Moms and dads, you're probably stressed out. Raising a child can be one of the most rewarding, amazing, exhausting, infuriating and thankless jobs on Earth. It's a 24-hour a day gig, and you don't exactly get any kind of paid vacation. At some point, this is bound to result in stress, which can lead to all kinds of health problems -- such as headaches, lowered immunity or heart disease -- so it's important to seek relief wherever you can [source: Mayo Clinic: Stress].
But it's not all bad news: There are a few simple, everyday things you can do to relieve the mental burden of parenthood. You can find solutions and relief in the next aisle at the grocery store, at the gym, or even in your existing friendships. So, read on to find 10 tips to help you relax -- you definitely deserve it.
It takes a village to raise a child, as the saying goes. To share the load, see if you can arrange regular play dates for your child with other families -- neighbors, friends, or parents of your child's classmates. In addition to enhancing your kids' social lives and giving you a little break from the responsibilities of parenting, scheduling regular play dates could lead to new friendships for you.
This kind of connection with other parents often has the potential to extend beyond graham crackers and LEGO sets and into a source of moral support in which you share some of the same problems and stress factors. Just make sure that your new pals are people you trust -- and stay aware for signs that your children may not be enjoying these play dates as much as you do.
Look into enrolling your kids in after-school programs, weekend day camps or other fun activities at places you trust. The right activity could give your kids a lasting interest in a fun hobby, an appreciation for the great outdoors or a new best friend. It'll also allow you to take a temporary break from many of your parenting responsibilities for a few hours.
Check out the offerings from your local school district, library, zoo, parks department or children's museum. Local newspapers or parenting magazines may also run features on summer activities that might otherwise go overlooked. The American Camp Association's Web site also offers an extensive directory of camps for just about any age group and interest [source: American Camp Association]. Or, just ask around.
Though it may be tempting to turn to the comforts of fast food or frozen pizza, remember that good nutrition can be a life saver. A balanced diet should sustain your energy levels during the day and help you sleep better at night. Choose foods with lots of complex carbohydrates, calcium and good fats, such as the following:
- Complex carbohydrates give you energy and may boost your brain's levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that has a calming effect. You can get your complex carb fix by eating whole-grain breads and pastas and starchy vegetables.
- Calcium has been shown to reduce tension and anxiety in some studies. You can find calcium in milk, many leafy vegetables and soy products.
- Omega-3s, which are found most commonly in fish, keeping your body running smoothly by maintaining your stress hormones at a manageable level. You can also find omega-3s in nuts and seeds.
In addition to helping you lead a healthier lifestyle, switching up your diet can be good for your kids, too. You might cook healthier meals, stock fewer sugary snacks or go out for burgers less. What's more, studies have shown that children often model their own eating habits after their parents' [source: Tibbs et al.]. What better reason to put down the French fries?
While getting away from it all might seem like the answer to all your problems, a family vacation can sometimes turn into a disaster. Kids and parents tend to have different ideas of what constitutes fun, which can cause disagreement or arguments. So, before you pack your bags, check out your options.
Many cruise lines and resorts have seen a need to provide resources for overstressed parents. As a result, many offer programs for younger children and teenagers that can take some of the entertaining responsibilities off parents' shoulders. For examples, certain Four Seasons locations have concierges for teens, and Carnival Cruise Lines offers excursions exclusively for kids [source: Four Seasons, Carnival Cruise Lines]. Do your research before you book your trip, and you just might be able to make it through "Anna Karenina" this time.
It's not uncommon to hear about the children who are overbooked and overstressed; but what does this mean for their parents? Usually, a lot of driving. Although it might be stressful to cart your kids from ballet class to baseball practice to a babysitting appointment, you can make your car a kind of oasis on four wheels. Here are some tips for reclaiming your vehicle.
- Invest in some books for the car to keep your children busy. If they tend to get carsick, try small inexpensive toys you won't mind losing between the seats.
- Enforce an indoor-voices rule.
- Listen to the type of music or radio programs you like, as long as you're OK with the kids listening in. Who knows; your kids might thank you later for turning them on to Simon and Garfunkel early.
- Keep car repair items in the trunk, and consider an AAA membership. The peace of mind you'll have can help you stay worry-free during a day of heavy driving.
With a few of these ideas, your vehicle could be a more peaceful place in no time.
When you're lost in the woods of parenting, it may be easy to believe that you're totally isolated -- and that no one gets where you're coming from. Asking for help can be hard sometimes. Living in a fast-paced culture puts an emphasis on being able to juggle all the demands of parenthood -- from changing diapers to giving driving lessons.
However, parental stress is a universal issue, and most parents can understand the need to take a breather. So don't be afraid to ask for help. Book a babysitter so you can have some worry-free time to run errands. Enlist the grandparents so you can take a parents-only vacation. Or put out a distress call to your best friend for a vent session over coffee. You might be surprised at how willing other people may be to help you out if you just ask.
Many parents probably spend a lot of their energy making sure the kids feel their best, and it can be easy to neglect their own well-being. But don't underestimate the sense of happiness and relaxation that may come with spending a little time and energy -- or money -- on you. Whether it's going to the salon for a much-needed haircut or a going all-out with a full afternoon at the spa, be sure to set aside time to do something for yourself.
It may even mean something as simple as going to the store to buy a new product you've been eyeing. You might not have to wait till you have some time alone, either. Some retail outposts, such as IKEA and the Apple Store, cater to parents by offering kid-friendly play areas or parents' lounges to enhance adults' shopping experiences.
In addition to giving you the physical endurance necessary to chase your children around all day, exercise has a number of other health benefits. Working up a sweat releases endorphins and neurotransmitters that regulate and lift your mood, potentially staving off some of the effects of parental anxiety and frustration [source: Mayo Clinic: Anxiety].
In addition, many scientists think that exercise may physically change the brain, making it more stress-resistant [source: Reynolds]. Exercise, a positive physical stress on the brain, may prepare the structures of the brain for more negative, psychological stresses -- such as when your kid gets sent to the principal's office at school. So, renew that gym membership, buy a few fitness DVDs or start turning that daily dog walk into a run. Your grey matter will thank you.
Meditation, breathing exercises or the steady movements of yoga might be able to counteract the stress of a disastrous day. Yoga might be trendy, but there's a reason it's so popular: Its rhythmic repetition and emphasis on the inner functions of the body -- mainly, breathing -- aims to lure your focus away from the outer stressors of the day [source: Mayo Clinic: Yoga]. Additionally, your yoga sessions might make you more flexible and physically fit.
If yoga just isn't for you, then you could also try a simple breathing exercise to temporarily remove yourself from a stressful day: Slowly inhale through your nose for eight counts, then exhale for another eight.
While all these little tips might add up to a healthier, less stressful life, what's most important is a positive attitude about yourself. Sometimes the pressures of parenting culture emphasize an impossible ideal: the mom or dad who seems to manage everything without batting an eye or ever having to speak a harsh word to his or her children. As a result, many parents tend to be their own worst critics.
Although it may be easy to get caught up in the tiny, day-to-day decisions, it's important to realize that many of these details won't matter in the grand scheme of things. Your child probably won't mind, for example, if you miss a hockey game or two. So if you try to focus on the big picture, and let go of worrying about the things that probably won't matter in the long run, your stress levels are likely to decrease.
Learn more about parenting and ways to relax by visiting the links on the next page.
HowStuffWorks learns about the free-range parenting philosophy and talks to the movement's founder Lenore Skenazy.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- American Camp Association. "Find a Camp."http://find.acacamps.org/finding_a_camp.php
- Carnival Cruise Lines. "Youth Experience"http://www.carnival.com/onboardexp_home.aspx
- Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. "Family Travel."http://www.fourseasons.com/leisure_activities/family_travel/
- MacNeille, Suzanne. "Travel With Teenagers: Options for Taking the Sullen Set Along." New York Times. May 21, 2006. (February 19, 2010) http://travel.nytimes.com/2006/05/21/travel/21teen.html?pagewanted=1
- Mayo Clinic. "Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms." Oct. 23, 2009.http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression-and-exercise/MH00043
- Mayo Clinic. "Stress symptoms: Effects on your body, feelings and behavior." Feb. 20, 2009.http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-symptoms/SR00008_D
- Mayo Clinic. "Tap into the many health benefits of yoga." January 16, 2010. (February 19, 2010)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/yoga/CM00004
- Meals Matter. "Nutrition and Stress." (February 20, 2010) http://www.mealsmatter.org/EatingForHealth/Topics/Healthy-Living-Articles/Nutrition-and-Stress.aspx
- Reynolds, Gretchen. "Phys Ed: Why Exercise Makes You Less Anxious." New York Times. November 19, 2009. (February 23, 2010)http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/18/phys-ed-why-exercise-makes-you-less-anxious/
- Tibbs, T. et al. "The relationship between parental modeling, eating patterns, and dietary intake among African-American parents." American Dietary Association. May 2001. (February 20, 2010)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11374346
- WebMD. "Diet for Stress Management Slideshow: Stress-Reducing Foods."http://www.webmd.com/diet/slideshow-diet-for-stress-management