Power of a sigh: the simple technique that helped control my 'parenting anger' during lockdown

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied 

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm feeling particularly stressed and anxious trying to parent through a global pandemic.

My patience is wearing thin managing my two little boys and their constant demands and meltdowns, along with juggling work, my concerns about my elderly parents and a generalised fear about the state of the planet. 

To be clear, I know everyone is struggling right now and we are luckier than so many others. I'm so grateful my family currently have our health and our jobs, but it's still bloody hard. 

When my four-year-year-old asked me for the 74th time where the iPad was and refused to get in the shower over the weekend, I snapped. My emotions boiled up and I screamed like a banshee. I was the very definition of an angry mama.

And it wasn't an isolated incident. 

I felt terribly guilty for my outbursts - and gave my beautiful and sensitive boy a big hug, vowing to somehow get better at keeping a lid on my emotions. 

So when I came across a video from the legendary parenting guru Maggie Dent outlining a simple technique to help parents stay calm and lower stress levels during COVD-19, I was keen to give it a red hot go.

The activity is to SIGH. Every day, up to five times a day. Bring a sigh into your daily routine. 

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According to Dent, it's a small thing but it will make a marked difference - and it's a habit your kids will pick up too! 

"The breath has enormous power to direct us away from the thoughts in our brains and bring us into our bodies," Dent tells Essential Baby

"When we take a big breath in and release it with a sigh it impacts the vagus nerve, which feeds sensory information to our organs, so it lowers our heart rate and stress levels. We feel a palpable release in our bodies when we sigh, our shoulders naturally drop and we let go."

Turns out I sigh quite a lot anyway. On a Friday night at the end of a long week, when I flop down on the couch with a glass (or bottle) of wine. We sigh when we are in a semi-relaxed state, so "fake the sigh until you make the sigh" and you will apparently feel a genuine difference. 

I tried it out yesterday. And yes, my husband, who is already finding my presence highly irritating as we are trapped together 24/7, looked at me with disdain and asked me what all the extra sound-effcts were.. but I persisted.

And I did feel a momentary reprieve from my perpetual state of stress. 

I also attempted what Dent calls the "parental pause" - basically whenever you feel angry, stop before you react to try and ground yourself. 

"Then put your hand on your heart and bend your knees slightly," suggests Dent. "Take a big breath (or three). Stand or kneel near your child and just pause and remember they are not deliberately being 'bad' or 'naughty'."

She reassures me that it's completely normal to be feeling angry at the moment - especially at the end of a long day. 

"We are in the midst of a life-threatening global pandemic so our brain's flight centre, the amygdala, is triggered," she explains. "Anger is just one way that anxiety surfaces and is a natural result of the uncertainty. Our brains have us on high alert as we feel that our very survival is threatened."

Dent's number one concern is that parents lower their expectations and "cut yourself some slack."

"Just focus as best you can on being the safe base," she tells me. "Focus on what you can control (even if that's just making your bed and cooking dinner). Aim for predictability. Slow down and stop to connect with your children as best you can."

"And of course, remember that nature is a great healer so get outside when you can. Above all, you have got this and remember, this too shall pass. 

Such wise words from the always dependable Maggie Dent. 

And now, I'm off for a walk outdoors and a big ol' SIGH. Please come join me.