Your children feel your stress. If you are stressed, so are they. It is part of the miracle of co-regulation that allows their brains to sync up to yours. It helps them learn to calm down and cope with emotions and to build empathy skills, but it also means they feel your burdens. This is particularly problematic if you are not admitting you are stressed and role modeling how to cope and problem solve.
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 Robyn Rausch.
Robyn Rausch, LPC-S, RPT-S is a therapist in Houston, Texas who works with kids and families and runs Calming Communities, PLLC, a platform focused on helping families increase positive experiences and raise calmer kids. She specializes in supporting families in dealing with emotional dysregulation disorders such as ADHD, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Anxiety.
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!
I have always loved working with kids. When I was a teenager, I babysat and taught Sunday school classes, and when I was older, I worked at Build-A-Bear and summer camps. During college, I found that I loved learning about psychology and eventually that grew into loving neuroscience too. When a professor, Lisa Dykes-Harrell, introduced me to play therapy it was the perfect blend of everything I love.
What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?
Authenticity is the only path to where you are meant to be.
The world we live in spends a lot of time telling us who we should be and how we should be. Those messages just wind-up being distractions that pull us down paths that are not right for us. When you are trying to be something you are not, you can never be highly successful at it, and you certainly cannot be truly happy.
None of us can 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?
This question is always a hard one for me because there are so many people that I feel like have helped or supported me along the way. At the moment, the person I am most grateful for is my spouse, Zach. He has been in my life since I was fifteen and has supported me the entire way. No matter how anxious I get or how much self-doubt creeps up, I can always count on him to provide me the backup I need to keep working towards my goals. His faith in me and my work makes me take risks and put myself out there when I know I would not have otherwise.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?
Right now, my focus is on virtual classes that give parents, teachers, and therapists greater access to the biology of child development and child psychology. In the last 30 years, technological advances allowed researchers to discover a wealth of information that completely changes our understanding of parenting and child behavior. The problem is that this research is largely hidden away in scientific journals that are expensive, difficult to obtain, and difficult to read. The video courses I want to produce takes this information and makes it more affordable and more understandable to the non-researchers of the world.
The neuroscience has revealed that the parenting strategies of the past which focused on behavior management, punishment, and obedience, are counterproductive to our goals of raising happy, healthy, productive kids. Neuroscience also gives us new strategies that are effective in raising kids this way. If we can get this information to the adults who interact with children every day, we can significantly reduce childhood anxiety, depression, oppositional behaviors, and raise a generation of adults who are more productive and connected than ever.
Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?
Stress is a level of challenge that forces our brain to work at full capacity to solve problems or complete tasks that are usually just a little out of our reach. Biologically, it is supposed to support survival. Increased stress produces chemicals that allow us to move faster, be stronger, and think more efficiently. It lets us outsmart a bear, find food when we are starving, and protect our loved ones. Stress in small amounts is healthy and lets us be our best selves by spurring growth and adaptation. But when stress is constant, or when it is way too much stress at once, those same chemicals actually decrease our abilities, because the amount of chemicals are more than the body can handle.
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?
Stress is biological, but the fact is we no longer spend most days simply physically surviving. Due to the scarcity of food, shelter, and water, we needed to work long and hard to get what we needed. Thanks to farming and industrialization we have access to food and shelter much more readily. But our biology still seeks to be active and produce things. The same programming that allowed us to hunt for days on end to bring food to the village is there, but now it has nothing to do so we tend to invent things. We produce things we do not need, and work to always improve technology and resources to be more than we need. This excess has contributed to system of capitalism that re-creates scarcity through inflation patterns that leave people feeling they never have enough money. In contrast to the food and shelter scarcity, there is a never to money scarcity. Once we ate and had enough food for a week we could stop, because everything else was useless so it would just rot. But money never goes bad, so we can always collect more, and because of inflation we constantly worry we may need more in the future.
All the stress from our economic goals floods our brain with stress chemicals that make it difficult for us to regulate. We create more conflict with peers, family, and co-workers. This conflict with others puts us at risk for being ostracized from society, which in turn increases our stress even more.
Essentially, we have created a lifestyle where stress begets more stress by believing in a scarcity of resources, when none really exists.
What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?
- More frequent and more intense social conflict.
- More time and energy spent focused on other people’s needs and wants.
- Poor social skills such as ineffective communication, aggressive behaviors, and difficulty collaborating with others.
- Higher needs for conformity and social acceptance that result in perfectionism and control issues.
- Body deterioration is accelerated resulting in bodies seeming older than they are. (More 30-year-olds who creak and ache like 70-year-olds).
- More heart issues and digestive issues.
- Poor motor skills that result in more injuries.
- Poor eating and sleeping habits that further deteriorate the body.
- Faster erosion of the telomeres that hold DNA together and produces faster aging, and higher rates of genetically based disorders such as cancer and dementia.
- Constant hypervigilance or alertness.
- More easily startled.
- Poor sleep regulation.
- Negative thinking patterns.
- Bigger emotional reactions.
- Poor self-regulation skills.
- Difficulty with empathy.
- Exhaustion, depression, and numbness.
- Hyperactivity, anxiety, and sensory overstimulation.
- Difficulty controlling attention.
- Difficulty with memory and learning.
- Difficulty with problem solving and decision making.
Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?
Not necessarily. As I mentioned above, stress is actually biologically adaptive. It helps us survive. In the modern world, an appropriate amount of stress helps us learn new skills, increases decision making and social skills, results in higher productivity, and can even help our physical health. The problem with stress is the same as with anything else in human life. Too much of a good thing is bad.
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?
Yes, short-term stress in the right amount is actually beneficial as I explained above. But even short-term stress that is way too high is a lot easier for our body and brain to recover from than long-term stress. There is a list of specifics above, but in general long-term stress deteriorates the body and decreases our functioning in every area.
Let’s now focus more on the stress of parenting. This feels intuitive, but it is helpful to spell it out to address it. Can you help articulate why being a parent can be so stressful?
Parenting is stressful for several reasons:
- It is a never-ending job. The average workday is only 9–12 hours long for a reason. No one is healthy or efficient if we never stop working, but that is the reality of parenting.
- It is personal. We love our kids more than we love ourselves. Nothing is more important to us than their happiness and success. So, every small moment of failure feels monumental.
- Unrealistic Ideals. Society has us set up to struggle to succeed. We now must have at least a full-time job in addition to parenting just to afford to feed our kids. On top of that, if you do not come to school events, and sign them up for 100 activities, and join the PTO, you can feel judged as the parent who does not do enough. Ironically, not only do your kids not need you to do all that, doing too much can actually cause them to struggle with their mental health.
- Inaccurate Parenting Tips. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people out there who have not been updated on child development in the past 30 years. These people are still spreading behavior focused parenting strategies that we now know do not work and can actually do harm. Some of these people even have psychology degrees. This misinformation makes it incredibly stressful for parents to figure out who to listen to and what to do to raise their kids to be the best they can be. In general, if the advice is focused on controlling your child’s behavior and not on their emotional and developmental needs, it is bad advice.
Can you help spell out some of the problems that come with being a stressed parent?
Being a stressed-out parent has all the same effects as any stress that we listed above, but the extra kicker is that your stress affects your kids.
- Your children feel your stress. If you are stressed, so are they. It is part of the miracle of co-regulation that allows their brains to sync up to yours. It helps them learn to calm down and cope with emotions and to build empathy skills, but it also means they feel your burdens. This is particularly problematic if you are not admitting you are stressed and role modeling how to cope and problem solve.
- You cannot be your best self. When we are stressed, stress chemicals interfere with our memory, attention, and decision making. This means we forget to show up for our kid’s events, we snap at them, we forget to plan well for trips, etc. In general, if you are overly stressed you cannot parent as well as you are capable of, your child misses out on the benefits of your fantastic parenting skills.
- It is a cycle. The more stressed you are, the more your kids struggle because they feel your stress, the more you feel like a bad parent, the more you stress. It is a cycle that could trap you forever.
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.
1 . Affirmations: Positive affirmations are just short sentences you say to yourself to help shut out negative thoughts that create stress and replace them with positive, more realistic thoughts. Below are some of my favorites:
- Kids do not need perfect parents.
- Kids need two parents, not one and a clone of that one.
- You are everything your child needs already.
- 30% is all it takes. (See below for more)
- My kids do not need everything, they only need the right things for them.
2 . Drop something: We are so overscheduled these days. It is not good for you, and it is not good for your kids. To be healthy, kids need free time. That means time to play where no one is telling them what they can and cannot do. Baseball practice, dance class, and circle time groups do not count as free play. Free play is when your child learns to regulate and learns necessary social and physical skills. The more we overschedule them, the more they struggle. Additionally, the more we over schedule them, the less free time you must relax and regulate, so the more stressed you get. Consequently, you are less able to handle their struggles. Drop something. There should be at least two days a week where you and your kids do not have to do anything except go to school or work and come home.
3 . Ditch the Mommy/Daddy/Caregiver Guilt:
First, the Mommy/Daddy/Caregiver Guilt (hereafter known as MDC guilt) is based off what other’s think your child needs. Most of those others are not doing any better with their kids and certainly do not know your kids, so their vote simply does not count. If they are one of those people using outdated methods that are now known to be harmful, it probably even means you are doing the best thing you can.
All your child needs is a parent who is responsive to their needs. So, if you are paying attention, trying to connect, and trying to support their needs as well as yours, you are doing plenty. As a matter of fact, kids only need a parent to successfully be responsive 30% of the time, and half of those times can be after the parent screwed it up, apologized, and then was responsive. So really, 15% of the time your kids need you to be responsive to their needs. If your child got a 15% in math you would be impressed because it is hard to fail that much, right? It is well within your skills to be responsive 15% of the time, so there is nothing to feel guilty about.
Kids need you to be a hot mess sometimes. They need to see you show big emotions, mess something up you should know how to do, and just not have it together. All those things show them first that they are allowed to make mistakes and second how to recover from mistakes. If you make it look like you always have it together, you raise a child who does not believe they can make mistakes, does not ask for help, does not problem solve, and winds up with significant anxiety or depression from trying to be perfect. Kids do not need perfect parents.
4 . Add in Play: Play is how human brains wash away the stress chemicals and replace them with positive and energetic chemicals. The more little moments of silliness and play you can add to your day the better you and your children will feel. This is as easy as making a silly face at them on the way to school or bumping into them as you pass in the kitchen. It does not have to add something to your already over-filled schedule.
5 . Self-Care is Selfish: You need self-care. All humans do and your children needs to see you doing self-care. Parents wonder why teenagers and kids want to eat junk and will not get off their devices when the parents have told them how bad it is for them. But those same parents do the same thing even though it is also bad for the parent. Self-care is the same. Our kids are growing up more stressed, anxious, and depressed than ever, and it is because they do not know how to take care of their minds and bodies. They do not know how to do this because they are not seeing adults do it.
Self-care is selfish. It is when you do what you want because you want to. Of course, this should not sacrifice your child’s well-being, but it rarely does. It is fine to take a day off baseball because you are too tired to go. It is fine, to have someone else pick them up from soccer because you need an evening to yourself. We feel guilty like we are not showing up for our kids, but the reality is we are showing them how to take care of themselves, which they need.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?
- “Happier” with Gretchen Rubin
- “Magic Lessons” with Elizabeth Gilbert
- “The Self-Compassion Workbook: Practical Exercises to Approach Your Thoughts, Emotions, and Actions with Kindness” by Joy Johnson
- “Daring Greatly” by Brené Brown
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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. 🙂
I would love to help press for a culture shift that lets people focus on being themselves with our greatest strengths on display. This involves less focus on behavior and compliance and more focus on encouragement and support of one another. It means less comparing our kids to what we think they should be like, and more showing off what they are already like.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
Readers can follow me on any of the social medias below, or follow my webpage, www.CalmingCommunities.com.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.