Take a break: Even if you can only spare five minutes, a break from the daily grind of parenting can be helpful. Take a few minutes to read a book, call a friend, enjoy your favorite beverage or work on an activity you enjoy. Try to stay off your devices during this time. I find removing myself from the chaos and demands of parenting for a few minutes can really give me the energy boost I need to power through the rest of the day in the right headspace. I enjoy retreating to my room for a few minutes to read.
With all that’s going on in our country, our economy, the world, and on social media, it feels like so many of us are under a great deal of stress. Parenting, in particular, can be stress-inducing. We know chronic stress can be as unhealthy as smoking a quarter of a pack a day. It is also challenging to be a present parent when your relationship is under stress. What are stress management strategies that parents use to become “Stress-Proof? What are some great tweaks, hacks, and tips that help reduce or even eliminate stress? In this interview series, we are talking to authors, parenting experts, business and civic leaders, and mental health experts who can share their strategies for reducing or eliminating stress. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kristin Cogan, LPC.Kristin is a mental health therapist based in Texas. She is the founder of Imperfectly Wonderful Counseling, PLLC, a mental health practice that specializes in compassionate and relatable anxiety and grief therapy for mothers and teens throughout Texas. Kristin’s mission is to help clients create a life they didn’t think was possible.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!
Thank you for having me! I have always known I wanted to be a helper in this world. After graduating from college, I was planning to attend an accelerated nursing program to earn my Master’s in Nursing. A few months before I was to move to a new city and begin my studies I was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer and given a 15% chance of survival despite the best available treatments. I was 24 years old and thought I had my entire life in front of me and all of a sudden, I was fighting for my life. Nursing school was now put on hold as I began two years of treatment. As I settled into a routine between doctor and chemotherapy appointments, I found myself idle. I enrolled in a local university’s Master of Psychology program with the goal of becoming a professional counselor. I wanted to use my life experience of facing a difficult challenge to help others face their own. After graduating, I obtained my license as a professional counselor as well as my specialist in school psychology license. I worked with children and their families in the public school system for 15 years.
Covid made working in the schools more challenging in all ways. It was during this time I saw the increase in struggles my mom friends were having with parenting during a pandemic. I decided to use my own experience as a mother of five combined with my counseling background to open my own therapy practice focusing on helping mothers experiencing anxiety. In 2021, I opened the doors to my private therapy practice, Imperfectly Wonderful Counseling, PLLC.
What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?
If I had the opportunity to meet my younger self today, I would tell her, “you are enough. No matter what you have done or will do in life, you are enough and you are worthy.” I have struggled my entire life with feeling good enough in whatever I do. I constantly have to reign in my thoughts about “am I a good enough mom, am I a good enough wife, am I a good enough therapist, am I a good enough friend?” I see this in my mom clients all the time. Moms are constantly questioning their ability to parent. They are second guessing themselves on every decision they make. It is no wonder moms are completely consumed with stress and anxiety in their lives.
None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful because of the support they gave you to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for them?
Oh, wow, there are so many people who have supported me on my journey. My parents, my sister, my teachers, my friends, my children, but I will focus on my husband here.
My husband and I had been dating almost two years before I was diagnosed with cancer. He was my strength during this time. His support never waivered. He has supported me in all of my decisions over the years. It was his encouragement that gave me the courage to open the doors to my private practice. I was worried about not being a good enough therapist and my husband kept pushing me because he already knew I am the therapist that my clients need. He has been the biggest cheerleader for my practice. He tells everyone he meets what I do. He helped me setup up my office, complete all the business filings and is always willing to take the kids where they need to be when I have clients.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?
Yes! I am working on creating a course geared towards mothers struggling with anxiety. I can only see so many clients in a week, but having a course available to moms that need support will make therapy much more accessible to busy moms and to moms that may not be able to afford weekly therapy sessions.
Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?
Stress is the normal response to changes or demands placed upon you usually triggered by something external like financial problems, divorce or unexpected health problems. In parenting it is usually caused by high demands and poor coping skills.
In the Western world, humans typically have their shelter, food, and survival needs met. So what has led to this chronic stress? Why are so many of us always stressed out?
You are correct, we are blessed to live in a part of the world where we do not usually have to worry about having our basic needs met. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that values high stress living. If you aren’t burning the candle at both ends then you aren’t working hard enough. Our society values a fast paced, instant gratification lifestyle. We are expected to be on and available all the time. This can lead us to feeling overwhelmed and burnt out quickly.
What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?
When our brain senses stress (or danger) it is like setting off the fire alarm in our body and our flight or fight response kicks in. When this happens, we feel all the yucky feelings that come with stress such as difficulty breathing, racing heart, irritability, stomachaches, headaches, difficulty sleeping, chest pains, feeling moody or overwhelmed.
Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?
Stress isn’t always a bad thing. It can have positive attributes such as motivating us to perform better. Research has shown that stress can boost concentration and productivity. It can also teach you to respond to future stressors in a more manageable way since you have learned how to respond to similar stressors in the past.
Is there a difference between being in a short-term stressful situation versus an ongoing stress? Are there long-term ramifications to living in a constant state of stress?
Absolutely! The nervous system is able to handle short bouts of stress and can even benefit from it from time to time. On the other hand, chronic stress can lead to possible health problems such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure and sleep problems just to name a few.
Let’s now focus more on the stress of parenting. This feels intuitive, but it is helpful to spell it out in order to address it. Can you help articulate why being a parent can be so stressful?
I think parenting can be stressful because there are a lot of unknowns and it is unpredictable. You can read all the books, attend all the classes and follow all the experts, but the reality is your experience is unique to you and your child.
Can you help spell out some of the problems that come with being a stressed parent?
Parental burnout from stress can look like overwhelming exhaustion, losing your cool over seemingly small things, feeling touched out, decision fatigue and wanting to escape.
Here is the main question of our interview: Can you share with our readers your “5 stress management strategies that parents can use to remove some of the stress of parenting?” Please share a story or example for each.
- Take a break: Even if you can only spare five minutes, a break from the daily grind of parenting can be helpful. Take a few minutes to read a book, call a friend, enjoy your favorite beverage or work on an activity you enjoy. Try to stay off your devices during this time. I find removing myself from the chaos and demands of parenting for a few minutes can really give me the energy boost I need to power through the rest of the day in the right headspace. I enjoy retreating to my room for a few minutes to read.
- Practice present moment awareness: Meditation, mindfulness and grounding & centering are all buzzwords meaning a type of practice that helps you re-engage with the present moment so you can choose what matters in this one moment. It doesn’t matter what type of practice you choose, only that you are connecting to the present instead of ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. My favorite way to connect with the present is by using the 5–4–3–2–1 Grounding Technique. This is how it works: Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. This simple technique will reconnect you to the present so you can choose to do what is important to you.
- Move your body: Our bodies are made to move. Not only does exercise have great health benefits, but it also releases endorphins leaving you feeling happier. The good news is you can experience the benefits in as little as 10 minutes. As a busy mom I don’t always prioritize exercise, but when I start to feel irritable and moody it is a signal for me start moving. I usually try to make this a family activity and we all head outside for a short walk. I try to incorporate mindfulness into the walk by looking for unusual leaves, taking in the scents and noticing all the textures in the environment. It usually turns out to be a nice family bonding experience and leaves everyone feeling happier and at peace.
- Practice calming techniques: There are so many great stress relieving techniques such as breathwork, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization and yoga. Try out different ones to see which works the best for you and is the easiest to incorporate into your life. I find I often hold my breath throughout the day so I enjoy practicing cleansing breaths. I have a reminder set on my phone to go off at 5 random times each day. When the alarm sounds I stop what I am doing an take three deep, cleansing breaths. The great thing about breathwork is I can do it anywhere, anytime.
- Ask for help: Most of us are not good at asking for help. If you are stressed and on the road to burnout asking for help can be a lifesaver. Ask your partner take care of the kids while you take a break, ask a friend or family member to watch the kids while you check things off your list or consider hiring help to manage some tasks such as cleaning, laundry or cooking. And if you are feeling really overwhelmed, reach out to a therapist who can teach you skills and techniques to help in your specific situation.
I am someone who feels the pressure to do it all by myself so asking for help is difficult for me. But when I do ask my husband to watch the kids for a few hours I am able to get so much more done which in turn leaves me in the position to enjoy spending time with my family later. I also view utilizing services like curbside pick-up or grocery delivery as asking for help. Anything that takes the load off of me makes a difference in the amount of stress I feel.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?
So many books and podcasts have inspired me on my journey of living a joy filled life. I love to listen to audio books and podcasts as I go about doing the daily chores around the house or while I am in the car. Here are a few of my favorites:
Atomic Habits by James Clear- In this book James Clear demonstrates how the simple practice of habit stacking can have a huge impact on your daily life.
Breath by James Nestor- I loved this book! It explains the science behind breathing including how to do it properly for the most health benefits.
30 in 30 | Takeaways for Moms- This podcast leaves you with 3 doable takeaways to implement in your family life at the end of every episode.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I were to start a movement, it would be a movement focused on kindness. One of my favorite quotes is by Leo Buscaglia, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” I truly believe if we all took the time to treat one another with kindness the world would be a happier, more peaceful place.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
Find me on Instagram @ImperfectlyWonderfulCounseling or my website: www.imperfectlywonderful.com. If you would like to work with me, I am accepting new clients in Texas! Book a free consultation through the “Get Started” button on my website.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.
Thank you! I hope it helps parents learn to manage their stress better which in turn will strengthen their relationship with their children.