Parental Emotional Health

Coping With Stress

Stress is a normal part of every day life. It can be a positive thing - pushing us to get things done, challenge ourselves and find out we can cope with more than we thought.

We all have times when the pressure of life can feel a ‘bit much’. It may be for a short period or can be something long lasting. It can be hard to manage. There are many ways that stress affects us physically and emotionally and it is important that we find ways to look after ourselves.

It is important that parents can show that even when they are feeling stressed they can cope and look after themselves. This way children learn how to manage stress well too – because you have set a good example. These good habits will help them look after their mental health and manage stressful times in the future.

Dive Deeper

What Causes Stress?

There are so many things that can cause stress – what is ‘too much’ stress will vary from person to person. This will be dependent on personality, previous experiences and the support network we have. Stress becomes a problem when it starts to get in the way of us enjoying day to day life, and our response to stress causes problems for us and/or those around us.

We can feel too much stress when:

  • We don’t feel we have control over the things that are happening in our lives.
  • Money and/or health worries for yourself or those you love.
  • Having too much or too little to do.
  • Feeling responsible for things you cannot change / do.
  • Facing changes and uncertainty in life.

The causes of stress will be different for everyone. What is really stressful for one person might be bearable for someone else.

You should not give yourself a hard time about this it is how you feel that counts – concentrate on finding ways to make it feel better.

How Do I Know If I'm Stressed?

There are physical and emotional signs of stress. Physically you might notice;

  • A fast heartbeat, breathlessness, feeling dizzy and faint.
  • Feeling really tired, and either not being able to sleep or sleeping too much.
  • You get headaches and feeling ‘on edge’.
  • Have tummy upsets, feel sick.

Emotionally you and/or the people who know you best, might notice changes in how you behave. You might;

  • Be more irritable, have less patience and get angry more easily.
  • Not be interested in the things you have always enjoyed, and have ‘lost’ your sense of humour.
  • Feel like something ‘bad’ is going to happen and/or ‘over-react’ to smaller problems.
  • Worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones a lot.
  • Use unhealthy ways to cope like alcohol, cigarettes and drugs.

It really helps if you can recognise stress in yourself – it is the first step to taking back control.

Panic Attacks

Sometimes a lot of the feelings of Stress arrive together and cause a panic attack. This is where your body responds to your stress as if you are in ‘danger’. Your body releases hormones that would be needed in an emergency. This is called the fight or flight response.

Panic attacks can feel very powerful and are not nice. They will pass - you are not in danger from them – your body has got confused. There are techniques you can use to help when you are having an attack. You can also work on managing your reaction to stress and this can help reduce how often they happen.

How To Manage Stress?

The good news is that there are helpful, simple ways to help make stress more manageable.

What Is Causing Stress?

Firstly, try and work out what things you find stressful. This understanding will help you start to address the feelings.

  • Keep a daily diary – think about what you have been doing, and how you felt – what made things more stressful and what made it better.
  • Think about past hard times in your life – what was happening? What did you do that helped – what made it worse?
  • Ask trusted friends and loved ones to point out when they notice your stress levels are rising.

Making Changes

Once you have worked out the triggers for your stress, there may be some things you can change or improve. This can help manage and change how you are feeling. 

  • If your workload is causing worry – you could talk to your boss or colleagues to see what could change.
  • If you are struggling to keep everything on track at home - can you get others to share the load? Can you prioritise the most important things?
  • If you have a lot of worries about your health or your money can you make an appointment to discuss this and get the right advice and support for you?

Try and limit the time you spend on social media and looking at the news. Too much can make you feel your life is ‘not as perfect’ as other peoples – this can affect your self esteem and self confidence.

  • It can get in the way of family time and stop you getting enough rest.
  • A lot of information on social media is not true and it can worry you without good reason.
  • The news can make you feel that everything in the world is sad or dangerous – the news does not often focus on all of the good things!

Things You Can't Control or Change

Some things are very stressful for a short time like moving house, starting new jobs or schools and many other big changes. There may be some things that can’t be changed right now - like ongoing health problems, caring responsibilities, relationship difficulties and being short of money.

Whatever the cause of your stress there are practical things that will help.

  • If you have a lot to do break it down into ‘small steps’ and make a list - so you can see your progress. Be realistic about what you can do.
  • Take a break – even if it is 10 minutes - read a book, call a friend, or watch some TV. Puzzles, word search and craft are good stressbusters.
  • Do not use alcohol, drugs or cigarettes to try and cope, the side effects will make the symptoms of stress worse.
  • Fresh air and exercise is a good way to reduce stress and release ‘feel good hormones’. Anything that gets your heart beating a bit faster! You can try relaxing exercise too like yoga.

What Else Can I Do?

As well as practical things to calm down the feelings of stress, there are other things that are shown to work.

  • Tell someone how you feel – they might be able to help – but even being listened to can lower stress. You could talk to friends or family, your GP or get in touch with the NHS Talking Therapies Service Norfolk and Waveney.
  • Try relaxation techniques - there are a lot of different techniques but most involve concentrating on and slowing down your breathing.

Mindfulness is a useful way to lower stress by helping us to slow down and notice our feelings and surroundings. The idea is to focus on living in the moment and trying not to worry too much about the future and things you can’t control.

Talking To Your Child If You Suffer With Stress

When you struggle with stress your child may notice. Children are very tuned in to how their parents feel and behave. If you feel stressed you should not give yourself a hard time, it is a good chance to show your child that there are ways to manage it healthily.

You will sometimes not manage your stress well. This is OK as long as it does not happen often. Show your child that you can make it right again and cope. Talk to them about it;

‘I’m sorry I was stressed because we were late – then you wouldn’t put on your shoes and I shouted’.

Talk about what you could have done instead (E.g. take some slow deep breaths).

Get your child involved with the techniques you use to cope with stress – children really benefit from learning how to relax, be mindful, be active and talk about how they feel!

Who can Help?

If your stress is making it hard to cope with family life and you worry it is affecting your children it is important to get more help. This is the first step to things getting better.

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

Alternatively you can speak to your GP.

If you are 11-19 you can text ChatHealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.

For 11–25 year olds Kooth is a free, confidential and safe way to receive online counselling, advice and emotional well-being support. 

Childline - Children and young people under 19 can call 0800 1111 for free support.

Young Minds Parents Helpline - Call 0808 802 5544 for free Mon-Fri from 9.30am to 4pm.

To speak to other Norfolk parents and carers, you can join our online community forum below.


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