- Stressful thoughts can quickly spiral into grouchiness, and we may end up off-loading our tension onto our kids.
- Perpetual stress and anxiety can take the joy out of parenting, which can affect our kids by undermining their self-worth.
- Most of the time, when faced with stressful events, we only notice the urge to take action and not the thoughts that lead to uncomfortable feelings.
- When feeling stressed, it can help to start by noticing our thoughts and feelings, which can help us change the way we think about stressful events.
"Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions." – Hafiz
When life gets overwhelming, we often feel angry and victimized. And yes, there are some things we can't change (such as a global pandemic). So when you get stressed and overwhelmed, where do you start? With what you can control: you.
Do you notice how quickly a stressful thought can spiral into grouchiness (aka resentment, irritability, anxiety and overwhelm)? Maybe we notice that we're almost out of milk, and wonder when we'll have time to pick it up, and before we know it we're in a tailspin over how overwhelmed and rushed we feel, how we'll never catch up with all the things we have to do, how we never get our own needs met, how unappreciated we feel.
That anxious overwhelm can make us feel so bad inside that maybe we lash out at the next person who annoys us, who might be our child. Or maybe we just stay in a pinched and anxious mood all day, sighing or snapping at our kids, off-loading our tension onto them.
Many of us feel stressed and overwhelmed — which is a form of anxiety, which is low-level fear — so often that the bad moods begin to feel normal. They make it impossible to be emotionally generous, so we're more impatient and resentful, so our children behave worse. They trigger doubt about whether the sacrifices of parenting are worth it.
All parents struggle occasionally, but when we're in perpetual stress and overwhelm, we stop enjoying our children. Unfortunately, although our kids can't articulate it, there's a cost to that. It undermines their sense of self-worth. They act out more.
How can you prevent this tendency?
Start by Noticing Those Urges to Fight or Go Numb
Stressful events happen to everyone. Sometimes, we rise to the occasion and grow from them. Sometimes, they overwhelm us. What makes the difference? How we think about them.
Most of the time, we don't even consciously notice the thoughts that start us off down the slippery slope or the uncomfortable feelings they give rise to. But when we have a thought that upsets us, our body responds by going into flight, fight or freeze.
So what we actually notice is a sudden urgent need to take action. Any action, just to stop those uncomfortable feelings, to make us feel like we're doing something to address the situation. Suddenly, we're awash in stress neurotransmitters signaling us to get ready for an emergency.
So we suddenly crave a snack (that's freeze) or take refuge in a screen (that's flight). Or everything sets us off, so we find ourselves snapping at our partner, yelling at our kids, or slamming things around (that's fight).
Unfortunately, the actions we take from that place of fear or anxiety are never helpful. They're not even designed to address the situation constructively; they're just an automatic reaction to fend off our anxiety.
You can't prevent stressful events. But you can change how you think about them. You can notice the thoughts and the feelings they cause. You can change the thoughts, which changes the feelings. And you can work through the places where you're getting stuck, which gives you more peace with what you can't change and more power to change what you can.
In our next post, I'll give you practical mindfulness tips to shift your mood.