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How Parents Can Overcome Adversity and Manage Stress

Written exclusively for bümo by Brandy McConahey, Duke University graduate, National Board Certified Health Coach, and Resilience Trainer helping people develop a fulfilling, energetic, and healthy mindset.

"Psychologically, the brain craves rest, uplifting emotions, and motivation."

Adversity is part of the human experience and connects us to others, as both it and stress are universal. If you are facing adversity and/or feeling stressed you are not alone. First and foremost, I would like to use this opportunity to validate your feelings and connect with you. Then, by sharing some science of the brain I hope to shed light on why humans become overwhelmed and overstimulated. Finally, I will suggest some tools to support you in your journey. While you are the expert on your body, trying out new ideas and adding to your resilience toolkit can help achieve balance in a world where cognitive and emotional stressors are around every corner, especially if you are a parent. Each of us has a voice in how we address our own stressors, and being resilient means you have the strength and ability to solve problems when they arise, while embracing the opportunity for growth.

Your Brain

For most of us resilience is rooted in our individual personalities and learning preferences. When confronting stressors visit your younger self: what brought you comfort as a child, a young adult, or what brings you comfort now? If we can intrinsically connect with our past successes we are more motivated to incorporate them during times of unrest. Digging deep to identify what provides you relief in the moment could benefit your future self, and this work starts with understanding the basics of the brain.

Certain organs, like our kidneys, were designed to work 24/7. When was the last time you told yourself that you needed to rest or feed your kidneys? Didn’t think so. Your brain on the other hand was not designed to work 24/7 and it gets hungry and tired throughout the day. Let’s consider our muscular system. If you lift heavy weights above your head for several minutes your muscles start to fatigue and your body responds to this direct communication (the pain you feel) by stopping for a break to recover. If you chose not to take a break then at some point your muscles will eventually give out to protect your body. 

The brain operates a bit differently: it does not contain pain receptors and therefore we do not receive the same direct communication. Instead, we receive indirect communication in the form of irritability, brain fog, careless mistakes, and poor decision making. How do you respond when these signals are sent? If we were to learn from our muscles, we would take a break to recover. Sadly, most of us have endless obligations and responsibilities and continue to push forward ignoring the brain’s communication. Since the brain won’t shut itself down as a protective mechanism, it keeps working, albeit in a less desirable state, which overtime leads to more chronic issues.

Stress Management for Mom and Dad

Your Energy

Next, let’s address a fundamental nutrition principle. Our cells, tissues, and organs need fuel throughout the day to provide us with energy. You support this by eating food and drinking water throughout your day and not waiting until the very end of the day to address these needs. Our brain needs the same attention. It seeks physical and psychological fuel to function and be engaged or it becomes vulnerable to the things it struggles with most: fear, fatigue, and focus. Physically we feed the brain oxygen and glucose with the air we breath and the food we eat. Psychologically, the brain craves rest, uplifting emotions, and motivation. Being intentional with new thought patterns and sprinkling in lifestyle adjustments throughout your day can incorporate these principles while counteracting fatigue in just a few minutes to support a return to a desired state. For most of us, this state is where we can mentally engage in meaningful ways with the people we love most.

The following techniques support the need to psychologically fuel the brain throughout your day and can be incorporated while working in front of the computer or while playing with your kids.

Stress Management for Mom and Dad

Your Thought Patterns

Rewire your brain to embrace rest. The brain fatigues every 60-90 minutes, sooner if you are doing something boring! Collectively resting your eyes, heart, and mind through meditation for as little as two minutes can help clear out the ‘trash’ your brain accumulates throughout the day.
Uplifting emotions: these emotional snacks inspire your brain away from its predisposed negativity bias. Anything from a positive memory, humor, a connection with a loved one, or reading for pleasure provide the brain with hope and can help in rewiring the brain to see the positive.
Align your daily tasks with your values/motivation. Do they directly or indirectly line up with your higher meaning and purpose? If not, ditch the habit or start learning to say ‘no’.
Being able to access different perspectives provides multiple ways to heal. More specifically, when the present moment is overwhelming, “zoom out” so as not to forget the bigger picture. If upcoming events are stressing you out, “zoom in” to fully engage with the present and increase intentionality.

Stress Management for Mom and Dad

Lifestyle Adjustments

Stretch your fight-flight-freeze muscles while sitting at your desk to relieve tension and emotion that are stored when the sympathetic nervous system gets activated. Your quadriceps are a great place to start!

Incorporate essential oils into your routine to activate your limbic system, which oversees feelings and emotions.
Pair mundane or must complete activities with an enjoyable one.
Use more eye contact with family, friends, and co-workers to get an instant boost in the bonding hormone oxytocin, which, over time, helps promote feelings of trust and security.

This conversation is just a starting point and while I hope these initial tools and techniques are helpful I invite you to join me for the February webinar for a follow up conversation.

About the Author 

Brandy McConahey is a Duke University graduate, National Board Certified Health Coach, and Resilience Trainer helping people develop a fulfilling, energetic, and healthy mindset. 

Looking for more ways to feel better and improve your overall wellbeing? Learn more about the essential vitamins for babies, toddlers, and parents. Hoping to find your zen? Read more on 4 mindfulness practices that you and your kids need. Searching for more happiness? Here are 8 healthy habits to boost your mood!

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