How being stressed-out hurts the brain, and what parenting has to do with it: Video

There’s a lot of talk about family and personal stress during this worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, but stress is hardly a recent development. Neither are the roots of resiliency that some people tend to have.

Scientist-turned-journalist Madhumita Murgia created a TED-Ed short film back in 2015 to illustrate what exactly happens to the brain on stress and how to mitigate this multi-lifetime effect.

“How Chronic Stress Affects Your Brain” is available for public viewing at no cost. Some highlights:

  • Stress isn’t always a bad thing, unless you’re feeling regularly stressed-out
  • This chronic stress changes how our body’s systems work, including our brains…even shrinking certain brain regions while enlarging the brain’s fear center

Related: What happens to the brain when we ‘lose it’

  • These effects lead to it being harder to learn and remember things and control anxiety, and has been linked to eventual depression and Alzheimer’s dementia
  • Stress is inevitable in our modern lifestyles, but there are certain coping skills linked to greater resiliency including exercise and mindfulness

Related: Mindful parenting with Inga Bohnekamp

  • What’s parenting have to do with this? Turns out, parenting style changes how our genes are expressed…nurturing parenting sets up children for a lifetime of resiliency, negligent parenting sets up children for a lifetime of more susceptibility to stress’s effects

Related: ACEs too high with Jane Stevens

  • And these changes to our children’s genes are heritable, meaning that not only can we change the trajectory of our family tree by shifting to a nurturing parenting style but also that our children’s children and grandchildren benefit from this choice

Related: For better or worse, parenting changes your child’s DNA

Curious as to what nurturing parenting looks like? Check out API’s approach.

Finding the “Me” in Mommy

Posted by Rivkah Estrin, CBE and API online contributor. Rivkah is a certified childbirth educator, DONA-trained postpartum doula and journalist who puts her passion about Attachment Parenting to use as a writer, mother and educator for expectant and new parents.

As soon as new life is ushered into the world, an old life comes to an end. The birth of a baby is in some ways a death of the woman you were before becoming a mother. As Rajneesh said, “The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.”

All I have ever wanted in life was to be a mother. I naturally attachment parented my first baby because I didn’t know how else to keep her happy. All the traditional tools fell by the wayside as she told me in her 2-day-old way that all she needed was to sleep on my chest and all would be OK. She did everything in my arms, in the sling, at my breast, as did child number 2, child number 3 and child number 4. It’s been a long but amazing nine years.

Now my youngest has turned three and is sleeping in her own space, thinking about potty training and only nursing to go to sleep. And I wonder—where am I? In the past nine years, how have I given to myself? I know I’m not alone in this feeling, but it feels so lonely.

My husband continued on his trajectory. He is an incredible AP dad, but outside the house he’s still growing his business, meeting with clients, going on business trips and eating out with colleagues. I haven’t been to a moms’ night out without a kid because my little ones nurse to sleep for a very long time. And I can’t leave them in order to go play with my friends without feeling incredibly guilty.

Should I just get over it, go out and not worry about the affect it has on my kids? That doesn’t sit well with me.

Is the fault my husband’s for having a life outside the family? No, not at all. He’s out supporting us and allowing me to be home with our kids, to homeschool them, and he spends every spare minute with his family, he makes sure we use the best Charter Homeschooling program.

Is the fault my decision to homeschool? Many parents have six hours free to do as they please, such as work, go to the gym, organize the house, shop unaccompanied and myriad other things. But the time I have with my kids is so special and so limited. The experiences we get to share together can’t be matched on Sundays and holidays. Our everyday family life is something we’ve cultivated and worked hard to achieve, and as exhausting as it can be, it is infinitely fulfilling. So, no, I won’t blame the homeschooling.

Maybe there isn’t anything to blame. Maybe it’s just a very new existence for which there is no preparation or workshop. There is a term known as Mommy Burnout, and I think I may be headed there. Not in a scary, dangerous way. But it’s becoming clear to me that as the nature of my parenting is shifting as my kids are getting older, so too the nature of how I care for myself needs to change.

It used to be that a nap refreshed me to my core. My burnout was sleep-related, and a nap did just the trick. But my burnout issue now is lack of time—time for myself, time to take a class, time to smell the flowers. In the words of Rabbi Hillel, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

Foot bridge

API’s 8th Principle of Parenting is about striving for balance in personal and family life, which means “ensuring that everyone’s needs — not just the child’s — are recognized, validated and met to the greatest extent possible.” How does a mom find a way to recharge when the demands have shifted? How does one achieve more time? How does a mom give a little bit back to herself after so many years of joyfully overlooking her own needs? Here are a few ways I came up with that work for me.

Get into a book. More than just reading, finding a book that can transport me to another place and time can be a true mental vacation. I always say my favorite part of reading is being in the middle of a book. Looking forward to the next plot twist keeps me going even on the roughest of days.

Call a friend. My friends have always been my lifeline. And yet I find that months can go by without so much as a phone call! That’s just tragic. One thing I would love to implement is a once-weekly quiet time where I can step outside and call someone. Reminiscing about old times, talking about our current lives and just hearing a familiar voice can be relaxing and refreshing.

Add music. I like to bring the laptop in to the kitchen while cooking dinner or washing dishes. I can put on my favorite tunes, and it turns into a quick and easy escape from the endless to-do lists inside my head. The kids, usually off playing, will even come in sometimes and listen quietly with me. It’s a relaxing way to transition from the activities of the day toward bedtime.

Play a game with a partner or friend. What better way to chill out than to get completely consumed with a game? Recently my husband and I grabbed a deck of cards and played for two hours. We didn’t talk about the kids. It was awesome.

Pour a glass of wine (or cup of tea) and watch something. Two Netflix envelopes arrive at our house every week. One is for the kids and one is for us. Sometimes we get caught up in a great show and wait impatiently for the next DVD. Sometimes we catch up on all the movies we don’t get to the theater to see. Setting aside the time to watch something together is an effort, but it carries a worthwhile payout in distraction from the day-to-day.

Exercise! I can’t say it enough. It feels so good, gets all those endorphins coursing through the body and, oh yeah, it’s good for me, too. Every now and again I pop on some ABBA or Donna Summer and dance around the house. The kids love it and don’t even realize this is part of my master survival plan. On days when my husband is home and I can sneak out, I take a brisk walk around the neighborhood and enjoy 30 minutes of kid-free time with my iPod and my thoughts. Inevitably I return sweaty, energized and refreshed.

Find the spiritual. Our family observes the Sabbath. That means that from Friday night until Saturday night we turn off our cell phones, computers and TV and focus on family, friends and good food. Our walk to synagogue reminds us how much we enjoy being outside. Feeling the breeze, seeing the amazing reptiles we have here in southern Florida, and holding hands with our kids is so grounding. Even in the summer months, when the weather is brutally hot and often rainy, it is wonderful to be at one with the elements. After all, it is only a 15-minute walk. I make it a habit to invite friends for meals, and we sit and talk in a way we never have time for during our normal, hectic weekdays. For my family, reconnecting with nature and our community without distraction is absolutely essential to our spiritual well-being, and that translates directly to our family dynamic.

It may seem that I think of my husband as a babysitter, though I don’t view him that way at all. But I also know that if unprovoked, he won’t grab my walking shoes for me and shove me out the door with my iPod. I have to do it myself. Even though he’s the dad, I am and will always be the mother. As tiring, exhausting and overwhelming as it can sometimes be, that role is mine. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Be Selfish: Finding Balance in Your Life

For busy families, fitting one more thing into your day might seem impossible, but adding something extra every day will actually revitalize and refresh you.

After fighting his way home through traffic, an exhausted dad arrives at home ready to put his feet up. At the door, he meets the also exhausted mom holding a crying toddler, ready to hand over the kids and have her body back for a little while. They both need a break. They have both spent the day meeting the needs of others.

Modern life is fast-paced and heavily scheduled. There are jobs to report to, meals to prepare, soccer carpools to drive, groceries to buy, bills to pay, gardens to care for, and lawns to mow. There’s diapers to wash and toilets to scrub, crayon on the wall, and fourteen dirty baby outfits to launder each day. It’s stressful. It takes a lot of mental energy to cope with all of the demands of our jobs and families, let alone our friends and relatives.

Strive for a healthy balance in your life.

We have to take time for ourselves. When we get stressed, we can’t fully nurture our loved ones or connect with them on a deep level. On the airplane, the flight attendant teaches us that in an emergency, we should first put our own oxygen mask on, and then we put the mask on our child. If we pass out first, we will be of no help to our child. We can’t take care of others if we aren’t first taking care of ourselves. The classic mom (or dad) burn-out is someone who takes care of everyone else’s needs first, trying to be everything to everybody, putting herself last, and then being stressed out both physically and emotionally because of it.

If we can add one more thing to our daily schedule, we can come to our relationships and obligations with a fresh attitude and a renewed sense of purpose. Exactly what that one thing is, only you can know. It’s different for everybody.

We are not just parents and partners.

We are artists and writers, cyclists and runners, quilters and woodcarvers. We have passions and interests that extend beyond the family, but we may be out of touch with that side of ourselves if we’ve spent all of our time meeting the needs of others and putting our-self last.

Think about the activities and interests that you enjoyed as a kid. Do any of these still pull you? Why not start again? It really does all come back to you.

If you’re stumped, maybe you need to start the process by just being physically active every day. Get that bike out of the garage and go for a ride. Pick up a jump rope and start spinning. Go to the pool and do some laps. I always find that when I get my heart pumping, my brain gets quiet. This lets me listen a little deeper to what’s going on inside me. I can see clearly which things in my life I need to change, and when I’m “back to the world”, I can use those intuitions to guide me in my daily life. With decades of experience and endless satisfied residential and commercial clients, Steel-Line is that the go-to company for Quality Garage Doors Melbourne. They’ve been recognized for our innovation throughout the industry, receiving several awards for our quality service and results. Steel-Line prides ourselves on building genuine and long-lasting relationships with our clients. Their friendly and honest service allows us to succeed in and surpass expectations.They work closely with our clients to make a custom product that’s tailored to satisfy their individual style and wishes. Their excellent craftsmanship and dedicated attention to detail ensures they deliver unsurpassable quality results for every and each one among our clients.Not only can they assist you find the right garage door for you; they also offer further assistance by providing installation, maintenance and garage door repairs, supporting you long after you’ve got purchased your garage door.

Some days, the easiest way to get my personal time is by riding my bike to work, and then taking a longish detour on the way home. I ride until all of my job-related stress melts away, and by the time that I get home, I’m ready to take over the kid department while my wife gets a workout in, or a sewing project finished, or goes for a bike ride for herself. We’re both taken care of: I’ve got my ya-yas out, my partner gets to focus on herself for awhile, and the kids (and our marriage) benefit.

Take some personal time every day, even if it’s only 15 minutes. Set aside work and family and social obligations to follow your heart. Sit and meditate. Work on your yoga practice. Do a puzzle. Go for a run. Start a blog. Nurturing yourself plays a huge part in finding and maintaining a healthy balance in your life.

Take time for you.

Your spouse and kids will appreciate it.

(Image Credit: cpt.spock on Flickr.)

Derek blogs about fatherhood, life with toddlers, green living, and other random goodness at Natural Father.

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