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7 Ways Caregivers Can Ease Stress

Medically reviewed by: Nicole A. Kahhan, PhD

Parents and other caregivers handle a lot. From work and school demands to after-school activities and household chores, there are many things to manage. And if your child is ill, that’s even more pressure.

It’s normal to feel stressed from time to time — but it's important to find ways to relax and recharge. Then, you’ll have more patience and be better able to handle whatever comes your way.

Try these 7 ways to ease stress:

1. Relax With Breathing Exercises

A good place to start is with slow, calm, deep breathing. It can help you relax, manage stress, ease anxiety and depression, and get a good night's sleep. Breathing also helps quiet the mind.

Each day (or whenever you can), find a quiet spot where you can spend a little time alone. Even 2 minutes in the bathroom will work. Try an exercise called belly breathing: Breathe in through your nose, letting your belly puff out like a balloon filling with air. As you breathe out through your mouth or nose, let your belly flatten. Take a few slow breaths this way.

You can also get your teen involved and do breathing exercises together.

2. Be More Mindful

Mindfulness is paying full attention to the present moment. When we take time to really notice what we're doing, we tend to be less stressed, worried, and down about what happened in the past or what the future might bring.

Try a slow-motion walk to start: Pick up one foot and take a step forward as slowly as you can. Notice which muscles are helping you keep your balance while standing on one leg. Repeat this with your other leg. See how slowly you can walk while paying full attention to every feeling in your body. Breathe in and out with each step.

See if you can be mindful at other times too, like while you eat or drive. Spending just a few mindful moments outdoors or with a pet can also help.

3. Try Yoga

People who do yoga are often better able to handle things when life gets too busy. Doing yoga can help you feel more calm, focused, and balanced.

There are simple yoga poses and advanced ones, so there's something for people of all skills. Try taking a weekly yoga class or watching a yoga video (many online ones are free). Some people do a few yoga stretches when they need to deal with stressful moments, like before the kids get up or ahead of a big meeting. Even doing a little yoga before bed can help you relax.

Consider having your child or teen try yoga with you.

4. Find Things to Be Grateful for

People who often feel grateful are happier, less stressed, and less depressed. Here are some ways to feel more thankful for the positive things in your life:

  • Think of 3 things you’re grateful for, like nature, family, friends, or a warm bed. Do this at the end of each day. When you practice noticing what you’re thankful for — even if it's something small — you’ll likely see other good things you didn’t spot before.
  • Thank someone who did something nice for you. You can do this in person or with a message. A short, handwritten note can make the person feel special.

5. Practice Positivity

Positive thoughts and emotions help you feel better and handle tough situations more easily. But on days when your kids miss the bus or forget their lunch, or you’re late for work after a doctor visit, it can be hard to be positive.

Try to notice and name any positive emotions you feel during the day. Track them in a list to be more aware of those feelings and what causes them. For example, you might feel proud when your kids score a point in a game or be touched when they draw you a picture.

You can also gather reminders of good experiences. Consider making a positivity box or folder filled with things like photos of fun times, cards from special people, and favorite song lyrics. If you have trouble being positive some days, the box can lead you back to a happier emotional place.

6. Cope With Anxiety

It’s common for parents to feel anxious about things like their child’s health and safety. The best thing to do is to learn how to cope.

To help you through anxious moments:

  • Notice how anxiety affects your body. Maybe you get shaky hands, a fast heartbeat, or tight muscles. Try not to get upset and push the feelings away. But don’t give them all your attention either. See if you can accept the feelings, letting them be in the background.
  • Talk yourself through it. When you’re anxious, tell yourself something that could help you face the moment with a bit of courage like, “Even though this is tough, I can do hard things.”
  • Face the situation. Don’t wait for anxiety to go away. For example, you might avoid a new social situation, like going to a parent group or an event with many people you don’t know. But it’s facing the anxiety that helps you lower it.

7. Manage Emotional Reactions

Many parents have had moments of stress where they raised their voice or snapped at their child. Managing emotional reactions means choosing how and when to express the emotions you feel. Sometimes, just naming the emotion can help you feel more in charge.

You also can try to accept your emotions. For example, you might think, "No wonder I feel upset. My child was the only one not invited to the party, so it's natural to feel this way." It's like giving yourself a little kindness for the way you feel.

It’s OK to let kids know if you’re having a strong emotion. Show them how you deal with it. You can say something like, “Grownups have big feelings too. I’m going to take a few deep breaths and then we can start bathtime.”

What Else Should I Know?

Being a parent can be hard, so it’s normal to feel stressed every now and then. But if you need extra support, talk with someone. This could be family, friends, other parents, a religious leader, or a therapist. The Psychology Today directory lists therapists by location and many do online sessions.

You also can check with your insurance company about mental health providers available to you.

If your stress feels like more than you can handle, contact a confidential helpline. These are free and available 24 hours a day:

Medically reviewed by: Nicole A. Kahhan, PhD
Date reviewed: May 2024