waking up from a bad dream, usually to good news, as Jasmine's mother found out.

Talk back to negative thoughts. One of the most powerful methods for releasing stressful thoughts is to talk back to them. All you have to do is catch the unrealistic thoughts that are making you stressed and replace them with true, logical, and positive ones. Many studies have found that this positive self-talk is one of the most powerful ways to cope with stress. In essence, you are sticking up for yourself inside your own mind by focusing on the objective facts, defending yourself against unfair attacks, and giving yourself encouragement.

For instance, let's say you've been to a preschool conference about your son, and feel upset because the teacher described him as "rambunctious." You could help yourself feel better--and have a more balanced perspective--by talking back to negative thoughts using rational, positive statements: "The teacher also said that he was sweet, smart, helpful, friendly, creative, and liked by everyone; in fact, almost everything she said was positive. Nobody has ever complained about Jason being aggressive, wild, or mean. And so what if he gets rambunctious occasionally? That's normal for a three-year-old and just means he feels safe and happy. Jason will develop appropriate self-control over time, so there is not going to be a problem."

Or let's say that you're feeling hard on yourself because your daughter keeps getting ear infections. You could tell yourself: "It's natural to worry about a sick child, and I hate it when she's in pain, but I've done everything the doctor said and I've taken really good care of her. She knows we love her. Getting extra upset about it doesn't help her and actually makes it harder for me to figure out things that will help her."

Taking in the Good
After you let go of stressful experiences, it's helpful to replace them with positive ones. Every day has dozens of little opportunities--moments of pleasure, achievement, or love--to replenish yourself psychologically. Each of these is an oasis where you can rest briefly and refuel yourself for the challenges ahead.

Notice positive events. Throughout your day, really try to pay attention to positive events. For example, notice everything you're accomplishing. Or recognize when your child has been especially sweet, your partner acted supportively, or someone has praised your work.

We're not talking about million-dollar moments, but the small change of everyday life. In a fundamental sense, the person you are is the distillation of all the experiences you've ever had. By consciously putting new, good experiences in the emotional memory bank, you build up an increasingly positive balance.

Make good feelings last. As your day unfolds, make sure that positive events register as positive experiences. Stay with those experiences a few seconds or minutes longer than you normally would. Let your body relax around the good feelings, be filled with them, and soak them up like a sponge. If you like, you could imagine that they are being placed in a treasure chest in your heart, and you can take them out and feel them again any time you want.

Out With the Old, in With the New
Going a step further, you could actively dislodge old, bad experiences from your childhood by replacing them with new, good experiences from the present.

Be conscious of both experiences. All you have to do is be aware of both experiences at the same time--the present, positive one and the old, unpleasant one--and let the new one be a more powerful experience than the old. Then you'll have an internal sense of the good, current experience dissolving and replacing the painful, old one, of getting fed where you are hungry inside. You may be giving yourself some of what you may not have gotten as a child.

Try a new way of being. In particular, try experiments in which you do something out of character that challenges a negative belief, and observe the results. For example, if you normally feel nervous about being assertive, because deep down you expect to be punished for it in some way, you could try being one notch more direct, blunt, or forceful with your children, partner, a friend, or co-worker. Or if you are leery of being open and vulnerable with people--perhaps because you think deep down that they'll disrespect or take advantage of you--you might pick a relatively low-key moment to be reveal yourself more, and see what happens.

If the experiment goes well--which is what usually happens--then let the good news sink in. This process is probably the single most effective method of personal growth we know, and every day has opportunities to use it.

The Law of Little Things
It's usually the accumulation of little things that stress parents out, like dealing with dirty diapers, interruptions, emotional outbursts, or sibling quarrels day after day.

In the same way, little moments of stress relief build up to a profound improvement in your health and well-being. Take into yourself the good things around you and make them a part of yourself. You'll feel more relaxed and be a better parent at the same time.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad