Going back to school in 2020 is a bit more stressful than most years. As school districts make the difficult decision between staying closed and reopening, parents are grappling with their own decision to go back to work or not. One poll from National Parents United shows that the majority of parents are concerned about their kids contracting COVID-19 at school and passing it on to a family member, but they’re also worried about their kids falling behind academically.
With so many difficult decisions to be made and risks to be weighed, it makes sense that parents are feeling stressed right now. But giving in to anxiety won’t take the pressure off, and stressed parents can’t show up as well for their kids. That’s why it’s more important than ever for parents to take care of themselves and get ahead of stress before it gets ahead of them.
What is Stress?
Tension in your chest, irregular heartbeats, irrational thoughts, and sweaty armpits—we all know what it feels like to experience stress. It’s a natural part of how the body reacts to challenges or overwhelming situations. The body’s “fight or flight” response is a survival mechanism designed to help us react quickly to threats in our environment.
When faced with a stressful situation like, say, your child being in immediate danger, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in. As Harvard Health explains, “the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. This area of the brain functions like a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system so that the person has the energy to fight or flee.”
Stress can be helpful, there’s no denying that. But when it becomes chronic, stress can take a toll on your body and have long-term health impacts. Regularly occurring stress and low-level chronic anxiety can cause high blood pressure, irritability, exhaustion, sleep disruption, weight fluctuation, and a number of mental health issues.
Managing Stress In Your Mind
First and foremost, stress is triggered by our minds. When something is perceived to be dangerous or challenging, the brain is responsible for telling the rest of the body to react. Intentionally taking care of your thoughts can help prevent unnecessary stress from occurring as well as help you reverse stress in the moment. There is power in our thoughts, and cultivating some control over our own minds is a practice that can be life changing.
Meditation is a great way of calming the mind and focusing your thoughts on whatever brings you peace. It can be challenging at first to sit still and clear your mind, but after some practice you will find that meditation can be a useful tool. We like the app Headspace for gentle guidance on how best to meditate, and we love that they have meditation for kids, too!
Another way to reduce stress is using your thoughts to flip the script. If you’re stressing about not having done enough reading with your kids this summer, gently remind yourself that we are in the middle of a pandemic and you are only human. Thinking affirming thoughts or saying them out loud helps change the narrative in your mind, from “this is bad/dangerous” to “it’s OK.”
Manage Stress In Your Body
Stress is a physical experience. Rather than letting the “fight or flight” response take over, you can encourage your body to calm down and relax by stimulating the “rest and digest” response, or the parasympathetic nervous system. Gentle exercise, deep breathing, and activities that release your energy are great ways of doing this.
Simply taking a few calm, deep breaths immediately tells the body that it’s time to calm down. We love this simple breathing exercise from Mindbodygreen because it’s easy to learn and do on your own. Yoga or light stretching can also help regulate your breath and ease tense muscles, reducing the levels of stress hormones in your body. This 20-minute stress-busting yoga from Sky Ting is a great way to end your workday and transition into a stress-free evening.
What we put in our bodies also has an affect on our stress levels, so eating fresh whole foods and paying special attention to supportive herbs and plants can make a huge difference for parents who struggle with chronic stress or anxiety. HOLISTIK’s stress STIK combines lemon balm and CBD, which are both excellent for soothing the nervous system and promoting relaxation. Chamomile, lavender, and basil are some additional herbs that can be easily brewed into a sweet, soothing, and stress-reducing tea.
Manage Stress With Healthy Habits
Dealing with stress in the moment can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths, but there are also ways to prevent stress from happening in the first place. Especially when it comes to going back to school, creating a routine with your kids and involving the whole family in regular self-care activities can help reduce stress for everyone and maximize time together.
Sticking to a schedule can do wonders because it leaves less room for last-minute decisions or double-bookings that result in stress. It also helps you prioritize your time and makes it easier to say “no” when you need to, which can be a big part of managing stress. Talk to your kids and see if you can come up with a mini daily, weekly, or monthly routine that includes exercise, meditation, healthy meals, and time spent outdoors. Making sure that all of these habits are incorporated in your daily lives will help keep the whole family happy, healthy, and calm.
This year has been more stressful than usual for most parents, so just remember that it’s OK if things aren’t going exactly as you wanted or planned. While we can’t control what happens with the COVID pandemic, we can minimize risk and mitigate stress by being prepared and doing our best to take care of ourselves and our families.