5 Quick Ways For Parents to Relieve Stress that Don't Include Alcohol

Stocking up on booze is a popular coping mechanism for overwhelmed, overtired parents. If you're depending on it too much, maybe it's time to cut back. Here are five better ways to relax.

How many parents know the feeling of sinking into a couch with a glass of wine or beer at the end of an exhausting day? Kids can be draining, right? It's been hours of parenting, they think. I've been so good. I just need something to help me de-stress. And sipping a drink is an easy solution. After all, you don't have to carve out uninterrupted moments or worry about finding someone to babysit while you go for a walk—you can just pour yourself some tipple and keep on parenting!

It's so common to see overworked parents drink on TV that no one bats an eye when their favorite characters do it (think Rainbow Johnson on Black-ish). Father's Day cards are all about dads holding beer. There's even parents-who-drink apparel (so many T-shirts reading "Mama Needs Wine," or "They Whine, I Wine.") But if every day is Booze Day chez vous, it's time to take a look in the mirror. Is the booze taking the edge off the day, or subtly blunting your ability to be the kind of parent you want?

Look, we get it. Getting yourself slightly sozzled is a time-honored way to chill, and our culture endorses it. What's the harm in a single drink, especially if the kids are in bed? But there's always some kind of hangover, even if it comes in the form of feeling more run-down or crankier the next day. If you're becoming dependent on alcohol and want to cut your consumption, you're in luck. There are a number of quick things you can do to unwind without a cocktail or a couple of glasses of rosé.

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Tips for Relaxing Without the Booze

Popular stress relievers for parents include vigorous exercise, meditation, and journaling, says Cara Natterson, M.D., pediatrician and author of Decoding Boys: New Science Behind the Subtle Art of Raising Sons. These are all great solutions for someone who's trying to relax. Problem is, most parents are also struggling to figure out when they can find time to do anything that doesn't involve kids (or family, or work). That's why you need to begin with the most important step of all: Setting boundaries.

When children are small, it feels incredibly difficult to take a break. Some of us feel like we have to do it all, but booking a babysitter or relative to take over for just a few hours can provide as much relief as Wines-day Wednesday. If your kids are in pre-K or above, consider instituting a post-school fun break, setting out books or art supplies they can get lost in for 30 minutes while you take your own hiatus.

Things should be easier in a two-parent household, or as other kids age up. "Try asking another adult in the house to cover you for a set amount of time each day and then offer the same in return," suggests Dr. Natterson. "If you have older kids, you can make the same request of them. When everyone practices self-care, the entire house will be happier."

Of course, not all of us are able to share child care responsibility. But no worries: There are several ways to refill your emotional tank, and they only take a few minutes!

1. The quickest workout ever

High intensity interval training takes as little as four minutes to do and can offer results comparable to a full-length workout. Instead of having to hike over to a gym, you can do these intense bursts of movement at home; there are routines available for free on many online platforms. Exercise boosts levels of dopamine and serotonin (which alcohol depletes in the long-term), and it increases neuroplasticity. Not only will you feel better, you'll be better able to face the challenges that lie ahead and roll with the punches in life.

2. Inhale, hold, exhale

If you've been locking yourself in the bathroom to get some peace and quiet, why not practice some deep breathing exercises while you're in there? Breathwork has been shown to lower stress, reduce your fight-or-flight response, and encourage more intense relaxation. Once you start doing it, you'll also find that it's easy to incorporate when you want to calm yourself down around the kids. Deep breathing is an excellent practice to pass to little ones, who can use it to relax their bodies before bed (another win for you). Pick up Kira Willey's Breathe Like a Bear, which makes breathing fun for all.

3. Meditate at home

Having kids means bidding bye-bye to lengthy meditation sessions. But you don't have to sit for 20 minutes to get the same benefits. Meditation apps like Headspace allow you to find peace anywhere and on the briefest of schedules, while the Calm app offers a flexible meditation timer and meditations for children. Mindfulness apps like Happify and eMLife can also help you stay focused on the present moment and "be here now" so that the little stresses of the day dissipate from your consciousness rather than building up and draining your energy. "Sneaking a few minutes in at a time can really be impactful," says Seth Feuerstein, M.D., assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale University.

4. Play your way through

We know: You're craving a few minutes of alone time, and this seems counterintuitive. But the truth is that diving into creative play with your kids can prove surprisingly refreshing. Schedule a painting session with your children and get lost in the flow of your own creativity, or stroll through a local park together for an hour after school. Arrange family walks every night before bed to look at the moon. The idea is to get out of your own head, and the side benefit is that your child will end up feeling more connected to you. You may notice that they actually give you more space after these breaks, because that need for parent time has been satisfied. Some people even notice that kids fall asleep quicker!

5. Submit to snoozing

The hardest thing for so many parents to do is sleep. We need it desperately, and yet it feels impossible to turn our brains off at the end of the day, and just climb into bed. What about "me" time? we wonder. But the truth is that nothing (not a glass of wine, or another episode of Bridgerton) will soothe your soul like slumber. "Go out of your way to get good sleep," urges Dr. Feuerstein. "Keep a regular sleep schedule and have your kids do the same." Sure, alcohol makes you drowsy, but it worsens insomnia and leaves your system overstimulated so you never completely rest. Fortify your system instead.

The Dry Benefits

As many parents can attest, finding ways to genuinely relax while watching children (especially small ones) feels close to impossible. Which is why we drink. "Alcohol affects anxiety through the same neurotransmitter pathways as some medications that impact anxiety levels," explains Dr. Feuerstein. But there are other things that lessen anxiety to a similar degree without taking a physical toll. Wine or beer isn't bad in small amounts, but drinking all the time will leave you more fatigued than before.

Parents need coping mechanisms. Stress, depression, and anxiety can wreak havoc on our immune systems, making us more susceptible to illness. Which is exactly what we don't want, right? Finding ways to relax is absolutely vital, not only for our own sanity but for reasons of physical preservation so that we can be around to take care of our kids—and be a strong, stable resource for them. Seek your Zen wherever you can find it, but remember, the way you handle stress shows them how to do it, too.

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