Change is a cause of stress and having a baby changes your life in countless ways, some of which you didn't see coming. The physical and psychological trauma of childbirth, the pain and extreme tiredness that follows, chronic sleep deprivation for one or both partners, a host of new expectations for yourselves as parents responsible for another life, changes to financial state, ceasing work even temporarily to take on parenthood, and of course, failure to be 'super mum'. Each of these causes of stress are out of our control, but there are some simple things you can do to help lower your stress levels at home. So here are just a few tips on how to stress less and begin enjoying your new family.
Tip 1. Accept all offers of help.
Some of the countries with the lowest levels of postnatal depression are those in which the extended family members pull together to help after a baby is born. So let go of any ideas you have that you should be able to do it all alone. It makes sense for you and your baby to accept any offers of help, however small. Kindly accept the offer of a homemade meal from your neighbour or the chance to take a shower while your best friend holds the baby. All of these things accumulate to a calmer, happier household.
Tip 2. Involve older children.
If you have older children, this is the time to let them get involved. Recruit them to fetch the nappies or bring mummy a drink of water while she is feeding. They will enjoy being involved in the care of the newborn, so give them jobs that make them feel important. Have set times that you can spend being attentive to the older siblings to prevent them from feeling neglected. For example, while the baby has her morning nap, your older child knows this is the time he gets to choose a game to play with Mummy.
Tip 3. Share your worries.
If this is your first baby, expect to come across lots of worries about your baby along the way. Don't bottle these up. Instead, share them with your partner, health visitor or your own parents to get some reassurance and some advice. Many parents worry about being judged if they share problems with other new mums, because there is often the perception that everyone else is doing things perfectly. In actual fact, everyone has similar sorts of concerns, so talking about them can stop you feeling so alone.
Tip 4. Rest is golden.
Rest can feel like gold dust for a new parent so if an opportunity arises and you see the chance for a half hour nap – take it. Sleep deprivation makes us feel less able to cope with stress and so you are doing the best for you and your baby if you get as much rest as possible.
Tip 5. Nutrition.
When your normal routine is thrown out the window and you are struggling to find time to cook, the temptation is to eat unhealthy snacks at random intervals throughout the day. Poor diet will have a negative impact on your stress levels, so do what you can to keep your food intake as regular and nutritious as possible. Buy healthy snacks to keep in the house and when you do have time to cook, make a big batch that you can freeze for those days when you don't have the time or energy.
Tip 6. Get Outside.
In those early days with a new baby it can be difficult to get out of the house. If you can try to get out every day, even just for a short walk, this will have a positive impact on your stress levels and your mood. Any parent knows that getting out with a baby is big task, so if you can't face the organisation needed to go out, take your cup of tea and walk in the garden for a couple of minutes.
Disagreement and arguments in relationships are inevitable and when things heat up emotionally we can easily act on impulse and do something, or say something we later regret. The result can be highly destructive for relationships and leave you feeling out of control and disconnected from your loved one.
In relationships, painful feelings can come from waiting to be appreciated, reassured or cared for by your partner. It can be tempting to constantly seek reassurance or to lash out at a partner for not being supportive. However, the small sense of relief we get from reassurance does not last and actually increases the need for more reassurance, while lashing out causes even more destruction in the relationship.
During a disagreement, knowing how to step back and notice your thoughts from a birds eye view, to redirect those thoughts in a controlled way, can help you to tolerate uncertainty and discomfort long enough to choose actions that will have better outcomes for your relationship and your wellbeing. Of course, some people find this more difficult than others and heightened emotional states can make it more difficult still, but everyone can learn new ways of coping, and when you get the results it will have been worth all the hard work.
So how can you learn the skill of cooling down your emotions during an argument? How do you redirect your mind to give yourself some distance and think more clearly and act to get the best outcome? Harvard professor William Ury suggests in his classic guide to negotiation, Getting Past No, his strategy of “going to the balcony”. This means mentally going to the balcony to cool off. Detaching your mind from the situation in front of you to allow the heightened emotions to pass over. In her book After the Stork, American psychologist, Sara Rosenquist describes the acronym DOOR as a helpful way to achieve this. The process is as follows:
To do this you may need to physically remove yourself from the room, or you may be able to detach from what is happening without leaving.
Notice your own thoughts, emotions and behaviour towards your partner.
In turn, try to understand your partner's thoughts, emotions and behaviour and notice how the interaction is not working.
Quick reaction to emotion often makes situations worse. But, taking time to respond carefully is likely to lead to better outcomes.
By taking time to stand back and observe both your own experience and that of your partner, you are more likely to respond based on a better understanding of the situation. So why not give it a go? Write the acronym down and keep it in your purse or stick it on the fridge to remind you to take time to detach and calm so that you can control your emotions rather than let them control you.
What makes a marriage work? Open any newspaper and you’ll find yet another journalist writing about how they have uncovered the key to a long lasting marriage. If the ideas they are selling were material goods we’d all be returning them and asking for our money back before long. This is because many of the claims are not only false but potentially damaging to relationships because they can convince people that their marriage is a hopeless case when it is not. So here I attempt to uncover some of the myths about what makes a marriage work, using the expert knowledge of renowned therapist, researcher and writer John Gottman.
Myth 1. Personality hang-ups and issues wreck marriages
It has been said that personality problems and insecurities do not mix well with marriage. But research suggests this is not the case. The key to a happy marriage is not having two people with “normal” personalities, but having two personalities that fit well together. So it’s not the insecurities that threaten marriages but the way you handle them together. If you can accept each others' quirks and respond with care, affection and respect, the relationship will do well.
Myth 2. Common interests keep you together
Having a common interest is great, but only if you have a positive interaction when sharing that time. Two fitness enthusiasts may visit the gym together and spend time laughing, talking and concentrating on tasks together. Another couple may spend that time criticising how the other one chooses to work out, leaving one feeling judged and self-conscious and leaving the other feeling irritated and tense. This is certainly a time when the common interest can cause more problems than benefits.
Myth 3. A kiss for a kiss
It has been reported in the past that in good marriages all is equal. Spouses reciprocate to every kind gesture and act of love. So when one partner helps with a chore, the other contributes something of equal value. It was once thought that when this unwritten rule breaks down, so does the marriage. But, marriages with this kind of tallying up of who has done what for whom are already going wrong somewhere. Individuals who are happy with their spouse and the relationship do not keep tabs on how many times they have paid for dinner or emptied the dishwasher. Instead, they both do what they can willingly because they feel positive about their partner. It is the keeping score that suggests there may be an issue to overcome in the marriage.
Myth 4. Avoiding conflict ruins your marriage
The idea that communication will save your marriage has been talked about time and time again. But trying to talk things out is not the answer for everyone. Couples have different styles of conflict. There are those who fight frequently, those who talk things through and find a compromise and those who avoid arguments at all costs. None of these styles lead to better or longer marriages. The important part is that the style works for both partners. So if one person tends to shout things out and the other prefers to brush things under the carpet then this could lead to problems. A couple who both choose to take time out when they are feeling upset with the other and return later with all forgotten can live a long and happy life together.
Myth 5. Affairs cause divorce
Experts in this field say that in most cases it’s the other way round. A problematic marriage heading for divorce tends to lead one or both partners to look for intimate connection elsewhere. Research evidence shows that 80 per cent of divorced men and women said their marriage broke up because they lost that sense of closeness and gradually grew apart, or because they did not feel loved and appreciated by their partner.
Myth 6. Men are not biologically built for marriage
Misunderstanding of Darwin’s theory of evolution gave rise to the notion that men are at the mercy of their genes. It was suggested that men are pre-programmed to spread their seed as far and wide as possible, making them unsuitable for monogamy. At the same time it was proposed that the female of the species seeks out just one man who looks like he might provide well for their offspring. In fact, the occurrence of extramarital affairs does not depend on gender, but on opportunity. As the numbers of women working outside the home have exploded, so have the numbers of women who have affairs. According to Annette Lawson, Ph.D., of the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Human Development, the rates of young women having extramarital affairs now slightly exceeds those of men.
Myth 7. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus
The self-help isles are full of best-selling books that claim men and women are two different species from two different planets. This can be incredibly intimidating to someone looking for sound advice on how to improve their relationship. What these books fail to consider is that many of these alien creatures live long and happy lives together. So while gender differences can be a factor in some relationship problems, they are not the root cause. John Gottman revealed in his research that the determining factor for both men and women in whether they are satisfied with the passion, sex and romance in their marriage is, by 70 percent, the quality of their friendship.
These are just a few of the marriage myths out there in our newspapers and magazines, claiming to hold the key to a long, happy marriage. But for those struggling to make their marriage work, false information can give the wrong impression about how it might be saved. The truth is that, working on a marriage is of course hard work, but it need not seem as complex and intimidating as it is made out to be. Now we have exploded a few of the common myths about marriage, where do you go for sound relationship advice, based on research evidence by experts? I recommend John Gottman's book 'The seven principles for making marriage work,' as a starting point. Also check out the other articles in this section on relationship issues.
What pushes your buttons? Is it a noisy neighbour? Maybe when you have too much to drink or someone said something? Maybe a series of small things happen to build your frustration through the day until you explode when your partner forgets to do something? Whatever leads to a rise in anger, lashing out does nothing to improve your life. In fact, it does the opposite, leading you to hospital, prison, or unemployment and leading your partner out of the relationship.
People often get angry when they feel they are losing control of a situation. It has been said that taking a stand shows strength. But in reality, the person losing their temper is the one who loses control and gets into trouble. People avoid them and they often end up alone. Holding on to your temper, holding on to calm and control, holding on to your family and friends has a much better outcome for your life. But it requires much greater strength than anger. If you want to better understand and control anger, follow this short guide to anger management. With practice, these techniques may help you keep your temper.
Step 1. Know what makes you angry.
The best racing drivers in the world would not race on a track before getting to know, in painstaking detail, every tight bend and slippery surface. Similarly, understanding inside out the people, places and situations that always seem to push your buttons enables you to do what you need to do to stop them being pressed and taking you by surprise. Don't just think about it for a moment. Take a seat and write down all the things that have ever made you feel angry. Then go through your list and consider ways to avoid or better handle those situations before they arise.
Step 2. Get familiar with the early warning signs.
Heading for a bend in the road, a good driver can judge if he is going too fast to handle the corner well. The signs can be subtle but crucial. If missed the results can be lethal. Losing your temper can feel like it comes out of nowhere. In fact, there are many small changes in how you feel before you explode with anger. If you spend time getting to grips with these and examining your own unique process with the precision of the driver getting to know his track, you can't go wrong. Specifically, look for physical signs. Your shoulders may tense up, your breathing might change, you may start clenching your jaw. Another area is to examine the changes in your thought processes. You may start to have overly critical thoughts of someone else, or yourself. You may think you are being ignored or insulted. Any signs that warn you of building anger are useful in your mission to keep your cool. They are the voice in the drivers ear describing the corner ahead. They give you the chance you need to put your plan of action in place.
Step 3. Have a plan for emergencies.
Top drivers gain experience of reacting quickly in dangerous situations to steer themselves safely through hairy moments. You need two or three crisis plans that will get you out of trouble if you have missed those early warning signs. Some people immediately get themselves outside and away from the situation to allow them to calm down safely. Others have a certain word or phrase to say that helps to defuse the situation and reminds them of how they want to deal with things. Counting to 10 can also allow time to consider the best way to handle things rather than react on impulse. Other options include stopping in your tracks to hum your favourite song. If you are humming, whistling or singing it is harder to shout or act out. It buys you time to slow things down and change direction. Smiling is another one. There is plenty of research to show that smiling works on a biological level to influence how you feel. It also helps those around you to calm down. A great de-fuser.
Planning to manage your anger in great detail, writing things down and sharing them with loved ones, all helps to increase your ability to use these strategies. When you successfully control your temper, give yourself credit for being strong and keeping control. The more you practice, the easier it will become. For those who need a more structured and supportive approach, working with a therapist on this may be the best option.
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