Updated: Jun 1
Mama, are you feeling angry, short-fused, constantly irritable? You are not alone. Anger is one of the emotions that gets a very bad rap, when it’s telling us, very importantly, that our current situation isn’t working for us, that something needs to change, and we need support.
The science of anger
Let’s quickly look at the science behind anger. When we’re rested, feeling relatively calm and not overloaded, our ability to problem solve and regulate our emotions works very well. So when the baby starts crying, and the toddler wants a cuddle, we can decide who to attend to first and remain relatively calm. This decision-making occurs in our brain's prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for logical thought and reasoning. However, when we’re stressed and exhausted when there are too many demands competing for our attention, in other words, when we feel under threat, our amygdala is activated. When this happens, our ability to manage our emotions gets hijacked, and big feelings like anger and rage can result.
The demands of parenting that contribute to anger
The day-to-day practical demands of parenting are well-known and quite obvious. There are also less visible aspects of parenting that contribute to the overload and overwhelm that lead to irritability and anger. Anger might indicate one or more of these:
You feel let down by the situation; it isn’t how you thought it would be
You feel let down by people; you're not getting the support you need
You’re exhausted and resentful that it feels so hard
Resentful of other people for not recognising how difficult this feels
Overwhelmed and trapped at having to be on for 24 hrs a day, never really getting a break
The responsibility of parenting feels overwhelming
Feeling helpless and vulnerable - nothing you do seems to be working
You’re feeling scared, lonely or sad.
Understanding the various triggers of anger can help you problem-solve what supports you need to put into place.
How to reflect on your feelings and needs to overcome anger and frustration
Ask yourself: 1. What was happening? What was frustrating me? What was I feeling? When do I tend to feel angry? These questions help explore the root cause of frustration or anger. 2. Then ask yourself: What do I need? What could help in those situations? What do I need more generally to feel less stressed and overwhelmed? At this point, don’t get distracted by whether what your need is actually possible; just focus on your need and brainstorm all options. 3. Then move into solution mode by asking yourself - How can my answers to question 2 become a reality? It can help to have someone else brainstorm this with you. When we get overwhelmed in our feelings, our mind has a way of shutting down possibilities rather than opening them up. You might need to ‘borrow’ someone else’s more optimistic mind for this.
Where to find parenting support
Mamas, if you are overwhelmed with big feelings, know you are not alone. It can be helpful to talk about your anger triggers, responses and support needs with a professional. It’s easy to get quite lost in all the feelings. Consider making an appointment with your GP, MCHN or psychologist. PANDA - Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia. National Helpline 1300 726 306 24-Hour Maternal & Child Help Line 13 22 29 Dr Karola Belton is the Parents You've Got This Psychologist Expert and presents the transition to parenthood at our Starting Soilds and Infant Sleep Masterclass.