The topic of stress really hits close to home for me. I’m really passionate about sharing this information with other parents because I’ve had to navigate this myself with my family. Every day in my office, this is something I’m constantly discussing with my patients. By recognizing and putting strategies in place to minimize and better adapt to stress, it allows you to be the best person first for yourselves, and secondly for your kids and your family.
When we talk about this pressured parenting concept, I want to paint a picture and then give you an analogy to help drive it home. So I know all of you have had these days where you have some sort of big, important meeting or presentation for work, or some deadline that you have to meet. You get up early and have the perfect outfit picked out. You go to get your toddler out of bed, and they are just not having it. It’s a struggle to get them dressed, they fight brushing their teeth, and when you finally get them sitting down to eat breakfast, they spill all over your brand new white blouse that you had purposefully picked out for your big day. That’s how your day starts, and it continues to follow the same path from there. You get to daycare and you realize it’s show and share day and you forgot to bring something for your toddler to share with the class and you now notice that you didn’t bring their winter boots either, so they won’t be able to play outside in the snow with the rest of their friends.
This scenario can happen to the best of us on a fairly regular basis. These things are what we call small potatoes – little stressors that can happen over and over. Those little things can build up. What I’m talking about is that the pressure of parenting, the stresses that we have day in and day out, they end up being like rocks. And if all of us are like a bucket of water, and those rocks – whether it’s a small thing like a rough start to the day or a bigger rock like grief and family challenges, marriage, divorce, moving, a new baby – all get thrown into the bucket and eventually that bucket will start to overflow if we aren’t careful about all of those rocks as they’re coming in and what we’re doing to care for ourselves. It can be easy to fall into that state of overwhelm and feel like your bucket is constantly overflowing. What happens is that one of those things that should be small, ends up becoming big and you end up reacting in way that you as a mom or dad don’t want to react – little things might cause you to snap and you end up not being yourself and the best parent that you can be because all of these stressors start to add up.
The big picture is that we first have to understand the stress and where it’s coming from and along with this bucket analogy, we can find out how to throw less rocks into this bucket and explore the possibility of giving you more room in the bucket so you are able to adapt to those stressors more effectively.
Everyone knows that too much stress is not a good thing. I could pull out one study after another showing how detrimental stress is to our health and how it contributes chronic disease and the top six leading causes of death in the US. It’s important to be aware of what true health actually is when we look at stress. The World Health Organization states that health is an optimal state of physical, mental, and social well-being; not merely the absence of disease or injury. So even if you are not feeling any symptoms or have any health challenges at this point, are you truly living in an optimal state of physical, mental, and social well-being? As a parent, you might just be focusing on getting through day to day and are on full on survival mode because everyone depends on you. And if you go down, you don’t even want to think about what would happen to the rest of the family. Moms and dad, you don’t get to have sick days because being a parent is a 24/7 gig.
Our goal is to make sure that not only are you getting out of that survival mode, but that you are getting back to a point where you feel you can thrive and can be the best possible parent you can be. To do that, we have to dive into the three major stresses affecting your everyday life: physical stress, chemical stress, and emotional stress.
Physical stress has a lot to do with your day to day routine. It includes things like carrying children, bending, lifting, poor posture (whether it’s from desk work, being at a computer, watching TV, texting, etc), continuously driving from one place to another, repetitive motions, and having a sedentary lifestyle. It can also include more acute events like accidents, injuries, and slips and falls. All of these things act like little baby rocks that get thrown into your bucket and eventually can play a big role in your bucket overflowing.
Chemical stress includes all of the different toxins that are in our world. The most common thing we see in this category revolves around our diet – so things like sugar, grains, a dairy-based diet, preservatives, and processed foods. We all live a fast-paced lifestyle these days, so while the convenience of some of these types of foods is appealing, what it does to our bodies and our health is not. Other chemical stressors include environmental chemicals, household cleaning products, detergents, and personal care products (what you’re putting in your hair and on your skin).
Last but not least is emotional stress. This is the one might be the most evident in your life. It includes family stress, work stress, the go-go-go fast paced lifestyle, negative self talk, and the biggest one I see with parents is that they put everyone else’s needs before their own. When everyone gets put before yourself and you’re in this crazy rat race and you’re going 100 miles per hour from sun up to sun down, we start to see a pattern of doubt, worry, and over analysis. We all want what’s best for our kids and our families, but when we constantly question whether we’re doing this whole parenting thing right, that can be a huge emotional stressor. It can be a huge contributor to that overflowing bucket.
When we talk about all of these different stresses, they build up in the body. What we look at in our office is what happens to the body when that stress is built up and how we can create some changes to help it better adapt. It’s important to understand that the nervous system is what allows your body to perceive stress and handle it – and chiropractors are doctors of the nervous system. That nervous system has two different sides: the sympathetic mode and the parasympathetic mode. These two sides have an inverse relationship. When we have all of these rocks stacked in our bucket and you get locked into that mode, it tips the scale to favor the sympathetic side. We call the sympathetic mode of the nervous system the gas pedal. It is responsible for that fight or flight reaction, which is good in acutely stressful situations (for example, if a car pulls out in front of you, your heart jumps to your throat and you slam on the breaks). It’s meant to be a protective mechanism. However, in today’s world, all of these physical, chemical, and emotional stressors build up day in and day out. What happens in our bodies is that all of these rocks build up and it doesn’t know how to differentiate between that (small rocks all stacked on top of each other) and slamming on your brakes to avoid an accident. This causes a person to be locked in that fight or flight mode. What happens to your health, and the reason there are so many studies showing the detrimental side effects of stress, is that the more you are locked into that sympathetic side of the nervous system, the more the other side of the nervous system gets shut down. We call the other side the brake pedal mode because it is responsible for the ability to rest, digest, heal, and (especially for kids) grow and develop. That is the reason why many of you, if you have been stuck in stress mode for a long time, will snap at any little thing. This is also why you may feel utterly exhausted, but you are unable to fall asleep at night and feel like you could sleep 10 more hours and still not feel rested.
Now that we know what is causing the stress, it’s important to take steps to reduce and better adapt to it. Some tips include trying to avoid stressful situations (which we know is not always possible), using a gratitude journal to write down things you are thankful for, doing positive affirmations each day, asking for help from others, improve sleep patterns (by avoiding sugar, caffeine, and screen time), and pouring into more self-care (reducing chemical stress, increasing exercise, etc). These are probably things you have all heard before and we get that. Many of these are easier said than done. If you had the time and resources to eat well, work out, meditate, and destress, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
So what else can we do to help your body if it is locked in that fight or flight mode? How can we get it so that those stacked rocks do not create overflow of your bucket and cause more health challenges? What if we could increase the size of your bucket?
The good news is, you can absolutely improve the adaptability of your body and nervous system to all of those stresses with specific chiropractic care! At our office, we look at how stressed the body is and how well it is adapting to that stress. If your body is a well-oiled machine and works properly, it should be able to overcome all of those little rocks we were talking about and not get locked into that bad stress pattern. When it comes to the nervous system, if we are able to amplify the health of that nervous system, it’s going to allow that bucket to not have that overflow problem. The nervous system is what controls and coordinates every function of your body. It carries messages from the brain, down the spinal cord, through the spinal nerves, and out to all the organs, glands, tissues, and muscles throughout the body. It also perceives the environment from all of those and sends those messages back up to the brain. This is why it is absolutely essential to know that the nervous system is working at its best. And at our office, we don’t guess, we test.
We use our Insight nervous system function scans on every person that walks through our doors so we have a point of reference as to how your body is functioning and adapting now, and then we track that throughout your care plan so that we are able to see, measure, and quantify your improvement. This will allow us to see if your bucket is overflowing and to what extent.
Common things we hear at the office after being under chiropractic care include increased energy, the feeling of being well-rested, less brain fog, increased concentration, not snapping as easily, less physical symptoms (headaches, tension, fatigue, etc), and the ability to stay healthy even when others around us are sick.
Helping families better adapt to their daily stressors is a huge part of what we do at our office. Being in that stage of life myself, I can relate to your challenges and help you celebrate your victories. I look forward to helping your family thrive!
Dr. Jill Mork is a pediatric and prenatal certified chiropractor and the owner of Family First Chiropractic of Verona. She focuses her practice on families, infants, kids, and pregnant women. She takes a special interest in children with neurodevelopmental challenges. Her mission is to empower families to take control of their health and well-being. She believes that the body was designed to heal and function properly. By approaching the body from a functional standpoint, she utilizes chiropractic care to free up the interference on the nervous system and allow the body to work like it was designed to. Her office is located in Verona, WI and she serves those in Verona and from Fitchburg, Oregon, Middleton, and the surrounding Madison area. To improve the quality of life of you and your family, contact Dr. Jill at 608-497-1801.