Updated: May 30
Parenthood is a time of significant change, from the initial transition to becoming a parent to the ongoing transitions as children grow. These changes can catch us off guard, affecting our personal growth, relationships, priorities, and perspective. Many unexpected and intense feelings can arise despite parenting challenges, especially during stress and pressure.
If you’re overwhelmed or experiencing big feelings, know you are not alone. Here are some strategies to help you manage them.
How to manage stress and anxiety
Make space for feelings
This sounds counterintuitive but is enormously helpful. When big feelings show up, acknowledge and allow them – don’t fight them. By allowing your feelings, you’re on the road to working out what you need to get through them.
Try not to judge your feelings or yourself for having them. I call it making friends with your feelings. The idea that some feelings are good and others are bad is very unhelpful and risks adding a layer of guilt or shame on top of your feelings. Let your feelings come and go.
What are your feelings telling you?
It is important to pay attention to your feelings and what they may be trying to tell you. Are you feeling overwhelmed and in need of some problem-solving? Do you feel like something needs to change in your current situation? Do you need more support from family and friends? Or perhaps you need a safe space to vent and express your emotions. Whatever your feelings may be, it's important to acknowledge them and take steps to address your needs
Focusing on what’s in your control
Use the following questions to help guide your problem-solving:
What can I do right now?
What do I need that might help?
What can I control? The more we try to grab hold of what’s out of our control, the more helpless and vulnerable we feel.
Who are the people who can help me problem solve?
What can I do while I’m getting through this?
Minimise “What If” thinking
It’s easy to get lost in a web of trying to predict the future. Be wary of trying to problem-solve something that hasn’t happened yet. This thinking might feel like problem-solving, but chances are it’s not productive.
It is also common for parents to experience additional stress and pressure throughout their parenting journey.
Managing parental stress
Social support & connection
Loneliness is a key contributing factor to low mood, so it’s important to find ways to connect with people – both existing friends and new parent friends.
Ask for help and accept help
Parenting can be challenging, and it's important to know that it's okay to ask for help and accept it. Sometimes we must do everything ourselves, and we might resist asking for help. However, it's crucial to recognize that we are not superheroes and cannot do everything alone. Asking for help can be as simple as reaching out to a friend or family member to watch the kids for a few hours while you take a break.
Identify your sources of stress and pressure
Identifying the sources of stress and pressure in your life is an important step in managing your mental health and well-being. It can be helpful to take some time to reflect on what specifically is causing you stress and pressure. Is it work, family, financial issues, or something else entirely? Once you have identified the sources of stress, it's important to explore ways to manage it differently.
Grant yourself grace
Give yourself grace when you feel stressed, uncertain, and overwhelmed. Now is the time to take the pressure off pretty much everything. A good place to start is to readjust your goals and expectations to match the reality of now. Resist the temptation to make your usual goals work. Doing less, not more, is the key to riding this out.
Fill your cup
Whatever this looks like for you, try and find it where you can. Anything that quietens your mind, turns down the noise and feels restorative will do. It might be structured, like meditation (Smiling Mind and Calm are wonderful free apps to get you started) or yoga. But cuddling your sleeping baby, walking in a local park, listening to music, quietly washing the dishes, and sitting in the sun are all ways of getting there too.
Vocalise how you feel
Sharing your feelings with someone you trust can help to alleviate stress and provide emotional support. Opening up about how you feel can help you process your emotions and gain a different perspective, whether it's your partner, friends, or parents.
Exercise supports physical and mental health, lifts our mood, helps us manage stress, and can connect us with people. Whatever form your exercise takes, it’s a wonderful investment in you!
Time-box your worries
Make an appointment for worry time. Make it daily or weekly, depending on your need. Add them to your worry list whenever worries appear outside of that time. At the appointed time, allow yourself uninterrupted freedom to worry for 15 minutes, and then stop. This strategy is helpful because it reinforces the idea that while we certainly can’t stop worries from showing up, we can (with practice) decide when we attend to them.
If you don’t like how you feel, please reach out for support.
GP & Psychologist – See your GP for a referral to see a psychologist. Telehealth options are currently available for both GP and psychology appointments.
PANDA – Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia. National Helpline 1300 726 306
Their website has a wealth of information and resources for expecting and new parents.
24-hour Maternal & Child Health Line 13 22 29
Dr Karola Belton is the Parents You've Got This Psychologist Expert and presents at the Starting Solids and Infant Sleep Masterclass.