Welcome to the month of May. A mother’s month, in more ways than one! In May, so many events get plugged into the end of the school year: athletic finals, concerts, dance recitals, awards ceremonies and graduations, to name a few. And then planning for the summer and the future steps of high school seniors. Whew, it’s like being squeezed by a vise!
Stress is an inevitable part of the world we live in; however, we know that stress wreaks havoc in our bodies and on our lives, and it doesn’t make us better mothers or better women. Luckily, we can choose how to navigate through the stress and not allow it to be in control. Like the saying goes, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you respond to what happens.”
There are some easy-to-implement strategies that help decrease stress, bit by bit. You can implement a few and make tomorrow, next week and next month incrementally better. We hope you find value in this article!
(Dr. Gary Landreth is known for being the guru of play therapy. His “Rules of Thumb” weave into parent and child relationships. Tips with an asterisk* are from his list, which you can read at the end of this article.)
Stress and Your Mindset
Nothing changes if you don’t make up your mind to change. You can say that about most things in life. If you want to handle stress better, everything starts with improving your mindset.
Be a thermostat, not a thermometer.* The thermostat in your house sets the temperature; a thermometer just reacts to the temperature. You can set the tone in your home, in your head and in your heart. If something doesn’t go your way, you can choose to be calm and then respond. Being in a constant state of reaction is much more stressful. Stress increases the amount of cortisol circulating in your body. Increased cortisol on an ongoing basis damages your body and can lead to medical problems.
Done is better than perfect. As a mother, you may find yourself concentrating on the finer details, while dad seems to be fine with the big picture. Which should make you ask if stressing out over the details is necessary…or worth it? In other words, don’t fall victim to perfectionism and self-imposed stress. Your kids/spouse probably won’t notice the difference and you’ll still be Wonder Woman to them.
What’s most important may not be what you do, but what you do after what you did!* If you find yourself in regret mode, “I should have done this. I should have done that.”—a.k.a. “should-ing” on yourself, bring yourself back to the present moment. So instead of beating yourself up, decide that today may have been a wash, but tomorrow can be different. Shift out of the past (which you cannot change) and decide what you will do differently going forward.
Focus on the donut, not the hole.* In other words, focus on and enjoy what you have and not on what you don’t have. It probably will not change your circumstances, but it’s hard to be grateful and stressed at the same time. Try it. 😉 Better yet, create a gratitude list with your kids. Teaching them how to look at life through a positive lens is a lesson that will serve them their entire lives.
This passage from the Bible (Philippians 4:8) encourages us to focus on the good things in life, which is good advice: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Practical To-Do List to Counter Stress
This is where the rubber meets the road. Where you’ve absorbed all the theory you can and take action to implement all the good ideas you have!
Wearing all the hats isn’t just bad fashion sense. Moms wear all the hats, so you need to hear this: it’s OK to lighten the load, draw boundaries and prioritize. Our friend Dr. Landreth says, “Where there are no limits, there is no security.” While you can’t control everything, not attempting to set limits will just thrust you into chaos. This is where planning ahead is huge. Sit down with your spouse/partner and decide what you need to say “no” to. Then break down all the to-do items into manageable chunks and schedule them, as suggested below.
Ditch the scheduling myth. When you have 1001 things to do, you may hesitate to create and adhere to a schedule because you don’t want to commit. Just remember, you’re just writing things down, not chiseling them in stone! This may be counter-intuitive, but having a schedule is freeing. When you jot down your to do list and give each item a spot on your schedule, it will no longer dwell in the back of your mind. Instead of your brain buzzing with things you don’t want to forget, you can relax because you know you’ll get to a task in its allotted time block.
Lean on your peeps. Organize a network of other parents and helpers—and don’t be afraid to ask for help! Share carpooling responsibilities and help each other get the kids to soccer or chorus. It’s guaranteed that you’ll wonder how you got along without your circle once you have one.
Self-Care for Mummies
Number five on Dr. Landreth’s list is: You can’t give away what you don’t possess. If you don’t have patience, you can’t give patience. If you’re not at peace, you can’t set a tone of peace for your child or family. You can’t be “the thermostat” (#2) if you’re an emotional wreck. So that’s why being able to recharge yourself is so important.
By now you’ve heard that you have a primal part of your brain, the midbrain, that evolved to ensure our survival. Its job is to react, not think. Your prefrontal cortex is the thinking part of your brain, but when you’re angry or anxious your midbrain can take over and that’s when people snap and do things they might not have if they thought for a second.
So when you take a five-minute pitstop to decompress and refuel, you give yourself enough time to take some deep breaths (ever notice how shallowly you breathe?) and replenish the oxygen to your brain. When your brain has oxygen you can process, put gas in your engine and keep going.
Give yourself permission. Mom guilt is real. Be intentional about confronting your mom guilt. Know that it’ll always be there, and that you’ll ALWAYS do extra for your kids, even when they’re grown. (There is no such thing as an equitable relationship with your children.) So, you might as well make it a habit to enjoy yourself, indulge in a guilty pleasure (a cup of ice cream without another mouth on the spoon perhaps?) We’re not talking big things here. You fill their love buckets so much and ensure everyone is taken care of; it is OK to enjoy time for yourself. You give your kids permission to do things, now it’s time to give yourself permission! Mom guilt, at its core, is a connection and a love for your kids. Just acknowledge it and don’t let it get out of control.
Self-care doesn’t have to break the bank to count. Just the thought of self-care might send you into a tizzy! “I don’t have TIME for that! I don’t have MONEY for that!” (Sorta defeats the purpose, right?) So, what’s reality? For most of us, mini doses of self-care can work just fine.
There are many little things that we can do throughout the day that won’t take a lot of time. Walking obviously is a good one. Reading, journaling, drawing, painting—anything that engages the creative right brain and gives the critical-thinking left brain a break.
While we’re talking about the “little things” you can do, don’t forget to laugh. Laughter releases endorphins. It helps you take life less seriously and it’s free. Undoubtedly, your kids and pets make you laugh. But if you’re working, you can take a 10-minute break to watch a favorite comedian on YouTube!
And don’t forget to breathe. Yes, you’ve heard this before. You’ve heard it already in this article, but Americans are the most shallow-breathing people in the world! We don’t understand the value of a breath, compared to people from the East, where they invented meditation. They meditate and focus on their breath and deep breathing.
You can also make breathing into a game. Blow bubbles with your kids; it doesn’t cost a lot of money and there’s the added bonus of taking it outside. Breathe in through your nose and blow those bubbles out and challenge the kids to see how many they can pop.
Scream if you must. No, we’re not kidding or trying to be funny. Primal scream therapy is a thing. It vibrates your vagus nerve, which helps to regulate your emotions. If you vent controllably, then you’re in less danger of snapping when it’s least convenient—like at the Academy Awards. We’ll probably write another article about the vagus nerve and all its implications for your health!
Check in with yourself regularly. Life can be a hamster wheel if you let it. You can plod along nonstop for, well, forEVER. Learn to recognize when you need to step away and compose yourself. And you don’t have to wait till you’re under constant threat of dissolving into tears. The house won’t burn down, honest! Sit in a chair, take a deep breath and scan your body to see what’s tight or tense.
There’s a training tool in the mental health profession called the Wellness Wheel (see, already sounds much healthier!), which identifies six areas of life that affect our general wellbeing: physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, social and vocational. Target the areas that you feel are the most problematic for you and try some of our tips to restore your balance!
Dr. Gary Landreth’s Rules of Thumb
- Focus on the donut, not the hole!
- Be a thermostat, not a thermometer.
- What’s most important may not be what you do, but what you do after what you did!
- The parent’s toes should follow his/her nose.
- You can’t give away what you do not possess.
- When a child is drowning, don’t try to teach her to swim.
- During play sessions, limits are not needed until they are needed!
- If you can’t say it in 10 words or less, don’t say it.
- Grant in fantasy what you can’t grant in reality.
- Big choices for big kids, little choices for little kids.
- Never do for a child that which he can do for himself.
- Encourage the effort rather than praise the product.
- Don’t try to change everything at once!
- Where there are no limits, there is no security.
- Good things come in small packages.
Special thanks to Diana Shaw, Ed.S, LMHC for her help with this article. Diana is a neighbor to CIPC and The Salt Room Longwood. Her practice, Chaos Solutions Counseling, LLC, is located in our building. She specializes in integrated wellness (mental, emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual, and vocational). Diana helps her clients (ages 3 +) have a better understanding of themselves to better work through such challenges as anxiety, depression, and grief. She joins them on their journey as she teaches them tools to add to their toolbox of life. Call 407-708-9012 for appointments. Follow her Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/ChaosSolutionsCounseling/
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