(by Kinetik Mum, Siân Smith)
When you aren’t ‘in the moment’ of real-life parenting, you might roll your eyes at those Mums who complain about how stressful life can be. From an outsider looking in you could wonder “How hard can it be?”
I promise you that parenting can be REALLY hard sometimes.
That isn’t a complaint, or a call for sympathy, it’s just how many parents find it.
Taking care of small humans who generally do whatever they feel like doing, when they feel like doing it, with complete disregard for the people in charge of their life, health and wellbeing is not always an easy task.
I am a Mum of two children – a six-year-old and a four-year-old. I run a business, a home, and very occasionally I have a social life. It is a lot to fit into the hours available and at times the responsibility to ‘get it all done’, and ‘do it right’ can feel overwhelming – and the stress takes over..
Stress is not good for you. It affects your mental health and can lead to you making poor decisions which can have a negative impact on your long-term health, including your blood pressure.
“People may deal with stress in ways that may increase their risk of high blood pressure. They may eat processed foods that are high in salt, fail to eat enough fruit and vegetables, smoke or drink too much alcohol. They may also struggle to find time to be active.”Blood Pressure UK
As a Mum, does any of the above sound familiar to you? I know I am guilty of a few things on that list. When I am busy and stressed, I don’t take time out for myself, I eat rubbish food, I might allow myself a cheeky glass or two of wine when I wouldn’t usually, and I definitely neglect exercise in order to get other things done.
I am confident that a quick poll of my friends would reveal that they are the same – how about you?
But all is not lost! I have found that by making a few simple lifestyle tweaks, it is possible to combat the stress that can come from being a parent, and the feelings of life overload.
Here are 5 simple lifestyle tweaks that you can try to help reduce your stress levels:
- Put your phone down
Obviously, I don’t want you to do that until you finish reading this post! But unplugging from your phone when you can is a huge stress reliever.
Staring at our social media feeds can cause us all to feel grumpy, annoyed, inadequate or envious at any given time, and this can often contribute to our stress levels. Our phones are massive time thieves – I don’t know about you but I can often ‘lose’ myself in my phone! It is addictive, and that isn’t good for anyone. We are constantly telling our kids to put down their screens, perhaps it is time that we did too?
Too much screen time can also have a negative impact on our sleep patterns.
According to the National Sleep Federation: “Using TVs, tablets, smartphones, laptops, or other electronic devices before bed delays your body’s internal clock, suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and makes it more difficult to fall asleep.”
Why not try to set a Digital Curfew for the whole family? Yourself included! Try ditching the screens 30 minutes, an hour, or even two hours before bed. And make a point of completely unplugging from your phone and social media for an hour or two every day. This will improve your mood, and your sleep – which can all contribute to reducing stress levels.
- Get some fresh air
Spending time in the great outdoors is hugely beneficial to our mental and physical health. When we are outside, we tend to move more which is great for fitness, heart health and lowering blood pressure. Being outdoors is amazingly beneficial for our mental health too – according to the Mental Health Charity Mind, being outside can improve your mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve your confidence and self-esteem.
When life is busy it is hard to escape the office or the house, so make excuses to get out there! Arrange to meet a friend for a walk around the park, instead of at a coffee shop or soft play centre, eat your lunch outdoors or walk to the local shop instead of driving to the supermarket. Little changes can make a big impact.
- Grow something
I can hear you thinking: “As if I need something else to take care of!” but hear me out on this one. Gardening, and growing things is a wonderful stress reliever!
This article by the American Institute of Stress explains the many ways that gardening can relieve stress levels:
- The physical activity helps improve heart health and keep joints supple
- Exposure to Vitamin D from sunshine improves mood and health (please don’t forget your SPF)
- Growing your own food gives a huge sense of satisfaction and wellbeing – and it’s more sustainable
- Mindfulness and mental focus are great for combatting stress and anxiety
You could start by planting a small herb garden by your kitchen window or back door. This takes up minimal space, herbs are relatively easy to grow, and you won’t need much equipment. This article from Gardener’s World gives some good tips for growing your own herbs.
- Read a good book
Reading offers an escape from real life; it lowers your heart rate and helps to relieve muscle tension. A 2009 study by the University of Sussex found that reading for just 6 minutes a day can reduce stress by 68%.
As a parent, 6 minutes a day might be all the time you have available for reading! But try to make time for it – perhaps use the time away from your phone (see our note about Digital Curfews above) to read a book instead.
One of my absolute favourite past times is trawling second-hand book shops for new reads. I think I find the browsing more therapeutic than reading the books I buy! But for me, nothing beats curling up in bed with a good book, feeling the paper beneath my fingers and losing myself in another world. Make a list of 5 books you have always wanted to read and go and buy them – pretty soon reading will become the healthiest habit you have ever had.
- Escape to the land of nod
Every parent has complained about lack of sleep at some point. Sleepless nights come with the territory of having kids, but this doesn’t last forever (hopefully).
Neither of my children are sleepers. They are night owls, just like me. But thankfully after a few years of restless nights, and desperately begging my children to go to sleep – they generally allow me 6 out of 7 uninterrupted nights a week.
Sleep is hugely important to our physical and mental health. The NHS advises that consistent sleep can help prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and help to boost immunity against common colds and flu. We all know that even one night of restless or no sleep can make us feel irritable and emotional, so losing sleep over a longer period can only aggravate these feelings and lead to higher stress levels.
Aim for at least 8-10 hours of sleep a night. If this is a struggle for you, revert back to those early days of parenthood and set yourself a good, consistent bedtime routine. Avoid caffeine in the evenings and swap that bedtime cuppa for a herbal or camomile tea. We have already mentioned cutting off screen-time an hour before bed, but if you still struggle to drop-off at night you might like to try listening to relaxation music at bedtime, or a white noise app.
Treat yourself to some lightweight comfy sleepwear and turn bedtime into a treat for you! Make your bed a place that you can’t wait to jump into after a hard day. Just writing this is making me feel all sleepy!
One of the most important things to remember as a busy mum who feels stressed is that you are doing an amazing job. We all experience feelings of inadequacy at times, but we have to give ourselves some credit! Remind yourself regularly that you are a great parent, don’t beat yourself up when things aren’t going perfectly, and choose your battles! Sometimes leaving the mess in the kitchen or ignoring the ironing pile in favour of a warm bath and a good book is the very best thing for your own mood – and that of your family too. Those chores will still be there tomorrow, and after giving yourself a break you will be much better equipped to deal with them.
What are your favourite tips to unwind and reduce stress? Share them with Kinetik via our social media channels.
For more tips for keeping your family healthy, check out our NEW Kinetik Mums You Tube Channel and visit the Kinetik Health blog.
Follow us throughout Know Your Numbers Week for advice on Blood Pressure health, remember that #Thepressuresoff!