Stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety are similar but different. The physical symptoms – like headaches, stomach aches, rapid heart rate, and tense muscles – are similar, and both can lead to excessive worry, sleepless nights, irritability, exhaustion, and difficulty concentrating.
Stress can be positive or negative, and is normally a short-term reaction to something like a change or a threat. But if stress is sustained, it can trigger anxiety or depression.
Everyone has stress in their lives – it’s a normal reaction to perceived or actual challenges, demands, threats or changes.
Your body normally lets you know when you’re stressed. In stressful times your muscles may tense up, your heart rate might rise, and your breathing may get faster.
Sometimes these stress reactions are helpful, giving you the rush of adrenaline you need to get somewhere on time, or motivating you to get things done. But too much stress – or sustained stress – can be overwhelming, and if you keep going full-speed ahead your body will tell you it’s had enough.
Too much stress could mean you:
- have trouble switching off the brain, especially at night
- have lots of headaches
- have dizzy spells
- worry about absolutely everything
- have frequent illness
- are irritable
- find it hard to be patient with your children or partner
- have tummy problems.
Having a baby is a beautiful – and huge – change in your life, and it can be a stressful life event for many people. Some days you can spend the entire day trying (and often failing) to get one thing done. It sometimes feels like life is out of control – and if you’re the kind of person who likes to be in control and worries about not getting things done, then losing control of your environment, the timing of your day, and everything else that comes with being a parent can be really stressful.
You may feel overwhelmed, and like you just can’t cope. This obviously isn’t good for your health and wellbeing.
Managing your stress
Your emotions can impact on how you cope with caring for your baby and how you feel about them. When your baby’s little, your days and nights will be busy with feeding, changing, holding, and caring for them, and it might seem like you have little or no time for yourself or anyone else. Be kind to yourself, just keep breathing, and know you’re not alone in this.
These things might help:
- know the ‘superparent’ is a myth, so don’t expect too much from yourself. All parents have good and bad days
- know your triggers. If you can identify what makes you feel stressed – like getting your child or children out of the house in the morning – you might be able to do something to make mornings less stressful. It could be that doing something as simple as helping your child choose their clothes the night before could make your mornings less stressful
- challenge negative thoughts about things that cause you stress. If you get stressed when your child has a meltdown in public (which almost all children do at some point), ask yourself whether people are genuinely thinking you’re a terrible parent, or whether they might be empathising with you instead. Know you can get through this – most, if not all, parents have been there
- know your limits, and choose your battles. If you find something overwhelming or really irritating – like grocery shopping with your child – try avoiding that source of stress by ordering groceries online
- be realistic about what you can and can’t get done in a day. Stress often means you’re trying to do too much, so do dial it back, do what you can do, and ask for help when you need it
- it might seem impossible, but take some time for yourself. Ask someone to watch your child for half an hour or an hour, and do something you enjoy.
- keep talking to people. Friends, especially other parents, often share similar experiences and stresses, and an empathise with you. It’s good to let your partner and whānau know you’re feeling stressed so they can help. If you’re not comfortable sharing your feelings, try writing them down. Sometimes getting them on paper can help keep them in perspective
- look after yourself. Your physical and emotional health is really important. Eating well, getting some exercise, and avoiding stimulants like caffeine and depressants like alcohol may help
- If you’re having trouble sleeping, it’s a good idea to avoid screens for at least an hour before bed. If you lie awake looking at the ceiling, worrying that you’re not sleeping won’t help. Try getting out of bed and reading a book, or doing a guided mediation to help you wind down. You could also try writing down what’s worrying you – sometimes putting it on paper can help get it out of your head.
If you feel very stressed all the time, talk to your GP. If they can’t help you make a plan to manage your stress, they can refer you on to another health professional who can.