Anger and Stress Management Tips for Satisfying Relationships
Stressed About Having Second Child
Getting the news that she was finally pregnant, should have been immensely relieving to 25-year-old Kerri, but she was as stressed if not more than before. Previously she had been stressed about having her second child before she was 35 years old, but now she was stressed about not having enough energy for her lively first born, 4 year-old Eric. She fretted over giving him less attention and potentially creating a long term problem
Family Relationship Issues Began the Negative Chronic Stress Cycle for Kerri
Recalling her own childhood Kerri remembered being the oldest in her family, and with each new baby that came along, she was pushed further and further into the background, being forced to take on parenting tasks. Her father worked long hours and was also in competition for the scant energy his wife may have for him when he was home. Kerri had vowed to herself that her children weren’t going to suffer like that, and she was going to make sure her husband Ari would never feel he had to battle to get quality adult time with her.
As a teen ager, Kerri tried to feel wanted and cared for by her school friends but it just wasn’t the same as being wanted by her mother. The only time her parents seemed to show any interest in her was when she was needed as a babysitter. She focused on her school work determined to be an independently wealthy professional, tamping down her anger, and the part of her that ached for the love and attention her parents never gave.
Lonely, angry, stressed and depressed, Kerri started to binge and purge. Those activities filled in the gaps between her school and then college schedules. When she saw clumps of hair falling out in the shower she had a wakeup call and stopped the binging and purging. The stress of not being in control anymore gave her eczema. Her immune system had been compromised by stress. Kerri did her best to deal with each new symptom as I came up. Until she met Ari at a smoothie bar on her way from class.
He seemed entranced by her and she fell head over heels in love with his attentive and thoughtful nature. They were married within the year. Both decided to finish college and put off having children until their careers were well established. Ari became a hot-shot-celebrity lawyer, traveling all over the place to be on all the prime time talk shows. Kerri fulfilled her dream of becoming a business owner at the age of 30 with a profitable nanny and babysitting agency.
Ari’s absences triggered her stress and she began to feel that same old sense of overwhelm, lack of control and a need to get even more busy to blot out the feelings. She was angry but once again never allowed herself to process it or express it. That added to her stress. Shadowed with fatigue and insomnia, Kerri did what she knew best – distract herself with another goal. She decided to expand her business into a daycare facility. The bureaucracy involved did the job of using up the excess adrenalin from the stress, but the stress hormones like cytokines depleted her energy. She never talked to Ari about her stress, or her wish that he wouldn’t travel. She didn’t want to upset him or his career, and plus she was used to taking the burden in the household. It was a job she grew up doing, and doing it well. Aware of her previous response to stress, Kerri made sure she ate properly because she wanted to conceive her first child. She was careful to look out for skin problems and made sure she was well hydrated, used nourishing skin lotions and had regular appointments with her dermatologist. So far so good. Then one morning she awoke with stomach cramps and nausea. The cramps intensified after eating and she felt as if she needed to have a bowel movement at least 3 times per hour. Kerri was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome a week later. No organic causes were found, and stress was the named culprit.
The recommendation to reduce stress didn’t strike Kerri as helpful. She had a new business plan and discovered that she was pregnant. She plowed on thinking that things would just get better and for a time the joy of pregnancy countered the stress. She had no idea that she had chronic stress and that it could affect her unborn child.
Research Evidence Predicted Problems for Kerri’s First Child Directly Related to his Mother’s Chronic Stress
Eric was diagnosed with Asthma at the age of two and a half. He had always been a colicky baby but now he needed an inhaler. The thought of him not being able to breathe at night unless she was watching like a hawk spiked her stress levels to acute proportions. Kerri was devastated, but did her duty and made sure Eric had his inhaler at hand at all times. What Kerri didn’t know was that in 2010 the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine reported on a study with high and low stressed pregnant women. They found that in the high stress group, women like Kerri passed on their lowered immune response to their child as they passed through the birth canal, making them more likely to have allergic diseases such as asthma.
The journal Endocrinology published an article in June 2015 demonstrating that stress during pregnancy altered the healthy eco system of the gut microbiota in the maternal vagina, passing on that changed and less healthy bacterial system to the offspring on its way out. Stress hormones passed onto the baby effected the gut and brain development, making the infant’s ability to manage stress much weaker than otherwise, especially for boys.
How can Kerri make sure her second child doesn’t inherit her stress and be disadvantaged for the rest of its life?
Kerri didn’t want her second child of whatever gender to inherit her weakened immune response and be prone to all the stress related diseases that she had faced and more. Was it too late for her to manage her stress and give her second baby a strong immune system from the get go? No, but she must be willing to learn to de-stress and maintain that as a new way of life, because her stress is chronic and unrelenting.
Since she never learned how to recognize and attend to her stress before it became acute,
- She has to begin to become aware of the earliest signs of stress like
Irritability, going from excess energy to depletion, exhaustion after rest, inability to concentrate
- She has to watch for her usual coping mechanisms and change them:
- For example, instead of bingeing and purging – write down her feelings regarding loss of control.
- Instead of getting busy with interminable lists of things to do – draw, paint, collage, make art in other forms which calms the brain and reduces stress hormones.
- Go to therapy and work on her stressed childhood. Above all this is the most useful long term way of letting the stress go, making sure she doesn’t pass on an compromised immune system to her next child, BUT that she doesn’t model stress behaviors for either child.
Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
AUTHOR OF:’ Now You Want Me, Now You Don’t! Fear of Intimacy: Ten ways to recognize it and ten ways to manage it in your relationship.
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Disclaimer: this article is for educational and informational purposes only. There is no liability on the part of Dr. Raymond for any reactions you may have when reading the material or following the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Raymond.