Hi, I’m Kristen and I’m stressed out. Why is it hard to admit that? As if I’m somehow not as competent or together as I’m supposed to be, whatever that means.

Yes, I’m a single mom with four kids and my own business, so you might say, well duh, but I think it’s something we all face, whatever our work, living, or parenting situations. And it’s all okay — you don’t have to feel guilty about your own parent-related stress, even if you think someone else “has it harder” or is going through something more intense.

It’s a relative thing and it’s totally understandable; parenting in itself is challenging. Then when you add in the responsibilities and challenges of the rest of life, well, you’ve got a stress cocktail. And it is not delicious.

Over the last few years and particularly over the last couple of months (yay, holidays), I’ve been struggling with a lot of my own stress-related issues, which result in both emotional and physical symptoms that can really take a toll. So much so, I actually made a personal decision to really, truly do something tangible about my feelings this year and the way I deal with them.

(And not just because I’m turning 40. Gah!)

Stress and parenting: Symptoms + Cause | Photo credit Kristen Chase

I confess that I just haven’t felt completely 100% in a good while, and well, I’m tired of feeling like I’m not at the top of my game, especially when I know that so much of it is in my control. Plus, I know that I’m a much better parent to my kids when I take care of myself — and hey, I want to be around long enough to see them get stressed out by their own kids. Ha.

That’s why I’m thrilled on a truly personal level to have the opportunity to team up with Aetna, as a participant in an excellent new initiative they’re launching in the next few days.

It’s all about encouragement, support, self-reflection, and focusing on yourself — and I’d imagine we could all use a little more of each of those, this year as parents.

So throughout the month, I’ll be sharing smart, simple tips to help you — and me! But also you —  beat at least some of the stress in our lives, and work towards living more mindfully.

Common causes of stress: You’re not alone

I’ve spent some time looking into what causes stress and how it manifests in you, which I thought would be a good jumping off point for the rest of the work I’m going to be doing on myself this coming month.

Even though we often think we know the core causes of our stress, sometimes we experience the symptoms without consciously tying them to the causes. Like, did you ever have a week of headaches or insomnia or intestinal issues which you chalk up to “eating something bad?” Then later you realize, “oh crap…my entire family is coming to stay with me next week. Maybe there’s a connection?”

Exactly.

So for me, it’s always helped to see my symptoms written down right in front of me, allowing me to say, “oh wait…so that’s what’s been bothering me this month?” rather than dismissing my symptoms as oh, an allergy headache. In the dead of winter.

Yeah, probably not.

 

Work stressors, whatever that work may be.

No shocking news here, but work is a huge source of stress for most people, whether you’re dealing with a difficult boss or challenging clients or deadlines or the commute…or simply who’s going invite you to lunch day to day. Seriously, we all have different stress triggers and none is more valid than any other.

Those of you who own your own business know the stress of always having to hustle. While I am working a dream job here, my hours can be erratic — and definitely long. (Holidays? Weekends? What are those?) The internet gives us freedom, but also keeps me tethered to work more than it probably should. And knowing that so many people are relying on me for their salaries, I never feel like I can be completely off the clock. There’s always something more I can be doing to build my business or some new opportunity I should be looking into.

And hey, if you’re a full time stay-at-home parent, work stresses go for you too. In fact, I think the stress faced by at-home parents are really underrated. The fact that parenting and running a household is your entire life, definitely creates its own anxieties and pressures that can really take a toll. So don’t give yourself a pass just because you’re not earning a traditional paycheck or clocking in at a job.

It’s okay to feel stressed, however you spend your days.

 

Life stressors: We’ve got lots.

Reality is the leading cause of stress for those in touch with it. - Lily Tomlin

You know how it goes: You’re ambling along on a nice, manageable schedule and suddenly a family member gets sick. Marriages go into turmoil. A check from a client doesn’t come through. An expensive home emergency crops up. Or, if you’re like me, you get a whopping two month’s notice that your landlord is selling your home and you have to move. And then boom! A big stress bomb gets dropped on you.

I feel fortunate that other than a big — and definitely hurried — move, over the past year I have managed to avoid lot of of the major life stressors that other people experience every day. (Knock on wood). But I do have some challenging life situations and relationships that are ongoing in my life.

Maybe for you it’s a needy sibling, a parent in distress, a difficult ex, a passive-aggressive boss, or a child who demands more attention for whatever reason.

I know it’s important for me to recognize that these stresses are always present in our lives — sometimes more prominently, other times just beneath the surface. They’re not going away. Which is why I want to learn to deal with them all better.

In fact, one of my issues is that I’m a bit of a worrier. I dwell too much on those situations and people I really can’t control, and I take on a lot of feelings and emotions from others that shouldn’t belong to me.

Any of this sounding familiar?

 

Parenting stressors: Love is Hard

Tina Fey on parenting stress: It's all relative

I love my kids and you love your kids, but being a parent to them is definitely hard work. I’ve got four to care for on my own, and with that comes myriad situations that can be difficult to manage, whether it’s the daily routines of keeping track of homework and after-school activities; the drudgery (yep, I said it) of meal planning; the sudden runny noses and coughs and colds that throw your carefully planned schedule into a tailspin…

Whoa.

I’m stressed just starting to write down my list of parenting stressors, and we haven’t even gotten to saving for college, planning for the future, and the day that they’re going to be heading out of the house and what I’ll do then. But, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself either.

 

How Stress Affects Your Health: What to Look For

It’s fascinating how stress can manifests in people in so many different ways. When you find yourself in a stressful situation, it activates your nervous system. Now that’s not bad; it means your body is doing what it’s supposed to do, after which, the situation resolves and your body goes back to normal.

(Or whatever passes for normal for me!)

However, there are times that stress is ongoing and your system doesn’t revert right back. This taxes your body and it can really lead to more serious health problems.

So maybe you have in fact been handling life pretty well — but as I mentioned above, maybe you think you are but in writing it all down, you’ll realize you could use a little help. So here are some ways that stress can affect your body, and you might find some of it surprising.

In fact, you might even think, “wait — I have that all the time!” And that’s the first step to being able to do something positive about it.

Early symptoms of stress include:

-Headaches

-Poor concentration

-Stomach issues

-Mood swings

-Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much

-Exhaustion

 

Consider those early symptoms not a sign of failure, but an excellent warning sign to address the underlying problem before the symptoms become more serious. Like depression and anxiety, weight gain (or loss), skin problems, chronic stomach or intestinal issues, high blood pressure, and heart trouble.

 

So let’s do this thing!

We all have those things that even in the midst of stress and disarray, they energize us and give us renewed strength and purpose. These are our passions.

Now if any of the symptoms on the list look as familiar to you as they do to me (I scored a 9 out of 12, whoo!) then you will want to stay tuned over the next few weeks so you can start the year off with a new dedication to identifying your stresses and addressing them, so you can take better care of yourself.

Consider it a positive commitment to yourself, since so many of these symptoms can be handled with a little extra time, attention, and TLC.

Granted, it’s hard for any parent to make time for ourselves, especially with all we’re doing for our own kids. But if it makes us better parents, I say it’s definitely worth a try to see how to turn some things around in my life for the better. How about you?

 

The views and opinions expressed here are purely the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent the views of Aetna.

Thanks to Aetna and their site aetnamindfulness.com for sponsoring this post series. We’re looking forward to participating in an exciting initiative they’re launching soon that parents will definitely appreciate. 

Top image credit: Kerem Barut on Wikipedia Commons

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