According to a recent study conducted at the University of Rochester in New York, mothers who are suffering from chronic stress or have symptoms of stress related psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression reportedly demonstrate more problematic parenting behaviours such as neglect, hostility, and insensitivity.
The study due to be published in a few weeks, examined 153 mothers and their children, aged between 17 and 19 months. The children were placed in a mildly distressing situation in which they were left in a room with a stranger before being reunited with their mothers. In order to attain how the mothers reacted to their upset toddlers, both mother and child were then observed in a play session together.
Each of the mother’s responses was recorded using a wireless electrocardiograph (ECG). An ECG records real time changing cardiac rhythms, unlike other measures of stress, it allows researchers to examine the specific changes in physiology during a stress response rather than looking at the effects of stress on the body after it has occurred.
The study concluded that a stressed mother’s response could be either hypoactive or hyperactive.
Mothers termed hypoactive were reportedly stressed with financial difficulties and lived in neighbourhoods with high rates of crime, these mothers tended to have lower initial heart rates that rose slightly when contending with their distressed child. During the play session, the study argued these mothers were more likely to ignore their children.
Conversely, mothers who were found to be hyperactive, often suffered from symptoms of depression, these mothers the study concluded, tended to be hostile to their distressed children, this included talking to them in angrier tones of voice and handling them in a rougher manor.
With studies such as this adding to the already large bank of research examining the negative effect stress has on both children and adults alike, it is crucial that stress management strategies such as daily exercise, yoga and mindfulness meditation are adopted in order to inhibit long term damage.