For a Working Parent, Stress Is a Child’s Birthday Party

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We celebrated my kid’s third birthday yesterday. Early thoughts of pony rides and poolside clown shows gave way to a homemade luau, and only because all the accoutrements were on sale at Party City.

What kind of moron would stress about a home party for a 3-year-old and her scabby-kneed cousins? What can I say–I’m just lucky that way. Plus I’m a working parent who relies on those 48* weekend hours to accomplish all the things necessary to manage a household and a family. Thank heavens I’m part of a couple whose other half can string party lights and secure tiki torches. I can only imagine the stress for a working, single parent.

I heard a really terrific analysis of stress on “Speaking of Faith” on American Public Media this weekend. The rheumatologist, researcher and author Esther Sternberg discussed the science of the mind-body connection regarding stress. Until recently, modern science did not have the tools or the inclination to take emotional stress seriously, she says.

Read her article in The Scientific American on The Mind-Body Interaction in Disease; listen to the raw interview with Krista Tippet here.

The thing I took away is that modern science is beginning to treat stress as a real factor in illness. As Sternberg says in the interview, disease isn’t necessarily caused by stress; there is usually some other instigator like genetics. But it can deeply affect the way the body handles the illness. That’s true for me; my own chronic illness is stress-related, which means it’s largely work-related. If I stress about my wee one’s luau, imagine how I freak out over a cover story.

The good news, according to Sternberg, is that there are ways to get a grip. The best one involves taking yourself away from the stressful situation–whether it be the bedside of a loved one with Alzheimer’s or at the side of an abusive boss. Vacations do wonders, she says. But there again is a caveat: some are able to relax on vacations, while some others simply cannot. We stress addicts are simply wired to find something–anything–to obsess about. Even at a luau.

Got stress-busting tips? Do share.