Parents Get Cranky Too | How Physiology Impacts Your Mental Health

Parents Get Cranky Too | How Physiology Impacts Your Mental Health

Let’s imagine a scenario. Your alarm clock wakes you up at 6 AM after going to bed at midnight. Exhausted, you hit the snooze button one too many times and oversleep. At this point, it’s too late to eat breakfast, so you make do with a cup of coffee on your drive. The rest of the day, you’re glued to your desk and skip your usual midday walk to send an email. You finally get home at 7 pm and open the front door to a house of fighting kids. How do you react?

When it comes to behavior, I want you to remember three words:

“Physiology, physiology, physiology!”

Optimal physiology will help you manage the inevitably stressful moments in the day. 

Here are three starting points:

Nutrition: Remember the Snickers tagline, “You’re not you when you’re hungry”? Consistent and thoughtful eating helps your biological processes and stabilizes your mood. While I wouldn’t recommend a candy bar, I do encourage you to try and keep regular meals and snack times. Reach for nutrient-dense foods like fruit and vegetables (shoot for 5-9 servings daily) or nuts. Avoid processed foods as well as those high in sugar. It’s tempting to have takeout after a long day, but these foods will lead to swings in your blood sugar. Also, don’t forget to hydrate; eight glasses of fluid a day is a good starting point.

Physical Activity: With a busy schedule, getting your recommended 60 minutes of physical activity daily can be challenging. To make it more attainable, I recommend breaking it up throughout the day. Try a 5 minute walk between meetings or 10 lunges as you make your way towards the kitchen for lunch.  Just remember to include a combination of aerobic and resistance exercises. Bonus points if you can incorporate physical activity in the morning. It not only helps you wake up, but also sets your circadian rhythm to help you sleep at night.

Sleep: I saved the best for last. Sleep is an extremely important and difficult change to make for better health. Most adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep (keep in mind your children need more). There are a few ways to make sure your sleep is top notch. First, keep a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends! I know it’s movie night, but your body doesn’t know the difference between a Tuesday and a Saturday with Netflix. Try to avoid afternoon coffee and late night wine, as caffeine and alcohol degrade your sleep quality. Finally, swap your end of the day TV for a book or other screen-free activity for the 2 hours before bed or at least 30 minutes!

There are a lot of suggestions above, but successful habits start small. Pick one suggestion to work on over the next week. As you begin to optimize your daily routines, look out for my next article as we switch gears to improving your day-to-day interactions with your children.