Stay-at-home mothers 'suffer more stress than City traders'

CARING for young children at home is one of the most stressful occupations, a study says.

Researchers compared the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in people working as taxi drivers, teachers, nurses, City traders and stay-at-home parents. Those who were dealing with young children at home were found to have higher levels than any other group.

Dr David Lewis, of the Mindlab Organisation, which did the research,

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said: "The key here is the degree of control each of these professionals feel able to exercise over their lives. The greater their personal sense of control, the better they deal with the stress.

"Stay-at-home parents receive little or no training and are typically isolated from other adults for much of the day."

He added: "The key to managing stay-at-home stress is to develop strategies that enable them to prevent small stresses from developing into bigger ones. This can often be done quickly by taking some selfish time out on a daily basis."

Professor Cary Cooper, head of psychology and health at Lancaster University and an expert on stress, said he was not surprised to hear childcare was rated as most stressful.

"I think it is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. It's like herding cats. Young children are very active and they have no concept of what is safe.

"Other jobs are a doddle in comparison. Most stay-at-home parents are women and a lot have the added stress of feeling guilty because they think society expects them to be working. Things are more difficult than 20 or 30 years ago when women lived nearer to extended families and had a support network."

Prof Cooper said too much stress could cause health problems, and the key was to have time away from the children.

Tom Roberts, head of public affairs for Children 1st, said: "These findings are not a surprise to us. A recent report based on calls to our ParentLine Scotland service showed that parents did feel a lot of pressure.

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"It was often external pressures that caused the most concern. This included feeling pressure to be the perfect parent, alongside personal issues such as loneliness and isolation.

"We also know that callers are often keen to access support but can't always find that support available locally. This makes things especially difficult for those who don't have family and friends able to help out."

Jenni Trent Hughes, a US psychologist and broadcaster specialising in family issues, said: "The answer is simply to be selfish and take some time out.

"If you're not taking care of yourself then how can you properly take care of anyone else? If you're short-tempered, tired or at your wits' end how can you be the best you can be for your partner, children, family and – last but not least – yourself?"