Building Lasing Work/Life Balance: Stress Management For Parents With Careers

By Zaithyn Galter Published 04/22/2009 | Parenting
What is Stress?

Many researchers define stress as events or situations which are perceived as negatively affecting your well-being. Stress can take on many different forms, and can contribute to changes in mental and physical health as well as illness. Common symptoms of too much stress include headache, sleep disorders, difficulty concentrating, short-temper, upset stomach, job dissatisfaction, low morale, depression, and anxiety.

How do our bodies respond to stress?

Perception of a stress activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), a process known as the fight or flight response, which mobilizes energy to help us respond to the stress. For example, activation of the SNS diverts blood flow away form the stomach and digestion to the heart and lungs to prepare for a possible need to run away form a threat. Stress also increases release of cortisol from our adrenal glands, which further contributes to redirecting energy toward dealing with stress and away from other bodily functions. At the conclusion of the stress, all these reactions are reduced to normal levels, and the body quickly returns to its state or balance, or homeostasis. This is a normal pattern of stress responsivity and recovery, and when this happens, we remain healthy in our minds and bodies and, importantly, ready to respond to the inevitable stresses that will come our way.

If stress is normal, how can it harm my health?

Well, note that a critical part of the stress cycle described above is the stressful situation ending, and the body recovering. When stress does not end, or when stresses come rapidly and for a long time, one after another, the body does not have time to recover, and the stress becomes chronic. Chronic stress prolongs activation of the SNS and the cortisol response. This extended activity of the physiological stress response that these systems has been shown to have serious detrimental effects on mental and physical health, and this is where stress management and coaching for stress reduction can be really helpful.

The Good News: There are simple and practical ways to reduce and manage your stress.

Nothing I could write here can substitute for the personalized attention and rapid progress you can make working with a life coach to constructively deal with stress, but here are some of the top strategies my clients have found useful in dealing with stress in their lives:

1.  Identify and stick to your priorities: Take the time to make a list of tasks you must accomplish weekly, monthly, and longer (quarterly or annually). With each item on your must list, include a deadline or a clear time commitment.

2.  Keep communication open: As difficult as it may be sometimes, its essential to keep channels of communication open both at work and at home. For work this may mean talking to a Supervisor, Mentor, or even trusted peer colleague. Do the same with your spouse or partner, in fact, in my experience, this is even more important as in a relationship initially minor things can fester and turn into big problems if not addressed early.

3.  Expect the Unexpected: I know this is a cliché, but another cliché, The best laid plans of mice and men are sometimes put asunder is really true and makes flexibility necessary. Some morning when you or your partner has a really important meeting at work or a deadline, youll wake up to a flooded basement or a vomiting child and someone has to take one for the team. Agree in advance that you will trade off these sacrifice days, even though it will never be convenient for either of you. Of course, if its your day and your partner has a job interview for a new position and youre not under the gun, be flexible open to switching things around- in other words, use common sense and be nice.

4.  Save time by spending a little more moneyIn the long run, you have only two things to spend-time and money. If you want to save on one, you'll have to spend the other. Therefore, think seriously about investing in services that take care of some of the chores, such as housecleaning. Even having your house cleaned professionally once a month is a big help, and saves you a bunch of time!

5.  Pick your battlesDecide what things are non-negotiable for you and which ones really are not that big a deal at home and at work. There are so many things I used to get worked up about that I just dont sweat anymore, such as making my kids make their beds before school each day.

6.  Learn to say noThis goes for work and your personal life. Clearly, there are some things you cant say no to, such as when your boss asks you to do an important task or your baby needs to go to the doctor. One big one Ive negotiated with my kids is the number of non-school activities they do.

7.  Be kind to yourself and others- Remember the Golden Rule Do unto others as you would have them do unto you? Cliché as it may sound, I repeat this to myself frequently when I feel stressed, crabby, or ready to make a snarky remark. Be sure to take care of your relationship by making time together with your partner without kids, and without each other sometimes. Remember that everyone needs some me time, and no one more so that parents with careers!

Mary Coussons-Read, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology and Health and Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado Denver, and the founder of Powerful Mind Consulting and Coaching, LLC. Mary is a also certified life coach and an experienced executive, tenure, and academic coach. You can find her at her website at