We're programmed to deal with stress very well. Short term stress. Like being chased by a tiger whilst hunting for some lunch. And once the danger has passed and we'd be back in our cave, our heart rate would go back to normal, we'd forget all about the tiger and concentrate on the next task to ensure our survival.
What we're not programmed for is the chronic stress and sleep deprivation that parenting (or just life in general for most people) brings with it. We're meant to live in a tribe with our elders and relatives and share the stress of raising tiny people and deal with hunting, gathering and living - but many of us don't. So what do we do to reduce the effects of this chronic, low level, depleting and exhausting stress?
Asking for help is one big answer. Accept help whenever it is offered, especially in the early years of parenthood. And ask if it's not offered. You may be surprised who is willing to help. After all, helping others makes people feel good, and by denying people the chance to help you, you're not letting them feel all glowing and fuzzy. So let them and ask them. And a couple of hours break will make you feel buzzingly human. Everyone wins!
Another, more every day sort of tool that I like to employ, is what I call "there's no tiger". I take every opportunity I can to remind my body and mind that there is no tiger chasing me - i.e. I'm not in imminent danger and not about to be eaten. I am safe. Surrounded by mess and whining little people with constant demands, but safe.
It's really simple to do and over the course of a day can have a real accumulative effect. Here are a few examples of what I like to do:
*Look at the scenery (the sky, some flowers, people walking by etc) if you were in real danger, you wouldn't take the time to look at the things around you. You would have tunnel vision on your escape route. So looking around signals to your brain that everything is fine. You're fine.
* Breathe. Slow your breathing down and take some deep breaths. Same principle as above - if you were in acute danger, your breathing would be shallow and panicked. Taking time to breathe deeply slows you down and allows your body and mind to relax.
*Stretch. Taking a few seconds to stretch out your tight shoulders, glutes or chest will have a calming effect. After all, if you were in danger, you'd be running. But you're not, you're doing the opposite. Added bonus - you'll also show your body/mind that you still care about them, make time for them and that YOU are important.
*Be mindful. Much the same as the first point, you're taking the time to be present and noticing things (which you wouldn't do if you were in a life threatening pickle). Like really tasting that sip of tea, noticing the smell of your face cream, the taste of your toothpaste or really hear your kids talking to you.
Do this as many times as you can in the day, especially the really chaotic ones. And notice little things that work for you to bring you back into the moment, away from your racing thoughts and heartbeat. The above is only a suggestion to get you started - find what works for you. But try to chip away at that constant, slightly on the edge feeling a few times every day at least to give yourself, your brain, body and nervous system a few little mini breaks.