I know there’s a million and one articles out there telling you how to best handle the stress of mom life (I know I’ve written one or two).
While the tips and advice makes sense and seem easy to follow, the reality is that most moms lean on some less-than-healthy ways to cope with the stress and overwhelm.
This post is a straight talk about the REAL ways moms cope with the stress of motherhood. I’m going to be talking about the good, the bad and the ugly.
Actually, I’m just going to talk about the bad and the ugly.
I guess the good is that if you are guilty of partaking in any of these behaviors, there are ways to work through them and deal with stress in healthier and more productive ways.
Instead of trying to throw a blanket tactic on your entire life to reduce stress and overwhelm, perhaps it’s time to look at the unhealthy coping mechanisms you have developed and address those. Oftentimes, changing habits can be easier than developing new ones.
There’s a reason why “Mommy Wine Culture” has become a thing on the Internet. Downing some wine, or other alcoholic beverages, has become a common way that mothers deal with motherhood stress.
However, the culture it has created is detrimental. This culture reinforces the idea that moms need to drink in order to cope as a parent. This idea is perpetuated through humor and memes. Even wine companies are jumping on this bandwagon and marketing wines specifically to moms.
So mothers are basically encouraged to hit the bottle when times get tough. Although a glass or two to unwind after a stressful day is appropriate, losing yourself in the bottle to forget the pains of motherhood is not.
If you find yourself drawn to alcohol and want to stop or slow down, try these tips for cutting back on your consumption:
- Set a limit. Limit yourself to one drink per day. Instead of viewing it as a crutch to get through a tough day, allow it for being a reward for making it through a tough day.
- Drink slowly. Try sipping your drinks to slow down your consumption. Follow up with a drink of water or juice to promote a feeling of fullness.
- Keep busy. Replace drinking with another activity. You can let yourself play a game on your phone or take a warm bath. Find another relaxing activity you can do instead of having a drink.
- Ask for help. If you feel your drinking it out of control, reach out for support. Talk to friends, family members and doctor for help to cut back or quit.
You can read this article by Claire Gillespie on Self.com that provides a personal perspective on “Mommy Wine Culture” and the author’s journey through this perpetuated culture and her sobriety.
I am a smoker. I have a love/hate relationship with smoking and I am very aware of the image I am portraying to my daughter.
But smoking is my little escape and release. I thankfully don’t grab a smoke when I get worked up and stressed, but regularly smoking seems to help keep my mood fairly stable throughout the day.
UPDATE: I’ve been 1 month quit from cigarettes! You can do it too!
Unfortunately, smoking cigarettes is highly addictive, so there’s very little that can easily replace the need to have a cigarette.
There are, however, ways to stop if you’re ready to:
- Separate smoking from its triggers. For example, if you have a smoke while drinking coffee, finish your coffee first before lighting up.
- Replace the behavior. This is super tough because there’s nothing quite like a cigarette, but you can try keeping mints and candies around or even raw carrots to keep your hands and mouth busy. Or find an enjoyable activity you can partake in every time you feel you need to smoke.
- Track your money. Every time you buy a pack of cigarettes, write down the cost. You’ll be amazed at how much this adds up in the run of a month and it may be a big enough motivator to help you quit.
- Talk to your doctor. He or she may have some suggestions of cessation aids you can try to help you quit smoking.
The first step in quitting smoking is being ready to quit smoking. As soon as you have that urge to stop smoking, start working on how you’re going to quit.
Of all the coping mechanisms on this list, this is probably the least detrimental. Mothers can suffer postpartum depression long after the birth of their child. Sometimes medication is needed to help alleviate the symptoms of depression.
I went on antidepressants not long after my daughter was born and stayed on them for about 5 years. A year and a half ago I decided to come off them and did so successfully (with the help of my doctor).
As long as you check in with your doctor and have honest conversations about your depression and the effectiveness of the medication, there is nothing wrong with taking antidepressants in order to keep your life, and your mind, in check.
When you feel ready to come off them, always work with your doctor to come up with a weaning plan. You want to make sure that you don’t withdraw or have a hard time adjusting to the emotions when you stop taking your antidepressant.
Otherwise, if they work, keep taking them. It’s not worth facing the gloom of depression just to say that you are not on medication. If they help you get through the day and care for your children, they are the right choice for you.
I’m sure you have heard of the term “retail therapy”. This refers to the idea that shopping and spending money is a therapeutic and can solve all of your problems.
It, instead, causes problems.
While a little retail therapy is a good way to blow off steam from time to time, spending too much can have the opposite effect. Overspending can cause stress and anxiety over the damage done to your personal finances.
There’s science to prove that shopping triggers the brain’s reward response. In fact, because shopping is often an activity that induces pleasant feelings, it can easily become an addiction.
It’s no wonder that stressed out moms hit the malls or the online shops to alleviate the pressures of motherhood. That little tickle of joy when something new is acquired is often enough to stave off the stress and anxiety of everyday life.
But it doesn’t last for long and the addiction persuades you to continue shopping to chase that happy high.
And eventually you end up broke and living like a crazy cat lady from Hoarders.
Okay, it may not end up that dire, but shopping addiction is a real problem – and one that is not going to solve any other problems in your life.
To curb your emotional spending, try these two tactics:
- Track your spending. Actually writing down and seeing how much your spending may be enough of a reality check to stop buying stuff when you’re stressed out.
- Follow the 48 hour rule. If there is something you want to buy, wait 48 hours before buying it. During that time frame, ask yourself if you really need that item or if there is something more pressing and productive you can spend that money on.
If this doesn’t work, seek support from a friend or family member. Try talking to someone when you feel that urge to spend money. Discuss your financial goals and have them hold you accountable for your spending.
I am no stranger to loading up on carb-filled foods when things get tough.
Eating sweet or starchy foods allows the brain to produce new serotonin. This neurotransmitter helps to regulate mood. Low serotonin levels have been contributed to depression.
Much like retail therapy, consuming carbs can reduce stress in the short-term but causes long-term problems, such as chronic stress and weight gain. Ironic, since we tend to eat carbs to lower our stress levels in the first place.
If you find yourself chowing down on a loaf of bread when your stress levels are reaching maximum overdrive, try these tricks to avoid loading up on sugar and starches:
- Try a different stress management technique. Before you reach for the cookies, try a deep breathing exercise or meditation. Give yourself about 10 minutes before you reach for the sweet snacks.
- Question your craving. Are you hungry or emotional? You can always try the apple test: If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you are probably not hungry.
- Remove temptation. You can’t eat what’s not there. Try to avoid buying carb-loaded foods. If there not readily accessible, there not as easy to scarf down.
- Forgive yourself. If you have a lousy day and binge on unhealthy treats, give yourself a break. Go to bed with the idea that tomorrow you will do better.
It’s okay to treat yourself to a decadent delight every now and then but it’s important to not associate this behavior with dealing with stress.
6. Social Media
Oh, good old social media – our little escape from the real world. While it may be tempting to lose yourself in your Facebook feed to decompress from the stress of life, you need to be careful how much emotional investment you are making while doing so.
Social media is a great distraction but it can begin to contribute to your stress if you let yourself get involved in the lives of others. Negative posts and political rants will not help your mind achieve a state of peace and relaxation.
And if you’re not careful, you may find yourself unintentionally finding comfort in the struggle of other moms or shaming them to make your life seem better.
Even if you do this in your head or while venting to a friend, you are not alleviating any stress in your life – you’re only temporarily displacing it.
When you find yourself cultivating positive feelings from the misfortune of others, ask yourself why. Is it because you are guilty of the same misgivings? Or do you require more positive feedback for the aspects the things you’ve done right?
If you need that comfort in knowing that you are doing a good job as a mother, call up and friend and ask, “How am I doing?” Hearing that you are rocking it will fill your soul with more joy than focusing in on the negative things happening in other people’s lives.
7. Emotional Withdrawal
Sometimes when things get really stressful, we like to turtle into ourselves and internalize our issues. This is so prevalent in mothers since we face extreme pressure to perform perfectly which results in a lot of guilt.
If we don’t talk about our problems, we don’t have to admit we have any.
Instead, we isolate ourselves from people while at the same time waiting for loved ones to offer help.
In the end, we feel alone and forgotten.
To overcome emotional withdrawal, you need to start reconnecting with people. This may be difficult once you’ve fallen down that rabbit hole, but there are steps you can take to begin opening up to people again:
- Write it down. Journaling is an important mental health practice and a great way to sort through your emotions in a private way. Writing down how you feel allows you to organize your thoughts, which you can then share more easily with a trusted loved one.
- Embrace the wins. Take joy in the happy moments in your life and those times that things go right. Share them with friends and family. Be proud of what you accomplish.
- Get out there. As difficult as it may be when you’re emotionally withdrawn, you need to put yourself out there to people. This doesn’t necessarily mean throwing yourself into social situations, but even talking to people more often will help you to open up.
The more you come to terms with your feelings, the more you will be able to communicate them to those who care. If you struggle deeply with this, you can always seek professional help.
8. Hyper Managing – Or Under Manage – Family
There’s one thing I’ve learned by associating with controlling people: as soon as they feel they have lost control in their own life, they fight to control everyone else.
Keeping control of a mom life is a huge challenge. Sometimes, when we feel our lives are falling into chaos, we reach out and try to hyper-manage the lives of our partners and children.
This may manifest itself as becoming almost obsessive-compulsive over housework, behaviors and expectations of your family members.
However, when you feel stressed and overwhelmed, you may fall at the opposite end of the spectrum and lose all motivation to take care of anything.
Sometimes, instead of trying to control the chaos, mothers allow their external environment to match the mess in their mind. That way, it’s easy to blame the mess on the outside than addressing the mess on the inside.
The best solution for either situation is to organize household responsibilities and delegate tasks. It may be difficult to let someone else do the work if you are struggling to control everything but clearing things off your plate will allow you the time to focus on more healthy ways of reducing your stress.
Likewise, getting the family to pitch in will help motivate you to get things done.
How Do You Cope With Stress?
The reality of dealing with stress isn’t practising meditation and taking warm baths. Moms do whatever they need to do to cope.
That doesn’t mean that bad habits can’t be broken and replaced with healthier ways to reduce stress!
This site is all about being real. If you are comfortable in doing so, please share your personal tactics for coping with stress.