Parents and Stress: The Link Between Mental And Physical Pain
Parents are always caring for others and trying to balance it all. Many times, parents forget to care for themselves. We spoke to the wonderful Justine Sones. Justine is a self-care coach who is here to help parents with mental and emotional stress management. Justine shared with us some inspirational wisdom about what she does and we know this will have a life changing impact on parents.
Justine, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how your coaching began?
I’m Justine, my pronouns are she/her, and I’m a writer, Self-care coach, wife, and mom to two kiddos (4 & 6) and two giant dogs. Before having kids, I worked as a full-time massage therapist, helping people manage their stress and physical discomfort so that they could keep doing more of what they loved — whether that was running a marathon or chasing their kids around a park.
Over time, I started to realize that there was more to the whole self-care thing than treating physical symptoms or pain, and I began to explore a more holistic approach to healing and wellness — one that included mental and emotional stress management.
As I immersed myself in the research, I realized that there was something absolutely essential to managing stress, practicing self-care that actually works, and nurturing healthy and supportive relationships…and that thing was boundaries.
All of that culminated in the coaching that I do today: I help high-achievers and people-pleasers who are on the brink of burnout learn how to set healthy boundaries and practice sustainable self-care so that they can do more of the things that matter.
When did you discover that mental health was correlated to physical pain and challenges?
I first started exploring this relationship when I was a massage therapist, because I realized that the pain and tension people were experiencing in their bodies didn’t always make sense when they were put through traditional orthopedic assessments — they often didn’t even have a cause of injury!
What I did notice was that the physical symptoms they experienced often correlated to stressors from other areas in their lives…ones that were more emotionally or mentally driven, like a problem at work or a complication in one of their intimate relationships.
This became more apparent — and personal — when I experienced a similar disconnect in my own life, in the year or two that followed my second kid’s birth.
I had all sorts of physical pain and symptoms that landed me in the doctor’s office, but we couldn’t connect any of it to physical pathology or cause. What we could connect it to was the intense levels of stress I had been experiencing as a result of the mental and emotional stressors of early motherhood.
The combination of sleep deprivation, sensory overload, relentless bids for attention, loneliness, boredom, and overwhelm — sometimes all at once — had slowly been burning me out, but I kept dismissing it because on the outside, I was “fine.”
The reality was that the internal stress was stacking, and without a break or rest, my capacity to keep pushing through was running out. Eventually, my lack of mental bandwidth started to get in the way of meeting my basic needs like getting proper sleep, adequate nutrition, and physical activity.
So I started getting physically sick, as my body forced me to take the rest I needed — and I didn’t start getting better until we addressed those core sources of stress.
Tell us a bit about the audience that you help everyday.
I work with people who care a lot. They love their people fiercely, they love the work that they do, and they want to do their part to leave the world a better place. A lot of my clients are parents.
They are people who like to be busy, like to give, and like to do. As a result, they can sometimes fall into people-pleasing behaviors that end up leaving them feeling depleted, out of control in their own lives, or feeling resentful.
We work together to identify the sources of stress in their lives, figure out what’s in their realm of control, prioritize the things that matter the most — and then learn how to set boundaries and create sustainable Self-care practices that help them navigate the challenges that life inevitably brings.
Can you define trauma and how it can play into our lives on a physical level?
When I talk about trauma, I mean a sudden or unexpected event that you aren’t able to process and heal. So what might cause trauma for one person, could be totally okay for another — it’s not the event itself, but the story we tell ourselves about it, the meaning that we make of it in the aftermath, and how that memory is stored in the body.
What tends to happen as we gain more experience in life, is that we also gain the memory of how we responded to an experience and what we made that mean. The emotions connected to those experiences have their own kind of muscle memory, and when we come across triggers or reminders of those events, we respond protectively — and from the places that are unhealed.
So. The physical reaction or response that we feel in our body is absolutely real — there is no denying the way your heart rate or breathing change when anxiety comes out to play. But whether or not the anxiety is in response to a real threat or a perceived one…that needs to be determined.
Understanding that the way that we respond, react, or present is a result of the way we process and store our trauma — emotional, physical, or otherwise — is so important if we’re going to heal some of those root causes.
What are some survival strategies parents can use to get through these challenges?
Learning how to identify and create some space between a stressor (the thing that instigates a state of threat and subsequent stress response) and stress (the experience we get in our body as a result of those stressors) has been huge in helping me navigate the uncertainty and challenges of the last few years.
With this space, I’m able to step outside of that intense reactivity mode that comes with high stress, and make sense of all the things I’m thinking and feeling. I can work through what’s actually happening, what’s in my control, and what I’m going to do about it.
For me, claiming that space can look like going for a walk (so I can move my body), going for a drive (so I can sing my heart out), or locking myself in the bathroom (so I can hear myself think).
Another survival strategy I’ve leaned heavily on is cutting myself so much slack. I lowered my expectations until they were flat on the ground, then I dug a hole and lowered them some more.
The bar for “good enough” is so much easier to reach than you think, and when you build your capacity for “good enough” you can start to think about “better” — but survival mode is not the time to strive for your “best life”. It’s the time to do what you need to do to get through the day.
And finally, one of my most surprising survival strategies has been getting very practiced in apologizing — especially to my husband and my kids. I know that I haven’t been at my best for the last year (or few) but I’ve been doing my best — and in spite of that, sometimes I hurt the people I love.
So instead of pretending that the way that I yelled about my kid spilling milk wasn’t an overreaction, or trying to justify the way I behaved, I own that I made a mistake. That I’m human, I have trouble with my feelings sometimes, and, that it’s never okay to take them out on other people so I am sorry.
Are these survival strategies workable for children?
Absolutely — but they only work if you can model the behavior. If you’re beating yourself up for not getting something perfect, and then telling your kid that imperfect is great, they’re going to learn that you say one thing and mean the other.
The pandemic has caused people around the world to experience trauma. How do we begin to heal?
The first step towards healing is acknowledging the gravity of what needs to heal. We can’t keep pretending that we’ll all be okay if we just keep putting one foot in front of the other, ignoring the fact that we’re walking on a broken ankle.
Massage therapy taught me that the body will develop compensatory habits and behaviors so that you can work around an area of injury — and if you don’t consciously rehabilitate the injured area and work towards healthy movement again, those compensatory actions often start to create additional injuries and sources of pain.
If we want to heal, we have to be willing to get honest.
How do we help our children go through a healing journey?
By going through our own healing. You can’t give what you don’t have for yourself, and children don’t just learn because they’re taught — they learn based on what’s modeled.
One of the things that’s so hard about going through this work as a parent is that as you reckon with your own inner wounds and what caused them, your eyes are opened to the ways that you will inevitably cause hurt to your own kids. And I get it… it’s scary!
But if we pretend that risk isn’t there, we’re far more likely to cause that harm than if we’re brave enough to face our own sources of hurt — and when we are willing to face what we need to heal, we have the opportunity to break those unhealthy cycles we may have inherited, instead of passing them on to our kids.
When we know what we’re dealing with in our own healing journeys, we’re much better equipped to take responsibility — and provide support — for our kids as they navigate their own collections of hurts and repair.
Parents are struggling with the balance of work, home and parenting. What are some key boundaries that we can set to have success in all three of these important facets?
The most important boundary to establish is the one that separates us from the world around us — and I don’t just mean physically. I mean emotionally, mentally, spiritually…we must be able to know where our sense of Self and individuality begins, where it ends, and then, how it intersects with the people we are in relationship with.
Because as much as I am a wife, and a mom, and a writer, and a coach, and a sister, and a daughter, and a friend…first and foremost, I am me. I am Justine, and I show up as my Self in all of those roles.
Unless I’m able to define who I am in the midst of all those roles, I risk letting those roles define me — and my sense of worth. And that’s where things get really murky.
When we have a clear sense of who we are and what we need, we can start to get intentional about how we show up, and the boundaries we put in place to support that.
And when we get to that point, the boundaries I encourage people to examine are mental, emotional, and physical — how you think, feel, and act when you show up in these different roles and relationships.
No matter the capacity, your feelings are where your boundaries begin. If something feels off, it means you have a boundary to examine.
Parents feel the constant pressure that they have to “do it all” perfectly. Why is this mentality healthy or unhealthy?
This mentality is so unhealthy because there are two impossibilities at play here — doing it all, and, perfection. So from the outset, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
The reality is that we have limits in life, especially when it comes to our time and our energy. Trying to do it all is like trying to fill a bottomless cup. Something is going to give in the process, and the thing that I’ve let go is trying to do it all. Instead, I focus on doing a few things, the best that I can.
In the same way, the pursuit of perfection has no arrival because it doesn’t exist. It’s a goalpost without any measure of enoughness, where any blemish renders the effort useless because it’s not perfect.
When we try to “do it all perfectly”, what we’re often chasing is the feeling that we think that end result will deliver — after all, when you’ve done all the things, and checked all the boxes, you’ll get to the good feeling you want, right?
It’s much healthier to accept imperfection and learn to let go — that’s where compassion, belonging, and connection are fostered, and that’s what we really want to feel.
Parents need to redefine self-care. Where should a busy parent begin?
By letting go of the idea that self-care involves doing something or adding more to an already overflowing list. One of the biggest lies we’ve been told is that self-care is something outside of us that we can do or buy to feel better, and that makes it inaccessible to so many.
I encourage parents (and everyone else!) to start by looking at what’s already available to them, right where they are. Whether it’s some progressive muscle relaxation, listening to a meditation on your phone, or just calling out a negative thought so that you can let it go — those are all things that you can do with what you have available to you right now. Start there.
How can our audience get in contact with you?
The best way to stay in touch is to sign up for my email newsletter, The Friday Feels. It goes out every other Friday, and is chock full of musings about setting boundaries, feeling your feelings, and practicing sustainable Self-care — you can sign up at The Friday Feels . You can also find me on Instagram @justinesones, although I’m definitely more active on email than social media!
Special thank you to Justine for speaking with our audience and sharing her wisdom with us all.Be sure to support Justine by following her on social media and checking out her link above!