PRACTICAL STRESS MANAGEMENT FOR HIGHLY SENSITIVE, INTROVERTED PARENTS
Dr. Elaine Aron, the initial SPS researcher and person who named the trait, wisely suggests that we need to take SPS very seriously. If you think you have SPS, acknowledge the trait, check out the basic research, and share resources and techniques with your loved ones. Make and ask for accommodations wherever possible. Spend time with other HSP parents and prioritize relationships with people who understand and validate you, whether they are HSP or not. Find someone with whom you can truly and wholly speak, whether a good friend or a professional listener and healer.
Pay Attention to Your Energy
When planning activities, think of your energy levels throughout the day. Similar to Spoon Theory, Julie Bjelland, MFT — an expert and author of multiple books regarding the SPS trait — suggests: Envision water and imagine your energy as a limited resource, a cup full of water. You wake up with a full glass of “energy.” Each activity empties a certain amount out of your cup. If you bombard yourself with stimulation and chaos early in the day, your glass will be empty early and remain depleted until you have time to rest. Look ahead at your schedule and space outings and social events as evenly as possible. Work enough that you are fulfilled but you also have energy left for yourself and your family when you arrive home. Build in transition time between activities so your mind can catch up with your lifestyle.
Despite the fact that mindfulness is a current trend, it has been and always will be important! To practice mindfulness, slow your day down. Pay close attention to details, such as the vivid colors of plants, soothing music or the sound of the rain, or unique designs on houses. Try to remain present and allow your thoughts to exist without acting on them. When you’re busy parenting a newborn, Julie Bjelland, MFT also says brushing your teeth actually feels like a break if you give yourself permission to momentarily let go of other obligations.
Build mindfulness into your busy daily routine. For example, learn deep breathing and take 3 belly breathes every time you change your child’s diaper or listen to a meditation during a regular evening breastfeeding session every night.
Magda Gerber’s RIE approach and Janet Lansbury’s Respectful Parenting both recommend “Sportscasting,” which works equally well for adults and babies; Talk through your small actions out loud or to yourself in a ridiculous-seeming amount of detail. An example from my morning: “I’m opening the dishwasher. I’m taking out the glass bowls – one, two, three, four – and putting them into the wooden cupboards…” My baby loves the attention and information and it helps me weed out the background noise a bit. At first you might feel silly but it eventually becomes second nature. Children pick up a surprising amount when you share your daily activities with them and they might even want to help! You also model mindfulness for them when you practice connecting with moment-to-moment happenings.
Practice mindfulness while interacting with your child(ren). Set a reminder on your phone or a digital clock to go off at a regular interval to cue a personal check-in. Listen to guided scripts on the Insight Timer App; I recommend “Meditation for Mothers” by Fleur Chambers and “Parents Relaxation Meditation” by Simon Hilton. Additionally, Rachel Yellin’s “Yes to Birth!” program includes guided exercises to focus your attention during feeding sessions and much more. The Shine app has several meditations and inspirational talks for stressed out parents who want to reconnect with the present world. Katie Madden, IBCLC, from Balanced Breastfeeding has a wonderful guided audio script for memorizing your baby’s finer details. Spend a few minutes noticing the tiny ways your baby changed this week. Is their hair a bit longer? Did their eyes change color? Do they babble a few new syllables?
Find Comfort in Predictability
Create a predictable routine for yourself and your baby. If you don’t already have one, your baby will motivate you to find a routine. A day with a baby on engaging in regular activities, which is NOT the same idea as a strict schedule, is an easier day for everyone. It contains overwhelming emotions and reduces finite energy spent on various choices.
It’s All About the Little Things
Before having a baby, many new parents dreamt of a “quick trip away” after they “got into the groove of things.” Most people discover this either isn’t realistic or they just don’t want to leave for that long. It can be daunting to imagine even a few hours away from baby, let alone a weekend getaway! Start as small as possible and take sensory micro-breaks.
- What pleasurable activities or objects can you see, touch, smell, hear, or taste? Burn a yummy-smelling candle and stop to watch the flame flicker for 1 minute. The Possums Project suggests enjoying a warm comforting beverage on your front steps while a trusted friend, family member, or caregiver watches for your baby for 10 minutes.
- Take care of your body with small, quick exercises. Roll your neck 5 times or spend 1 minute in a relaxing yoga post, such as child’s pose.
- Utilize Rick Hanson’s idea to “Take in The Good:” Focus on a positive feeling without changing gears for at least 30 seconds before moving on.
- Put your phone down intentionally. Even if it’s entertaining, smart phones overstimulate a tired body and send our brains into distraction mode. Take a break from comparing yourself to the unrealistic Pinterest-perfect family photos online and social media FOMO.
Please feel free to share additional coping skills you’ve found. Let’s lift each other up by getting as many ideas out there to support our highly sensitive and introverted parenting community.
Next week we will talk about expectation management, reality vs. societal messages, and more.