Are you a mum-zilla?

Keep­ing stress lev­els low will help you cope better, writes Dr Justin Coul­son

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Best Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

O f all the jobs in the world, par­ent­ing must be one of the tough­est, most chal­leng­ing and con­fronting things we do. Chil­dren are hard to un­der­stand, and some­times they seem im­pos­si­ble to con­trol. We reg­u­larly feel over­whelmed and in­ca­pable of get­ting it right — es­pe­cially on those bad days.

Just last week I was solo par­ent­ing. My wife was away for a few days with a friend who was griev­ing the loss of her hus­band. I had the six kids and was feel­ing OK un­til Sun­day morn­ing, when my three-year-old fed all the fish food to the fish. We had a big con­tainer with about a two-year sup­ply. And ap­par­ently over­feed­ing fish can kill them! We have an out­side pond and I spent twenty min­utes with a kitchen strainer, fish­ing the food out of the pond in the mid­dle of a freez­ing win­ter.

I walked back into the house and dis­cov­ered that she had opened the fire­place. I had re­moved the safety screen to get the fire started when I dis­cov­ered the fish food is­sue and for­got­ten to place the screen back where it be­longed. The fire was out and the fire­place was cold. The lit­tle one saw this as a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity to cover the floor with ashes, step in it, and run foot­prints all through the house — on both the floor­boards and the car­pet!

Stress typ­i­cally comes from a feel­ing that we are out of con­trol. When we feel pres­sured or when we feel we have no choices avail­able to us, stress builds up. We feel anger. We ex­pe­ri­ence headaches or stom­ach churn. We be­come dis­cour­aged and feel help­less. It’s as though there’s noth­ing we can do to solve the prob­lems we face.

The ideas be­low can help you to man­age and deal with stress when it sur­faces.

1. Recog­nise what sets you off. Sim­ply be­com­ing aware of those stres­sors helps you to avoid them, or plan con­tin­gen­cies. You might know that morn­ings are a stress­ful time. By recog­nis­ing this, you can proac­tively cre­ate new habits to make morn­ings work better.

2. Ac­cept that you can’t fix ev­ery­thing. Some­times that sim­ple ac­knowl­edg­ment can change the game. When we know stress is com­ing and ac­cept it, we feel calmer. The stress is strangely less stress­ful. Ac­cep­tance is a pow­er­ful tool in stress re­duc­tion.

3. Find the funny. My friend, Wally, holds spe­cial train­ing ses­sions for his kids when things go wrong at home. As an ex­am­ple, if the lights are left on, he calls the fam­ily to­gether to dis­cuss a ter­ri­ble crime. “Some­one has snuck into the house and left the lights on. It was prob­a­bly an ele­phant. Let’s go ele­phant hunt­ing and switch off all the lights as we search the house.” The more ridicu­lous, the better!

4. Re­hearse a re­minder. Par­ent­ing au­thor Steve Bid­dulph says we should al­ways be calmer than our chil­dren. That’s eas­ier said than done when stress lev­els are climb­ing. I have a re­minder that I try to re­hearse in tough times: “Calm and kind.” I re­mind my­self that I need to be calm and kind when I want to be highly strung and hor­ri­ble! 5. Look after your­self. If you’re not get­ting enough sleep, if you’re us­ing al­co­hol un­healthily (or other drugs at all), or if you’re not tak­ing care of your­self emo­tion­ally, stress will build faster and hurt your fam­ily more. 6. Teach when ev­ery­thing is calm. It is tempt­ing to dis­ci­pline while we are in the mo­ment with our kids. We want to “sort this stuff out now!” But recog­nis­ing that we can talk later means ev­ery­one can calm down and re­lax a lit­tle be­fore deal­ing with drama. 7. Get help. If you ex­pe­ri­ence high lev­els of stress, if you feel out of con­trol, or if anger is over­tak­ing you, help is widely avail­able. When you feel over­whelmed, dis­cour­aged, or even sui­ci­dal, get help. Go to your GP. Talk to your mum or your best friend. Ar­range for some­one to help a few hours each week. Just get help. There are dozens of other ways that you can re­duce stress for your­self. These might in­clude giv­ing your­self a daily 20 minute va­ca­tion by tak­ing a bath, go­ing on a walk, see­ing a friend, or read­ing a book. Ther­apy and let­ting go of the past may be op­tions. Sched­ul­ing a walk on the beach or a pic­nic in the park on a Satur­day morn­ing might be just what your fam­ily needs to de-stress. As with most chal­lenges in life, an­swers are rarely sim­ple. But stress is not your fam­ily’s friend. These steps may be sim­ple start­ing points to re­duce stress and raise re­silience.

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