5 evidence-based tips for overcoming early parenthood stress and building resilience
How am I going to do this? I don't know anything about raising a family.
If you’ve ever had those thoughts, you’re in the company of millions of other Australians who at some point before and during early parenthood just weren’t sure how they were going to cope.
Stress, depression and anxiety are becoming more prevalent in Australians, young people especially. Around 20% of young women aged between 15 and 34 will experience depression and anxiety at some point in their lives. With society putting such high expectations on parenthood and it appearing so wonderful and easy from the outside, it can be very difficult to admit you are not coping.
Life for any new family includes ups and downs, chasllenges abound and life always throws us unexpected twists and turns down the road. There are certain skills and strategies that have been identified as important for the development of resilience for individuals and drawing upon these skills and building successful coping strategies to bounce back after challenging times.
Following these tips can help with managing stress during early parenthood:
- Establish support networks with friends, family and work colleagues
Remember that you're only human, and humans aren’t perfect. When things get difficult the reality is that often we won’t speak about it openly for fear of judgment. Don’t feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders alone; many hands make light work. Instead, try reaching out and ask for support from a trusted friend or mate, you may find they are going through the same issues with the same feelings as you. Being able to help support others and offer assistance through their hard times can also help you to get a new perspective on the issues that may be troubling you. Never be afraid to ask your GP to refer you to a good counsellor or psychologist either, it’s all part of their commitment to your health. You are not alone. Everyone has good days and bad days. It is all part of the journey of parenthood.
- Practice mindfulness for wellbeing at home
Did you know that the simple act of clearing your mind for just 15 minutes each day could lower your blood pressure and actually change the way your genes regulate inflammation, circadian rhythms and glucose metabolism? One of the best things about mindfulness is its contagiousness. Once one person begins practicing mindfulness, it doesn’t take long to calm the whole house, classroom or workplace. Studies on mindfulness and emotional contagion have shown that others, especially children, can catch the emotional state of those around us without knowing it.
- Create a self-care plan
While being a parent is constantly about putting the needs of your baby (and often others) first, it is easy, but not recommended to forget about your own needs and feelings. Only by looking after your own needs and feelings can you continue to look after the needs of your child and spouse. Pathways courses teach that there are 4 types of self-care – emotional self-care, physical self-care, spiritual self-care and social self-care. At its core, self-care is about identifying activities that support your wellbeing in order to meet your personal and professional commitments along with maintaining a positive and strong mindset for the future. At self-care workshops run by Pathways to Resilience you will learn how stress impacts brain function. You will learn how reflective tools can be used to bring into awareness the messages of the body and the impact of our thoughts and emotions on our wellbeing. Remember – self-care is not selfish.
- Stop comparing yourself with others
Judging someone’s Facebook or Instagram page, they may appear to lead a charmed life without a stress in the world. Lovely family pictures abound while strolling through Paris on a European vacation and living a life of happiness at home. Social media has many positives, but when used as a tool to judge others’ lives and compare your own, it can become toxic quickly.
Researchers from Bond University in Australia have studied the relationship between self-worth, self-esteem and Instagram use in young adults between the ages of 18 and 29. Results showed that people who based their self-worth more on others’ approval tended to engage in more social comparison on Instagram, and that people who engaged in more social comparison on Instagram ultimately tended to have lower self-esteem. Browsing social media alone isn’t damaging to your self-esteem but when you start to compare yourself to the shiny snapshots of the lives of others, that’s when social media usage could become harmful to mental health.
- Work on building your personal resilience
Contrary to what many people think, resilient parents aren’t the ones that don’t fail. Instead they are the ones that fail, learn and thrive because of it. Fifty years of research into resilience has shown that it is fostered by positive attitudes, behaviours and social supports that can be adopted and cultivated by anyone.
A resilient person is someone who is able to maintain good mental health and productivity in less stressful times, as well as during times of stress or adversity. Parents with greater resilience manage stress more effectively, which is a major risk factor for exacerbating conditions such as anxiety and depression. It is important to understand that resilience is much more than simply coping. Resilient people are also highly flexible, able to adapt to new and different situations, learn from their experiences, are generally more optimistic and ask for help from fellow employees.
Some factors to help build personal resilience include:
- Learning about the concept of resilience and how it affects mental health and wellbeing
- Identifying your personal stressors and understanding the nature of stress
- Cognitive Behavioural Training or Mindfulness/Acceptance and resilience programs