Top Mom Stresses and How to Relieve Them

In our exclusive survey, Family Circle partnered with the Clinton Health Matters Initiative to find out what's keeping moms up at night — and how they can get some much-needed peace of mind.

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Masters of Stress

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Writing (yet another) check for your son's soccer season. Sternly, uh, gently encouraging picky eaters at dinnertime. Plenty of pressures hit moms on a daily basis — and they haven't got time for the strain. "Stress is so intertwined with our health, but we don't address it as part of our wellness routine," says Rain Henderson, CEO of the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, an initiative of the Clinton Foundation dedicated to improving health and well-being. "We have to deal with the tension we feel now before it becomes a risk to our health and prevents us from living our best lives in the future." Here's what 1,000 moms point to as the big (un)easy parts of their day.


Top three things that stress moms out


  • Cash flow: "Managing finances."
  • Crystal balls: "Thinking about my kids' future."
  • Clutter control: "Keeping on top of housework."

 


Moms worry more about...


  • Finding time for themselves than making time for their friends.
  • Keeping up with the housework than keeping up their physical appearance.
  • Being a mom than being a wife.
  • Sticking to a healthy diet than finding time to exercise.

 


When very stressed moms are on the brink, here's what they admit to doing too much of


  • 43%: Yelling
  • 41%: Eating for comfort
  • 38%: Watching TV
  • 26%: Smoking
  • 6%: Drinking

 


Top de-stressors that don't actually work for some moms


  • Exercise: 21% of moms said "hitting the gym"
  • School vacations: 30% of moms said "summer break"
  • Sex: 28% of moms who identified themselves as very stressed said that having sex just makes them feel more pressured — not tonight!

 


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What You Told Us About Stress

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88% of moms aren't at their most stressed by the infamous "witching hour"
That mental (and physical) work-to-home transition from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. still rates hair-pullingly high for moms — but so do other times. We asked mothers what also makes 7 a.m. a morning rush, 2 p.m. a post-lunch push, and 4 p.m. a total grind.


"Holiday parties. Field trips. It's the afternoon school activities that stress me out because working full-time keeps me from participating."—Denise, 47, a Bowling Green, Kentucky, mom of four


"My youngest is slow as molasses in the morning and constantly forgetting her violin, her backpack, her books...."—Sascha, 41, an Allentown, Pennsylvania, mom of two


"In the late afternoon I'm scrambling to return phone calls, finish up files and rush out the door to pick up my kids."—Teresa, 52, a Cupertino, California, mom of two


"I have a boss that often hands me a time-sensitive project at 4 p.m. on days when I'm on kid pickup duty. I get super stressed that I won't finish by 4:30, which is when I need to leave."—Lesley, 45, a Huntley, Illinois, mom of one


The #1 thing that stresses moms out about their kids? Their behavior!


"My two youngest kids have sass dripping from their pores. I'm having a hard time learning to parent children with such strong personalities!"—Michelle, 41, a Hallstead, Pennsylvania, mom of four


"My most stressful moments are the ones I know I cause, like when my kid has a meltdown because I dropped my bedtime vigilance the night before or got to the restaurant past the 'hangry' safety zone."—Bari Nan, 41, a Park City, Utah, mom of two


"It's a perpetual struggle to get my child to listen and focus. Repeating myself stresses me out and often escalates to me yelling."
—Lisa, 46, a Summit, NJ, mom of one


"Procrastination with homework is a huge hassle. When my kids have a big project, I usually hear about it a few days before it's due. Then I wind up doing a lot of the work."—Heather, 42, a Portland, Oregon, mom of four


"I'm always fighting to get my boys off their iPads. I remind them that we have a million games, toys, a trampoline ... but they're always glued to their devices."—Jennifer, 41, a Twin Falls, Idaho, mom of three


Keeping up appearances: Nearly one woman in three (32%) felt pressure to make a good impression on other moms


"I fall victim to comparisons, especially when I see all the activities that other kids are in and other moms' weekends filled with constant activity. Sometimes I will come up with an activity for the family to do just so I can post it on Facebook."—Laura, 41, a Frederick, Maryland, mom of two


"I worry that other moms judge me as a person by how my child acts. So I have higher expectations of my kids than I should and I tend to hover."—Deborah, 42, a Portland, Oregon, mom of two


But 68% don't let that stress get to them


"Maybe it's because I'm older than most of them, but I'm not concerned with whether or not other moms think I'm doing a good job. I know I need to do what's right for my family."—Noelle, 44, a Tallahassee mom of four


"After three kids, I have learned the lesson not to get dragged into judging or being judged. It's not worth my time or energy."—Jessica, 42, a Durham, North Carolina, mom of three


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Our Future Fears

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What gives moms pause about the years to come?

"After being laid off last year, it made more financial sense for me to stay home. But I worry that taking time away from the workforce now will adversely affect my ability to get a full-time job later."—Maya, 41, a West Orange, New Jersey, mom of four

"I get concerned about my kids developing stable relationships. My older sons are the products of a broken marriage, and I fear that I didn't set a good example for them."—Shannon, 43, an Oxford, Mississippi, mom of three

"My parents were better able to provide for me and my brother than my husband and I are for our only child."—Robyn, 44, a Rockaway, New Jersey, mom of one

"I wonder what would happen to the kids if my husband or I weren't around. Could I be a good parent by myself? Would my family take good care of the boys if something happened to both of us?"—Denise, 47, a Bowling Green, Kentucky, mom of four

"Now that they're in college, I worry about them being able to get jobs they find meaningful — and still make a living!"—Jennifer, 51, a Montgomery, Alabama, mom of two

"I'm stressed about everything from kids not being nice to my children to alcohol and drugs to how technology will facilitate social pressures for them."—Kate, 42, a Manhattan Beach, California, mom of three


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How to Panic Less About the Future

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Could mean girls turn your daughter's birthday party into a bust? Will your son pass algebra? "People really don't like uncertainty," says Amit Sood, M.D., author of The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living. "And the idea of the future is very uncertain." So it's no wonder 30% of moms are very stressed when thinking of their children's future and 28% are very stressed thinking of their own. But you can decrease the drama.

Figure out what you're really anxious about. "Recognize that these are your worries, not your kids'. Then consider what steps you can take to allay the real threats in your kids' lives right now," says sociologist Christine Carter, Ph.D., author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. If the thought of teen pregnancy makes you anxious, for example, plan a time to sit down with your child to talk about it candidly.

Manage your expectations. Of course you want your kids to have the perfect childhood. But a rigid idea of what constitutes "perfect" can add anxiety. Consider successful people who didn't follow traditional paths to achievement, like Henry Ford, who never finished high school. "Barring a few exceptions, the more flexible you can be about what good experiences look like for your kids, the happier you will be," says Sood.

Tilt your outlook. "Worrying about the future won't change it," says Susan Newman, Ph.D., social psychologist and author of Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day. She suggests recasting your thoughts: If environmental issues concern you, rally your kids to pick up litter in an area that needs it, for example. Efforts like that make a tangible difference.


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Dial Down the Tension

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The first step to making high-stress periods less taxing: "Accept that you're going through a tough time," says Carter. Acceptance takes us out of fight-or-flight mode — that state where our brain is on high alert and our blood pressure skyrockets — and puts us in a placid state of mind. Next, try these techniques to free yourself from feeling frantic.

Connect for calm. A hug, some gentle roughhousing or a simple "I missed your beautiful smile today!" is enough to make the entire evening run more smoothly, says Laura Markham, Ph.D., author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. Bonding, even if only for a moment, releases oxytocin, which relaxes us.

Retrain your brain. You can teach yourself to approach situations with more calm. "Every time you perform a repetitive, unrelated task — like taking your cell phone out of your bag — say to yourself, 'Have patience,'" explains Henderson, who is also a mom. "If you train your mind when you don't need it, it's more likely to be strong when you do — like the times you're struggling with a frustrated child."

Offer fair warning. Most kids experience stress when they have to transition from one situation to the next — for example, playtime to bedtime. "Give them a heads-up," suggests Amy Przeworski, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University. Telling your tween she has 10 minutes to play on the iPad before taking her nightly shower not only preps her for what's to come, it also makes her feel like she has some control over her time.


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Secrets of Calm Moms

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33% of moms say they're not all that stressed

"My trick is to have compassion for my kids. I remind myself they are little people who have rotten days and bad moods just like I do."—Denise, 42, a Martinez, California, mom of two

"I make sure that my kids get to bed on time so my husband and I spend some time alone to talk about our days and maybe enjoy a glass of wine."—Stephanie, 34, a Newtown, Pennsylvania, mom of three

"Regular exercise is the ultimate stress-management tool. When I can steal away by myself, I do barre, Pound or Spin classes."—Michelle, 32, a Boca Raton, Florida, mom of one

"I laugh — at myself, at my kids, at my husband, and at all the ridiculous situations we find ourselves in. It's important to keep things in perspective."—Nicole, 35, a Red Bank, New Jersey, mom of two

Ipsos Public Affairs conducted this survey of 1,001 moms ages 18 and older on behalf of the Clinton Health Matters Initiative and Family Circle between April 23 and May 8, 2014.

Originally published in the October 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.