Flowers, a nice meal out or simply some time being pampered at home by family are great gifts for any mom on Mother’s Day. However, along with those signs of love and gratitude, what many women who come to our mental health centers say they could benefit from throughout the year is for people in their life to better understand and acknowledge the high degree of stress they face.
In fact, in a recently released book titled “Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving,” sociologist Caitlyn Collins shares her findings after five years studying parenthood in four wealthy western countries. Her conclusion: mothers in the U.S. have it the worst of those studied. The additional countries evaluated in this study were Sweden, Germany and Italy.
Understanding the Different Types of Stress
To get a better sense of what moms go through, it is important to understand the different types of stress. We explain at our mental health clinics that not all stress is bad. A surge of hormones and elevated heart rate is a normal, healthy response for a person who is excited but not afraid, such as when they are publicly thanked for their efforts at a school event or are interviewing for a new job. Sometimes this is called good stress.
Stress that is temporary but negative is what is called acute stress. When a rude driver cuts someone off in traffic, that person’s stress response kicks in briefly to help them prevent a crash. As long as they then allow (or encourage) the stress to dissipate, it typically is not harmful.
The biggest stress-related danger to moms (and people in general) is chronic stress. This is stress associated with repeated or continual difficulties in life. Over time, it can cause a wide range of physical, mental and emotional problems.
Motherhood and Chronic Stress
Many mothers today experience chronic stress. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the most common is that they feel overwhelmed by all the “hats” they feel they must wear to support their family. These include roles like:
- Nurturing mother
- Schedule keeper
- Devoted wife
- Youth sports fan/manager/coach
Plus, many women work outside the home and must face the pressure that comes from feeling like the two commitments conflict and consequently either their performance at work or their performance at home (or both) suffers.
Great Ways to Improve Mom’s Days
Fortunately, here are a few steps families can take to lighten mom’s load and help her enjoy life more fully. For example:
- Take a task permanently off her plate. Even something simple like having another family member be responsible for feeding the family pet every day can be freeing to an overworked mom.
- Initiate stress-relieving activities. While mothers should learn to take action to relieve their stress, it is certainly appreciated when a family member encourages mom to go for a walk, do some yoga or enjoy a creative outlet like painting or knitting.
- Ask questions and listen attentively to the answers. “How are you doing? Tell me about your day?” These kinds of questions encourage a mother to open up and relieve some of the pressure that chronic stress creates.
- Encourage her to get help. If a spouse or another adult feels like a mom could benefit from professional counseling, it is a very loving thing to do to gently encourage her to seek help from a mental health center.
At Community Reach Center, a leading Denver mental health clinic, we help mothers and anyone who feels overwhelmed by stress take immediate action to address their stressors. Then, going forward, we teach strategies for being proactive in minimizing or preventing stress to enjoy a happier, healthier life. Learn more about our services at communityreachcenter.org or call us at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County, including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.