Between caregiving demands, working from home, little time for oneself, skyrocketing inflation rates, and the constantly changing COVID-19 landscape, stressed moms are at their breaking point. By focusing on advocating for change in what is outside of one’s control and making small changes to those items within one’s locus of control, moms can better learn to cope with the many stressors facing them today.
Common Stressors Mothers Deal With
Stress for mothers is often found in multiple and intersecting categories, including how little time moms have for themselves, shouldering the logistical demands of a household, and often being the family point person for family decisions, big and small. Moms may also struggle with working from home, lack of childcare access, and medical stress related to fear of illness. A combination of these stressors may even lead to burnout or depression for stay-at-home moms, mothers working a job inside or outside the home, or juggling multiple jobs in addition to raising children.
Stressed out moms are often dealing with:1
- Lack of alone time
- Feeling a need to “get it at all done”
- Juggling work-life balance as a primary caretaker
- Mom burnout
- Income concerns due to lack of care for children
- Relationship issues
- Caregiving for both children and for aging family members
- Caregiver burnout
- School/daycare closings and childcare logistics
- Feeling like there is much to do and not enough time
- Frustration or anger at a lack of resources or support
- Social comparison to other moms
- Lack of time for physical activity
- Over-scheduled children/family demands
- Unrealistic demands and expectations from supervisors/career
9 Strategies to Help a Stressed Mom Cope
Just like becoming a frazzled mom did not happen overnight, relief from feeling this way is not going to happen immediately. However, by adding small and actionable steps to name what you’re going through and to manage your stress you can start to feel better and more in control.
Here are 9 practical tips to help moms manage stress:
1. Get Comfortable Saying “No”
Healthy boundaries come in many forms. Learning how to say no is a great way to establish healthy boundaries and stop you from feeling excess stress. Spend time deciding what you’re saying yes and no to, and evaluate if you can make changes to what you agree to do in order to decrease your mental load.
2. Identify Stressful Activities
Identify what activities/daily routines create stress and find one way to make it less stressful. For example, if making lunch every morning always makes you late, plan to make lunch the night before or have kids help to make their own lunch. Sometimes moms take on tasks that others are capable of doing, often because we know we can do them faster or “better.” Identify the tasks that stress you out and rework them or assign them to another family member.
3. Create a Mommy “Do Not Disturb” Sign
Even if your children cannot read, you can hang up something similar to a traffic stop sign, indicating that when this sign is up, mom is unavailable. Setting this visual, external boundary signifies to others that you need a moment, and it also models that they can do the same when needed. This way, everyone in the family is aware of your boundaries and you can take time for yourself for 30-45 minutes each day.
4. Evaluate & Reassert Where YOU Want Work & Family Life to Intersect
Especially since the start of the pandemic, the work/family balance of many have drastically shifted, often without deliberate protocols or conversations with employers. Carefully evaluating where work and family lives are intersecting in ways that deplete you and make you unproductive is a joint employer/employee exercise that can be helpful to both sides.2
Perhaps this means you adjust your hours for logging on for telework or you perform work-from-home duties for a set number of hours per day – delineating how you’ll spend your time can help.
5. Find Another Mom Who Feels Your Pain
Data supports better parenting outcomes for parents of young children who are part of support groups, but you don’t necessarily need a support group to achieve the same goal.3 There are an abundance of online groups for moms who are struggling with maternal stress, but identifying another mom friend nearby can be helpful because this person can empathize with you and what you’re going through, and you can offer the same to her.
6. Take Inventory of Who Is Doing What in the Household Ask for Help
Parental satisfaction and parental stress is highly positively correlated with shared household responsibilities.4 Do an honest assessment of who is doing what in the household and shift responsibilities to make them more fair and equitable. If appropriate and accessible, assign some tasks to older children or hire out others to ease the burden of household management. Moms often act as the family gatekeeper for all things household related – it’s time to change this dynamic.
7. Make Time to Move
Stress management is shown to mitigate obesity, so finding a daily way to be active is key.5
Exercise is great for improving mental health, but this does not mean that you need to train for a marathon, join a gym, or hire a physical trainer. Making time for a walk with a friend or taking the stairs rather than the elevator as much as possible can be basic and easy ways to be sure that you’re physically active each day.
8. Try Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
When we’re stressed, we don’t cope well, we don’t sleep well, and we are highly reactive to our environment. Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) opens up our awareness of our experience, allowing us to identify our physiological response to stress and to respond accordingly.6 Those who incorporate mindfulness into their daily practice report better sleep.
9. Get Involved Socially
Social support is undeniably linked to lower stress and higher levels of empathy.7 Whether you volunteer, join a mom’s group, teach a class, or schedule a recurring happy hour date with friends, humans need other humans to “coregulate” and destress one another. Find a time each week to be with other adults in a social relationship, ideally outside of your home.
When Therapy Can Help
If you find yourself extremely tearful, numb, or, aggressive or excessively irritable, it might be time to consider therapy to help reduce stress. These are indicators of depression or anxiety and should be taken seriously. When stress management just isn’t cutting it, it may be time to address the fact that mom stress may have become something more. Finding a therapist, preferably one who specializes in maternal mental health can be an excellent next step. An online therapist directory is a great place to start looking.
Between caring for kids, balancing relationships and often juggling work, either at home or in-person, it’s inevitable that moms experience high levels of stress. At times, these stress levels become toxic and begin to take a toll on work, family, and your enjoyment of daily life. But by learning about stress management and employing useful strategies, there are ways to cope and better manage stress.