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Parenting: the challenge of coping when you’re overwhelmed and distressed

Stressed person holding their head

Parenting is a tough job, there’s no doubt about that. But in a fast-paced world where we are all trying to keep up with work, social pressures, relationships, and an endless to-do list, we are also expected to have it all together at home with the kids as well.

It can be really relentless, and sometimes, it can just feel like too much.

Many parents face challenges in their lives and often feel stressed, under pressure, and overloaded, which can lead to psychological distress.

Not to mention the guilt and shame attached to feelings of ‘not coping’ when it comes to parenting. We are expected to have it all together at all times, and that’s just not always possible.

What is psychological distress?

Psychological distress refers to emotional and psychological difficulties that affect an individual's wellbeing and functioning.

Distress can be categorised by symptoms of depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, tension, and restlessness.

Distress is a normal human emotion, not a disorder, and it doesn’t have to accompany a traumatic event or incident, but can both emerge and persist in proportion with external stressful situations.

It’s similar to stress, just on a larger scale.

For example, stress responses are normal reactions to environmental or life pressures, whereas distress happens when stress is severe, prolonged, or both.

Distress can present with symptoms like (but not limited to): fatigue, sadness, anxiety, avoiding social situations, isolation, fear, anger, moodiness.

Parenting while distressed

Distress and parenting can be a chaotic cocktail and can cause even more problems for parents and children if it’s left unaddressed, which is why it’s important to find tools and treatment to get you on the other side of it so you can enjoy life and family again.

As well as impacting your mental health as a parent, health and family welfare experts say distress can impact parenting methods and decisions, which can lead to negative impacts on children’s behaviours and wellbeing.

Some of the ways parents express distress in their sessions with us at Boutique Psychology is by using words like, “I can't catch a break”, “I feel worried all the time”, or they say they stress about their kids' future and feel bad for not doing enough.

Where to next for parents with distress?

A survey by Emerging Minds found that 70% of parents felt distressed, and 50% said at least one of their children had behaviour or emotional issues.

They also said they felt like they didn't have enough time or money to get help for themselves or their children.

Many parents put their children’s needs before their own, so they are less likely to seek help for themselves when they need it.

This can build up and cause mores stress and distress, which can have a flow-on effect to physical and mental health, so it’s essential to address these issues so we can help you find a solution.

Seeking therapy for parents living with distress

If parenting is stressing you out, therapy may help.

Working through feelings like guilt and shame with an empathetic and non-judgemental psychologist can help you explore your family’s unique challenges.

Our qualified and experienced therapists will discuss strategies with you for creating positive changes for you and your children. If therapy is not accessible to you at the moment there are a number of options and resources you may want to consider.

Resources for parenting with distress

Chatting with like-minded people in your community is a wonderful way to feel heard, seen and validated. Look up Parenting Support Groups in your area. Single parents can access support here in Melbourne through Single Parents Active Kids.

Parenting tiny children for the first time can be overwhelming and challenging. Education is key, and you can access short courses and resources to help you fill your toolkit with strategies to approach parenting and limit your stress.

Check out programs like Abecedarian Approach Australia (3a), Baby Makes 3INFANT (INfant Feeding Active play and NuTrition) and early childhood parenting courses like

For those formative years, heading into the ‘tricky times’ of parenting, you can look into middle childhood programs like Cool Kids.

For a broader approach, courses like Incredible Years and ReachOut have an all-ages focus.

Parenting children who have disability or learning difficulty can sometimes be an added challenge, particularly if a parent is also living with disability. Healthy & Safe: An Australian Parent Education Kit is a terrific resource.


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