Stress & How it Affects Children

“I’m stressed and worried about how it affects my children”

We’ve all been there. Overwhelmed by life and its demands. Snappy, impatient at best – yelling like a maniac at worst.

Parenting has a way of bringing out the best and the worst in us. That’s the deal ok, so just get used to the fact that your children will be your greatest teachers, and we won’t always like the lessons they deliver. Having children can take us to our limits – lack of sleep, lack of a village, lack of time are all ingredients that can cause stress.

Compassion is the antidote for these crazy moments. Compassion for your sweet self!

I had delivered three babies in four years. This left my physical system very depleted, my mental system very overwhelmed, and my emotional system had shut down. I would wake up in the morning wishing it was bedtime, and yet I knew at bedtime, my time wasn’t really my own as I would be waking several times to my new baby. People applauded me for how amazing I was, yet I was really just going through the motions.  Even those close to me really didn’t know how dead I felt inside and just how dark my days were. I felt like a zombie, I felt like a failure, I felt like I had to hold on and not let the team down, I felt like I had to cope, I had to smile and perform.

You see,  I was running on a subconscious program that required me to get on with it, not complain and not ask for help. I also had a tendency towards perfection, and each day I was falling so below the perfection line, it was intolerable.

This period of time proved to be a really important growth time.  I needed to let myself feel my pain and suffering so that I could start to communicate and know what it was that I needed and how to ask for help. Even though this time was very difficult I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was the re-creation of me into a much more healthy and happy human – but I had to learn some important lessons.

What is stress?

Your nervous system out of balance.

The nervous system is the communication system within the body that translates internal and external reality, which then dictates the way our body needs to respond from moment to moment.

It is influenced by what we believe, how we see the world, and how we interpret our experiences.  You are probably all aware of the stress response which is commonly known as fight-flight. The opposite to this is the deep relaxation response.

When we are stressed, we have moved outside of the window of tolerance.

Window of Tolerance

Dan Siegal talks about a concept called the window of tolerance.

Picture a window. Inside the window is when we feel in a state of balance, we feel good. We can tolerate life and it all feels manageable. This is the window of tolerance.

Then there are times when our thoughts or experiences of life will cause us to enter outside the window of tolerance, and above it, into a state of hyperarousal. This means heightened states of hypervigilance, anxiety, feelings of chaos, overwhelm and anger. Our nervous system has entered into survival or fight-flight. This is a state of stress.

From the perspective of the nervous system, it is really important to the survival of our overall system that we have the capability of doing this. This activation state is what causes us to move and avoid being attacked by a potential predator.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this state, in fact, it is very important for survival. The problem comes when we do not give ourselves the time or the space to come down from hyperarousal to rebalance the system.

In my own story, I was experiencing continual feelings of overwhelm. I have no doubt that my heart rate was high, my blood pressure was higher, and my breathing rate was higher. This state over long periods of time depletes the system.

Now the nervous system is incredibly intelligent and wants to rebalance itself. So, when we remain in high states of hyperarousal for long periods of time we are more likely to invite the opposite side of the window of tolerance and that is hypo arousal, below the window.

In this state of mind and body can become very depressed, disassociated, shut down, numb, passive and withdrawn. I personally felt like a zombie walking through life. This too is a state of stress. It is a very intelligent response to hyperarousal. It is the nervous system trying to rebalance itself,  however, we can often feel ashamed and embarrassed and feel that something is wrong with us, when in fact it’s the system trying to release the pressure valve created through hyperarousal.

The purpose of sharing the window of tolerance is to help you to understand that it is healthy to activate your body and activate your life as long as you spend time deactivating the system through rest and repair. When we have a well-regulated nervous system, our window of tolerance becomes much bigger, and we can cope with more.

What is the answer to stress?

Quite simply, self-awareness to realise you are out of balance and self-compassion, to give yourself the time and space to rest and repair – to rebalance the system. We can;

  • Talking to a friend or partner who is a good listener, and not trying to ‘fix,’ or give advice about how you should be feeling.
  • Journalling
  • Physical movement
  • Meditation
  • Asking for help
  • Time out away from the children.

What else helps you to rebalance your nervous system?

Some reflection questions about your stress

Write a list of all the things that stress you out?

How do these things show up in my mind, body and behaviours?

What are these signs inviting me to do or be?

What can I change? What do I need to accept?

If I need to accept, what can I think, do or be to keep myself well through the stress?

Is there another way I can view this situation?

What resources do I have that can help me rebalance my nervous system?

Be gentle with yourselves dear ones, your children don’t need you to be perfect, just well.

Tracey and the Transform Parenting team

If you would like further support, why not join us in the village, where we have a parent growth zone module dedicated to overcoming stress in the family, for both you and your children.

> Go to the Parenting Village



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