Effective Ways to Navigate Mum Stress

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Effective Ways to Navigate Mum Stress

When stresses exceed our ability to cope

By Tracey Or | 6 May 2021

With the recently tightened measures to curb the increased spread of COVID-19 in Singapore, the lives of families are once again thrown into disarray.

Many have been busy rescheduling (or cancelling) their appointments to accommodate the new limits on group sizes and activities.

Even without the presence of a global pandemic, motherhood is already one of the most stressful and demanding jobs.

While I’ve also experienced unmistakable perks and tender-hearted moments, there has not been a day in my parenting journey where I’ve not had to deal with some form of stress.

In my 20s, stress took the shape of new experiences and steep learning curves through the wonder and hiccups of first-time parenting.

In my 30s, stress came in the form of a juggling act – coming to terms with balancing different aspects of life altogether; family finances, time with the spouse, career vs kids and the “mother” of all stresses – mom-guilt.

As I entered into my 40s, apart from the fullness of each busy day, stress came via the emotional gravitas of letting go; of progressively allowing my children more freedom to make choices and watching them take baby steps in navigating an increasingly complex world.

Though the stress factors have evolved through the seasons, I am learning that our ways of managing stress can always be improved, and we can always learn to manage better when we understand how important self-care is for mums.

As mothers we can either be thermostats or thermometers.

  1. Choose your temperature in your home
    One valuable analogy I’ve picked up over the years is this: As mothers we can either be thermostats or thermometers.

    A thermostat controls its atmosphere. It is set to a constant temperature and regulates the temperature of the home. If the atmosphere around heats up, it regulates that temperature back to normal.

    In contrast, a thermometer is controlled by its atmosphere. It reacts to the temperature around it. If the atmosphere around it heats up, it heats up too.

    As mothers, we need to set the right temperature for our household. If we function like thermostats, we can respond to stressful situations with calmness. If we function like thermometers, we react to stressful situations by allowing them to escalate and affect the atmosphere of our homes. When we permit the stress around us to crack us, we can end up drained and depleted.

    Effective stress management begins when we disable stress through good socio-emotional safeguards in our lives that prevent stress from building upstream.

    Taking care of ourselves before we reach the boiling point gives us a stronger foundation to keep loving and giving to our families. Here are some ways we can manage stress better.

    Your spouse is your best tag team partner, and there’s nothing more liberating when we feel emotionally close to our partner-in-life.

  2. Guard your marriage
    As mothers, it’s easy to plunge into our roles with total abandonment and forget that we are first – wives. Making our marriage relationship a priority – even when we have a lot on our plate – is vital for setting the right tone at home and working in partnership for the family home team. We need to remind ourselves not to lose the romance and connection with our spouse.

    All this doesn’t have to be time-consuming. It could just be something as simple as turning your phones off during the evening, making time for a coffee date during the weekend, and spending downtime to connect as a couple.

    Your spouse is your best tag team partner, and there’s nothing more liberating when we feel emotionally close to our partner-in-life.

    The difference between responding and reacting is choice. When you are reacting, they are in control. When you respond, you are.

  3. Respond, don’t react
    Henry Cloud, author of the bestselling book “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No” gives us a brilliant guiding principle to responding, not reacting, in the heat of the moment.

    His advice is especially pertinent for mums, for those moments when we’re about to “lose it”.

    “When you respond, you remain in control, with options and choices. If you feel yourself reacting, step away and regain control of yourself so family members can’t force you to do or say something you do not want to do or say and something that violates your separateness. When you have kept your boundaries, choose the best option. The difference between responding and reacting is choice. When you are reacting, they are in control. When you respond, you are.”

    Step away and reflect on hot button moments that trigger our mum stress. It’s good to understand what our stressors are (eg. a crying baby, chauffeuring in peak hour traffic, a stubborn child) and formulate a game plan on how to respond in a way that helps us be in control of our emotions and the situation.

  4. Choose your hangouts wisely
    It’s so important for mothers to find other mums whom they can connect with emotionally. They could be our girlfriends or mums in similar stages of life. They could be older women who can offer perspective and wisdom from their life experience or even a formal support group.

    Yet finding and cultivating a strong support group takes time and discernment. Being in the wrong crowd could spiral more stress and aggravate the fear of missing out. Imagine a chat group full of mums who get overly caught up about grades. Such negative energy is probably not helpful for mums for prefer to allow their children to take things at their own pace.

    Your close circle needs to be a group of women that you feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable about your feelings and with values which are aligned with yours. Such positive (non-toxic) friendships are like a well-watered garden where we can grow, contribute to, and receive constructive feedback.

    We fall into comparison traps easily when we compare our own worst moments to others' best moments.

  5. Manage Expectations
    Most of our stresses stem from expectations – which can get the better of us when we expect more than what is realistic in a given situation. Expectations can stem from ourselves, loved ones within the home or from external pressures like a co-worker or boss. Most of the time these pressures are unspoken.

    When our expectations don't stack up to reality, they can create significant stress.

    For example, we might expect our partners to live up to what we see in romance films; our children to live up to our idealised notion of success; or even our lives to match up to what we see on Instagram.

    Social media has greatly exacerbated this: We fall into comparison traps easily when we compare our own worst moments (those we deem not shareable online) to others' best moments, forgetting that social media is one big highlight reel.

    To combat such comparison traps, we can:
    • Check our expectations: Determine where these expectations come from, ask if we can verbalise them, and if they are reasonable and realistic.
    • Actively look for the positives in any situation: When we focus on counting our blessings, we’ll be surprised by how much we really have.
    • Avoid being our own worst enemy, and set healthy limits: Perfectionism only creates unrealistic standards that triggers stress and anxiety when we fall short. It depletes us and creates distance, not the closeness we all crave.

These are 5 ways that i've found helpful in alleviating stress whenever I feel it rising. The months ahead may throw some curveballs our way so I hope that these handles will help us be the wives and mums we all desire to be.

© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.


Tracey Or is a full time mother of six, part-time dreamer and writer at her blog, Memoirs of a Budget Mum. Those who know her well knows she gets through life with a good joke, coffee and the occasional Netflix.

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