It’s back to school time, and the hope of free time springs eternal in parents’ souls. Then, splat! oatmeal lands on the Cocker Spaniel’s head, bringing buckets of laughter from your 5 year old and tear-filled yelps from your toddler. You wipe the dog down, console the toddler and urge the kindergartener to remember to turn in his permission slip as you usher him through the door and grab your presentation for your 9:00 meeting as you go. The reality of juggling a nine to five job with the increased demands of kids’ schedules doesn’t leave much free time.
Studies on cortisol, the body’s chief stress hormone, reflect what working mothers already know: being a working mom is stressful. In one study, working women with children secreted significantly more cortisol than working women without children, regardless of income, marital status or social support. These moms also reported more strain at homethan did women with no children. In another study, working mothers who reported higher levels of parenting stress had higher average morning cortisol levels on workdays than they did on weekends. What’s more: the mothers who reported high job strain, in addition to high parenting stress, not only had higher cortisol levels on weekdays, but they also had steeper increases in their cortisol levels on workday mornings than they did on weekends.
Cortisol is one of the primary hormones secreted by the adrenal glands, and it helps your body adapt to stress. If you have a healthy stress response, the amount of cortisol
circulating in your body will increase as the demands on you increase. That rise in cortisol allows your body to meet the challenge. In addition, cortisol levels have a daily rhythm, with morning levels typically the highest of the day. How high the hormone levels rise in the morning is thought to be indicative of the perceived challenges for the day.
If you have an impaired stress response or adrenal fatigue, recognize that parenting, although rewarding, can be demanding and that back to school time may add some additional challenges. The return of the school year can bring increased purchases for clothing and school supplies and subsequent financial strain; issues with separation or fitting in for your children; increased schedule and “chauffeur” demands on you and your time; and simply an adjustment to a new routine.
During the fall rush, take time to do those things that support you and your ability to handle stress:
B-R-E-A-T-H-E. Even though it may feel like it (or your child insists that it is), most matters aren’t life or death. When confronted with a challenging situation, take a breath, put the situation in perspective, and deal with it accordingly.
Rejuvenate and restore your body and mood: exercise, read, spend time alone in nature, or play and laugh with your kids.
Eat nutritious foods and avoid the temptation to seek solace in sugar or fat which, happens under stress.
Use supplements designed to support your adrenals/stress response system and your immune system (for all those germs your kids generously share with you).
Ask for help when you need it. Despite what the tapes in your head may tell you, you don’t have to be superwoman.
Make sleep a priority. Getting too little sleep can disrupt the normal cortisol rhythm and impair your ability to manage stress.
Spend time with “grown up” friends and get the social support and interaction you need.
Working can be hard. Being a parent can be hard. Doing both can, at times, feel almost impossible. Usher in the new school year with a little more understanding of the stress you’re under; a little more compassion for yourself and your body; and a few more tools to help you cope. Oh, and make it a great year.
About the Author:
Dr. Lise Naugle is an associate of Dr. James L. Wilson. She assists healthcare professionals with clinical assessment and treatment protocols related to adrenal dysfunction and stress, and questions regarding the use of Doctor Wilson’s Original Formulations supplements. With eleven years in private practice and a focus on stress, adrenals, hormonal balance and mind-body connection, she offers both clinical astuteness and a wealth of practical knowledge. Dr. Naugle also maintains updated information about the latest scientific research on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function, endocrine balance and nutritional support for stress and develops educational materials about stress and health for clinicians and their patients.
Hibel LC, Mercado E, Trumbell JM. Parenting Stressors and Morning Cortisol in a Sample of Working Mothers. J Fam Psychol. 2012 Aug 6.
Luecken LJ, Suarez EC, Kuhn CM, Barefoot JC, Blumenthal JA, Siegler IC, Williams RB. Stress in employed women: impact of marital status and children at home on neurohormone output and home strain. Psychosom Med. 1997 Jul-Aug;59(4):352-9.