Staying Positive on Good Days and Bad Ones
If you haven’t been there as a parent already, I hate to tell you, but it’s coming one day eventually. It can either strike out of nowhere, or you may see the dark clouds gathering in the distance, but sooner or later despite your best efforts, your plans, or how optimistically you started the day, everything is going to seem to go wrong. Your kids get sick, or in trouble at school, you hit every red light and now you’re late, dinner burns, the dog runs off, and you just want to sit down and cry… or maybe scream. You might feel like the cosmos are against you, or that you’ve committed some karmic wrong that has now come back to bite you. But neither of these things are true of course.
Ask anyone who has spent a long run at a craps table in Vegas, sooner or later the luck runs out. As a mother though, we can’t just toss in the towel and lock ourselves away in the bedroom and let the household run itself; not entirely at least. Obligations will just keep piling up and that’s going to only add to the stress you’re experiencing. But how to we do it? How do we pick ourselves up off the floor, dust off our pants, and roll up our sleeves before diving back into the fray? When the stress starts to pile up, our body undergoes natural physiological changes by releasing various hormones into the brain. The hormones are designed to prepare our body for it’s flight or fright response, the trouble is that in periods of prolonged stress, our body runs out of this hormone supply and our ability to cope dwindles in the face of relentless pressures. But just because your day has gone crazy doesn’t mean that you have to as well. Whether you employ a series of tactics before things come crashing down, or you practice some emergency self-care once trouble starts, there are plenty of ways to not only come out on the other side of those storm clouds, but to shine in their midst as well.
Start Your Day Right
A lot of people sabotage their days the night before. It’s common to do a little backwards planning and figure out just when you need to get up the next day. The problem is we often make those plans for incredibly ideal circumstances. By giving yourself as short as a 15-minute cushion for your morning (and then not blowing it on the snooze button), if and when something unplanned or unforeseen happens, like your kid can’t find their shoe, you won’t start the day in a crisis-mode right from the get-go.
Make the Most of Your Evenings
A lot like adding that 15-minute buffer to your morning, you have the ability to set the conditions for your day the night before by prepping things that can be handled without the morning rush. Setting out clothes, packing lunches, and even getting a head start on the next day’s dinner are wonderful ways to make sure your morning runs smooth and hassle free. This will help you not only anticipate problems in advance, but give you the time and space to plan for a way to fix those little life problems.
Keep a Day Planner
Few things send a chill up your spine like suddenly realizing that you have forgotten an important meeting or task. By writing things down and setting a schedule to update and review your daily list, such as over breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you’re more likely to keep track of life’s dizzying array of all of the places you need to be on any given day. There is a wide variety of resources that you can use, both tech-heavy and also a little more old-school. At times I have tried apps that I have downloaded on my phone, carried some index cards, kept a large calendar on the fridge, whatever I thought might help me stay organized. Like me, don’t be disheartened if you try something and find that it doesn’t work for you. Everyone is different, so you may need to experiment with a format that works the best for your own situation.
Lower the Bar
I know, all of your friends and family and even the whole world is judging you on just how “together” you have things. Balancing your kids, your job, your household, and your dog’s vet appointments all takes a razor-sharp focus and attention to the slightest detail. The thing is, no one who really matters is judging you, and even the best of us drop a ball here and there. Learn to lower your standards a little and embrace a more relaxed lifestyle. Maybe it’s just while your children are toddlers, or maybe it’s just until things at work settle down a bit, but you can afford to let up a bit and not be so hard on yourself.
Make it a Priority
A lot like lowering your strict standards of perfection, you need to learn that “if everything is a priority, nothing is.” Not every task, chore, or problem you have in any given day deserves a top spot on your list. Instead, select one or two “glass balls”. Your glass balls are the ones that you really can’t afford to drop while you’re juggling everything else that day. Your appearance at traffic court? Glass ball. Mailing off the pair of socks that your niece left at your house on her last visit? Not a glass ball. It doesn’t make those things unimportant, only less important. Relax, you’ll get to them. Just move them over to the next days “to-do” list.
Know When to do Nothing
I know that when things start going wrong your first instinct is to move quickly and minimize the damage. While there are certainly times when this is the case, like a house fire, more often than not you would be wise to just stop for a moment and take a few slow, deep breaths and assess the situation. Sometimes, when we act to fast without deliberate thought processes behind our actions, we can actually make things worse rather than better. So, the next time everything seems to be going wrong, just have a seat, take a few breaths, and plan out how to get things back on track.
Keep a Healthy Diet
More than just helpful in keeping the waistline under control and preventing serious medical problems, maintaining a healthy diet is also beneficial in regulating the hormones in your body that are associated with our ability to cope with stress. When your body is running efficiently, like it does with natural foods low in preservatives and other harmful additives, as well as good portion sizes, your chemicals stay in balance and your body uses things like sugars and carbs the way it needs to use them.
Get Some Rest
Our generation is more likely to burn the candle at both ends than other generation in human history. Not only our ability to entertain ourselves, which is a leading cause of sleep deficiency, but also our ability to be productive in the later hours of the day are both wreaking havoc on our brains and stress management systems. Electronics such as phones, tablets, and televisions have what’s known as blue light in their displays. This blue light is designed to stimulate you and hold your attention. What it also does is keep you up at night. Try and minimize not only the noises in your bedroom at night, but also any light sources that can be robbing you of a solid rest.
Shop for the Week
It’s almost ironic that in a world chock full of preservatives in nearly everything we eat that many people only shop one or two days at a time. This added trip to the store could be cramming an already crowded schedule, and while there are certainly ingredients that need to be fresh, like meats, fishes, fruits, and vegetables, feel free to plan out your weeks meals in advance and then pick up all of the shelf stable items for the week in one trip. That way, even if you need to stop and grab a thing or two that you want to be fresh, your total shopping time will be short.
Focus on the “Now”
Too often we allow ourselves to become stressed not because of what’s happening in front of us, but out of the total magnitude of everything that needs to be done. Relax. Focus on what needs done this hour, or this morning, or at this minute, and don’t allow the things that need done later overwhelm you. By mentally framing your tasks, not only will you feel less bombarded with “to-do’s”, you’re also going to be able to put your proper focus on what doing, preventing mistakes and more stress in the long run,
Boy, if ever there was cheap advice on dealing with stress, “stay optimistic” is right up at the top. But hear me out before dismissing it. When we look at the bright side of things it not only teaches us that there are silver linings to any dark cloud, on a physiological level it releases happy hormones into our brain that aid in fighting stress. Not feeling to optimistic? Fake it. Believe it or not, your body doesn’t know the difference between real and fake optimism, so you’re going to reap the benefits whether you start off feeling positive or not.
Take Time for Self-Care
Here it is. If you follow many of my blogs on a regular basis you knew I wasn’t going to talk about managing stress without hitting on self-care. It’s just that important. As mom’s, we’re the last one who can get sick, we’re the one who can’t miss the big game, we’re the ones that just. can’t. fail. Nonsense, of course you can. Somewhere on each day’s “to-do’s” list needs to be a period of time that is just for you. Soak in the tub, curl up with a good book, enjoy some quiet prayer time, stroll in the park, whatever it is, it needs to be about you; only you. As parents we have got to get into the habit of self-care more than we do. Stop feeling that it’s selfish, or that it means robbing Peter to pay Paul. It’s just not true. You have to have time where the focus is on yourself and charging your mental batteries. Use this time to practice a hobby, use it to think about absolutely nothing, it doesn’t matter. The goal is that this time is about only you, and anyone who would deny you that needs to step back and look at your contributions to your family.
Keep a Journal
Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed it can be hard to get our feet back underneath ourselves. Our mind’s race with so many topics and emotions that soon your heart is racing, and your breathing is quick and shallow. Grab a pen and your journal. A lot like the benefit of talking to a friend about your feelings, which is super-helpful, writing in a journal allows us to put our thoughts and feelings into words and categorize them in our minds the way our minds like to do anyway. You don’t have to devote 20 pages a day to all of your hopes, dreams, and fears (though you can if it suits you), but taking a few minutes to jot down your feelings, successes, concerns, or anything else that feels like it’s at the front of your mind will help you wrap your hands, and brain, around your problems.
Exercise, Exercise, Exercise
Look, I know what you may be thinking, adding something else to the plate is impossible. But I’m not talking about turning into a gym rat and abandoning your responsibilities to pump iron. What I’m talking about is taking a little time each day to get some activity in. Studies show that even small amounts of moderate exercise each day, (like walking around the block a few times), not only has an effect on cognitive processes, but also on our ability to manage stress. In my case, I like to get up before the rest of the house and do 45 minutes to an hour of exercise and plan out my day. That way I not only start the day energized, but also with the outline of my plan of attack.