If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that quarantining at home with our spouse and kids is stressful. Being stressed out doesn’t make you a “bad” parent, and you’re not alone.
Studies Show Parents Are Significantly Stressed Because of COVID-19
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), many Americans are experiencing considerable levels of stress related to the global pandemic and are also reporting higher levels of general stress than in recent years — especially parents.
“American parents are, on average, feeling significantly higher levels of stress than adults without children,” the APA article said. “Parents report stressors related to education, basic needs, access to health care services and missing out on major milestones.”
The average reported stress level for American adults related to COVID-19 is 5.9, and the average reported general stress level is 5.4. according to the APA, this is significantly higher than the average stress level reported in the 2019 Annual Stress in America survey, which was 4.9, and and marks the first significant increase in average reported stress since the survey began in 2007.
While the pandemic has certainly affected the mental health of all demographics, research from the American Psychological Association showed that in April and May, parents with children at home under 18 were notably more stressed than childless adults.
Furthermore, the APA reports that pandemic-related stress seemed to have a disproportionate impact on communities of color.
“Slightly more than 2 in 5 Hispanic adults (41%) say their average level of stress related to the coronavirus pandemic during the past month was between 8 and 10, according to the APA. “Hispanics are also most likely to say they constantly or often feel stress as a result of the pandemic (37%), as compared with white (32%), black (32%), Native American (31%), and Asian (28%) adults.”
“Specifically, people of color are more likely than white adults to report significant stressors in their life as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, namely getting coronavirus (71% vs. 59%, respectively), basic needs (61% vs. 47%), and access to health care services (59% vs. 46%).”
So what do all of those numbers mean? They mean that parents are more stressed now and during the last year from the COVID-19 pandemic than ever before in history. It was a year of unimaginable loss of life, jobs, joy, and normalcy.
According to the New York Times, more recent data from the University of Oregon’s RAPID-EC survey — which polled 1,000 nationally representative parents with children under 5 — shows that COVID-19 has been a mental health crisis for parents, especially those with young children.
“Sixty-three percent of parents said they felt they had lost emotional support during the pandemic,” the Times article explains. “According to a study from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, 61 percent of parents of 5, 6 and 7 year olds in Massachusetts agreed or strongly agreed that they felt ‘nervous, anxious, or on edge’ because of the pandemic.”
Additionally, two subcategories of parents of small children are feeling considerably higher increased stress levels and are more at-risk for clinical anxiety and/or depression — new and expecting mothers, and parents who are struggling (financially) to meet their family’s basic needs.
According to the Times, anxiety and depression affected somewhere between 10 to 25 percent of women during pregnancy and in the year after childbirth pre-COVID-19. But two new studies from Canada show that those figures have skyrocketed since the shutdown
- One study polled nearly 2,000 pregnant women and found that 37 percent were showing clinically significant levels of depression and that 57 percent were showing clinically significant levels of anxiety.
- Another study polled 900 women who were either pregnant or home with newborns and found that rates of depression increased by 25 percent (from 15 to 40 percent) during the pandemic, and rates of anxiety jumped 43 percent (from 29 to 72 percent).
What Can We Do to Lower Our Stress Levels?
So, how can parents — moms, especially — bolster their own mental health and, in turn, improve the mental health of their families? One key practice is self-care. But it’s crucial to asses what that means for you now vs. last year or even six months ago because our old go-to coping mechanisms may not be open or available right now, or a financially sound option (I miss you, Target!).
So, what’s accessible to you now ? Maybe it’s taking a small break for yourself every day when you scroll through Instagram for 10 minutes or listen to a new podcast. Maybe it’s going for a drive or a walk (by yourself), or taking time to catch up with a friend over the phone or on FaceTime.
According to the Times, research proves that exercise (like that solo walk or a 5-minute yoga video) and emotional connection (that simple text exchange or video chat with a friend) are helpful in reducing stress levels. The RAPID-EC study found that high levels of emotional support — particularly from local sources — helps mitigate stress levels for families at various rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, and that parents are finding solace in their partners, parents, and even their own children.
7 tips to help reduce stress
Create a daily routine, but give yourself some grace to be flexible. Small children, especially toddlers, thrive with a routine. Designate certain times of the day for meals, crafts, TV or tablets, playing outside, running errands, cleaning up the house, naps, etc. This will help everyone stay sane and know what to expect each day (which has shown to reduce stress).
Move your body. Exercise is a proven stress relief. But if you’re like me, you have a weird relationship with it, especially considering lots of us have put on the Quarantine 15. I’ve had to learn to not associate exercise with weight loss and instead view that as an added bonus. For example, I love to go on walks outside and do virtual yoga or HIIT workouts in my carport (sorry neighbors!) But why do I exercise? Because it makes me happy and it gives me some time to myself. Period. It helps that my toddler loves it, too, and it gives my husband and I an excuse to spend time together.
Find joy in the small things. Seek happiness where you can find it, and don’t take it for granted. Those toddler snuggles just mean more these days. All the “I luh yoo mama”s and the “Tank Yoo”s carry more weight than ever and never fail to lift my spirits.
Traditional talk therapy — especially virtual therapy — is a wonderful option for talking things through with an unbiased professional who will always be your personal advocate. Look into your health insurance to see if you’re covered or if you have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to help lower costs per session. Being able to message your therapist directly or hop on a quick video session has been a game-changer for may people during this pandemic. (Myself included!)
Identify and prioritize your individual needs. What makes you happy or makes you feel lighter? For me, it’s daily walks with my toddler and two dogs while listening to a podcast, completing at least one act of cleaning (no matter how big or small) each day, staying hydrated, taking my medications (anti-depressant and ADHD), reading, and checking in on Instagram. For you, it might be baking, organizing your pantry, doing some at-home workout videos, spending lots of time outside, or catching up with friends and family. Whatever it is, look inside yourself to figure out what that is, and make it happen!
Communicate clearly with your partner, especially regarding your new and changing needs. This has been a big one in my house. My husband and I are spending more time together and with our son than ever before, and while a lot of that has been wonderful, plenty of it has been annoying, stressful, or fight-filled. We’ve had to sharpen our communication tools and learn how to directly and honestly tell each other what we expect from the other person, what we need from each other, what we want to do for ourselves, and how we can best love each other. The same goes for communicating with your kids! Direct (and kind) is best.
Make the mundane fun! Whether it’s chores, cooking, Netflix binges, find a way to make it fun and enjoyable. Maybe you’ve nixed allowances due to financial necessity or are trying to cook your way through all of those canned goods you bought at the beginning of lockdown. There’s ways to make it enjoyable for everyone. My toddler, for example, has gotten super into “helping” me cook, which really means I give him a bowl of water with some sprinkles or flour and a whisk and let him participate. Sometime he even helps me “chop” veggies with a plastic toy knife. He LOVES is! And it’s a stimulating, productive way to pass the time. That’s a win-win!
Bottom line, this has been a chronic destabilizing force in our lives as parents and for our families. and to families and parents and children. COVID-19 is a mental health crisis as well as a physical health crisis, and one that will likely not let up soon. It’s paramount to acknowledge the way you’re feeling and prioritize how to feel better.
And here at Babypalooza, we have your back. Download our app and find us on Facebook to connect with a community of mamas who understand this stage of life you’re in and can offer much-needed support.