Parenting Stress Cycles [Part 2]

Parenting Stress Cycles [Part 2]

Mar 22, 2023

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Today’s episode is part two in a three-part series. Last week, I talked about what a stress cycle is and how it shows up in your parenting. If you missed it, you can listen here

Today, we’re taking it to the next step: When you’re in a parenting stress cycle, how do you get out of it?

The first step is to deal with the stressor, and this is the one that most of us are already pretty good at. We deal with the situation. But that isn’t the end.

 

Ending a stress cycle

To complete the stress cycle, you also need to deal with the stress juice - that cocktail of hormones and chemicals flowing through your body. 

Sometimes, this happens naturally, but sometimes you need to take intentional actions to move through the stress and release it.

One example of completing a stress cycle naturally is when you drop your kids off somewhere where you feel that they are safe. It’s that “ahhh” feeling. You can exhale, you feel your shoulders relax and your body lighten. You can breathe deeply.

For me, these are all signs that I’ve completed my stress cycle. It feels like relief.

Bedtime might be another one. That moment when things are finally quiet, you slip into your pajamas and get your Netflix on. You’re off duty.

The moments when this happens for you might be different, but it comes down to the feeling of relief and relaxation.

 

The mama stress spiral

Often, we take internal stressors with us. So while the situation may have calmed down, our minds have not. Worries, fears and criticisms continue swimming around in your head, creating even more stress juice in your body.

If you’re living in a chronic state of stress, you may not even know how to give your body the signal to relax. 

Your stress juice may have been building up for days, weeks, months or even years of a stress cycle. I think of this as a mama stress spiral, because it feels like there is no end. And this makes it really difficult to be calm and think clearly.

Here are a few signs that you might be stuck in a stress spiral:

  • You find yourself in stress-activating situations that OUTPACE your ability to process them. There is so much coming at you that you don’t have a chance to reset.
  • Simple tasks or requests feel overwhelming.
  • You suffer from 'Mad Mom' syndrome.
  • You engage in self-destructive behaviors on a consistent basis (overdrinking, drug abuse, binge watching, excessive news checking, scrolling social media, overeating, over-exercising, restrictive dieting, obsessive thinking, picking at things or your body).
  • Avoidance & checking out; aka ‘hiding from your life’. Not returning texts or phone calls. Declining invitations. Not working on projects.
  • Your body is out of whack. You feel sick all the time. You have chronic pain, injuries that won’t heal or recurring infections.
  • Sadness that won’t go away, rage that feels out of control or negative or anxious thoughts that you can’t shake. 

 

How to release stress juice

Sometimes, you have to work a little bit to move through the stress cycle and release the stress juice. 

The cool thing is that just being aware of your stress cycles is enough to help your brain start paying more attention. 

Getting out of a stress cycle is similar to digesting or metabolizing food that comes into your body. Your body has to process the stress juice, just like it has to process the food that you eat.

And if you have to do this more than once a day, that’s ok. When you have more coming at you, you’ll need to reset more often.

The most effective way to complete a stress cycle is with movement. Moving your body for 20-30 minutes a day is going to reset your stress cycle and give that stress juice a place to move. 

This doesn’t have to look a certain way. Any kind of movement, including with your kids, will help. 

Some other strategies are:

  • Connect with an adult who cares about you
  • Do something that delights you
  • Do a thought dump
  • Sleep or rest

This can happen in the evenings, in small chunks throughout the day or whatever works for you.

 

Calm Mama Breaks

Ideally, we’re resetting our stress cycles every day. We deal with stress a little at a time so that it doesn’t build up. 

But sometimes, we need a little more - a bigger chunk of time where you’re not on kid duty. I call this a Calm Mama Break.

No matter where you are on the spectrum of stress, I encourage you to plan one of these breaks. 

First, decide when it will be and for how long. Who will take care of the kids while you’re taking a break to rest and reset? Ask them for help in advance and get it on the calendar.

Next, what do you want to do? What recharges you? What did you enjoy doing before you had kids? Will you go alone or with someone? 

 

Remember, mama, when you are in a stress cycle, there is nothing wrong with you. Being a mom is HARD, and feeling stressed is normal. 

It’s good for you and for your family to take breaks to rest and reset so you don’t lose your shit.

Next week, we’ll wrap up this series with ways you can deal with stressors - the stressful circumstances in your life.

 

You’ll Learn:

  • Signs that you’ve completed a stress cycle
  • The difference between a stress cycle and a stress spiral
  • Strategies to release stress juice
  • How to plan a Calm Mama Break

 

Resources:

 

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