How many times do we use the word stressed in our everyday vocab? How often is something stressing you out? Daily, hourly? How many job interviews have you had where you’ve been asked how well you work under pressure or to explain how you dealt with a stressful situation. Stress has become absolutely ingrained in our lives but when does it become a problem?
This past week has been Stress Awareness Week and various events and campaigns have encouraged us to think about our stress levels. We don’t need statistics to tell us most of us are stressed, you only need to walk round Aldi to figure that out. But in the interests of backing up what I’m saying, one of the largest stress studies showed that 74% of people reported feeling so stressed they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. The survey also found nearly half of all sick days taken were attributed to stress.
But what if you can’t take a sick day from the cause of your stress or clock off from it at 5pm? What if you’re a mother?
Before I had children I had a fairly “stressful” job in HR but I thought of myself as quite laid back and prided myself on being able to cope with difficult situations very well. Three children later and a new job as a stay-at-home-mum and I barely recognise the stresshead I have become. I thought carrying out disciplinaries and redundancy was stressful. I was wrong. Putting a glove on a toddler is stressful. Now that sounds like I am making light of it but putting a glove on a toddler, when a baby is screaming and another toddler is on your back punching you, and you’ve been up since 5am but you’re still running late for nursery and you had to get up 4 times during the night with a poorly baby, that’s another level of stress.
Sometimes you spend the day with the feeling of being stressed bubbling away under the surface; other days it suddenly creeps up on you and you completely lose the plot over a child dropping their cup on the floor.
Stress is your body’s way of reacting to any demand, the more frequently your stress system is operating, the easier is becomes to trigger and the harder it becomes to shut off. The more we exist in a permanent state of stress the more we are setting ourselves up for future health problems. Stress can make existing problems worse and also cause a long list of other systems such as depression and anxiety, memory problems, chest pain and dizziness and can impact on your sleeping and eating habits.
When I was potty training my middle child (who is middle child personified) it got to the point where everyday I was shouting and losing my temper and ringing my mum or my husband offshore at work in tears and I realised there must be an easier way than letting stress get the better of you. As my husband frequently says to me “just calm down”. Easier said than done. As the science says my stress response is now very easily triggered and I do find lots of things that I didn’t before very stressful.
But I am now very aware of it. Recognising what stresses you and putting things in place to counteract it is a good first step to take. The internet is full of tips for this and find what works for you; breathing exercises, count to 10, going for a walk, locking yourself in the porch and pretending to your kids you’ve moved out. Whatever works do it.
The theme for this years Stress Awareness Week is ‘Does Hi Tech cause Hi Stress’. In my experience, no. Before we would have had to go to a GP or a support service if we felt we were being adversely affected by stress, now we can access a huge amount of help and advice in seconds on our phones.
When I found out I was having my third child I set an Instagram account up documenting the daily disasters and dramas of three toddlers. I recently posted a picture of my two year old mid tantrum face down on the pavement.
Yes, the picture was funny but the reality was horribly stressful. I had the baby in the pram, nursery bags and a three-year-old wandering off with a bag of chocolate buttons. There was nothing I could do but let him get up of his own accord. But, instead of stressing I snapped that pic and later I knew I would laugh. The amount of people who commented and said this happens to them everyday gives you a healthy dose of perspective. There’s no doubting that we all need to deal with stressful situations, whether that’s a stressful work meeting or a child being sick on the motorway, but it’s important to recognise whether your stress levels are appropriate to the incident.
I am still far from being a zen mother but as the five minute rule goes (not the one about eating food off the floor), if it won’t matter in five years don’t spend more than 5 minutes stressing about it.