You’ve seen the memes, right? The ones that say, “Motherhood is like a walk in a park… Jurassic Park.” We laugh because it’s 100 percent accurate.
Motherhood is no small feat. The pressure to do right by your kids can feel weighty and overwhelming, even on the good days. And the days where dinner’s not done, you’re behind at work, there’s traffic on the way to school pickup, and someone pukes in the car? Well, on those days, stress levels are definitely akin to what one might feel being chased by ferocious, genetically-engineered dinosaurs through an unfamiliar and dark jungle.
I am someone who feels stress quickly, and though I work on managing it every day, sometimes it causes me to behave in a manner that’s more suitable for a 3-year-old rather than the actual age I am. What I know is that during those times, I’m not the mom I want to be. I lose my patience; I get annoyed quickly; I forget that my kids are learning, growing, boundary-pushing children who are figuring out how to be in a society where the rules seem arbitrary and inconsistent.
That’s not fair to them.
So, for all of us, I work hard on dealing with overwhelming, managing anxiety, and reducing my stress daily. These are the five things that I try to do every day to keep my stress levels low.
This is not rocket science, but it is science. Deep breaths send a signal to your brain to calm down and relax. One of the easiest ways to get into relaxation breathing is to practice belly breaths. Sit or lie down comfortably, and place a hand on your belly. When you breathe in, make sure the hand on your belly is being pushed out and your chest remains still. Breathe slowly 5-10 times and feel instantly de-stressed. This is also a simple way to get kids started on relaxation breathing.
Deep breaths can help you maintain calm and clarity in particularly stressful situations. And practicing mindful breathing throughout the day can manage your stress in a way that makes those explosion-type moments a little rarer.
2. Take a walk
This combines two sure-fire stress relievers: fresh air and (albeit, light) exercise. As a parent, I’ve learned that both outside time and movement is so important to my kids in order to maintain their energy levels and sensorial balance. As it turns out, that’s something that’s important for all of us.
Fresh air is balancing and invigorating, and moving our bodies in any sort of manner gives us feelings of accomplishment, power, and stability. A brisk walk outdoors combines both of these for a powerful punch of stress relief. Sometimes, I’ll pop the kids in the stroller for some downtime, or other times, I’ll use my lunch break to take a walk around the neighborhood.
Either way, I’ve learned it’s better to leave my phone behind and just feel the air, listen to the sounds, and let the outdoors breathe life back into me.
Studies have shown that there are actually anxiety-reducing benefits to creative work, especially structured coloring, which brings on a meditative state. Next time you break out the crayons, paint, or Play-Doh for your kids, try to join in as well. You’ll be surprised at the instant calm that comes from doing something with your hands.
Over time, I’ve learned that this notion of stress-relief from creating also pertains to building (blocks and Legos with the kids absolutely works), cooking (not in a rush but for leisure), and writing (for fun or challenge, not work-related) for me. There is something about channeling creative energy and focus that can really be centering and calming.
Creating in any way brings me back down to earth and helps me unwind from a long day. But, even in a chaotic moment, getting a box of crayons and coloring books for the whole family can be a quick way to redirect all of that stressful energy.
This is a big one. All of those feelings of overwhelming to-do lists often create frustration in our heads before the day even begins. What we try to do in writing a list is to manage productivity, but what we actually do is just create an unsurmountable laundry list of never-ending tasks. And then, we let the weight of that list slowly eat at us until we’re at a breaking point. No? Just me?
Here’s how to make a better to-do list: write down the top three to five things you need to get done that day. That’s it. If you have another longer list of various things to do when you get to them, that’s fine, but keep that separate from your daily task list. Your daily task list should be manageable, not something that even Wonder Woman herself couldn’t get done in the course of a day.
Knowing that you have three things on your list will give you guidance for your day and also leave you feeling accomplished, not stressed out, at the end of it.
5. Put the phone away
Yes, that’s right, the thing you have that intense love-hate relationship with is causing you extra stress. There’s no shock there, right? The constant binging and pinging, the chimes and reminders, the notifications from this person and that – it’s all too much.
What having your phone on you at all times does is create the feeling that you are always “on.” It brings on a pressure to respond at once, check in to work even you’re off, and keep up with the Joneses on Instagram as if it actually matters. It doesn’t.
Everything (mostly) can wait. If there’s an emergency, the person will call twice. If you feel like you need your phone with you to use the camera, grab another camera or live the moment without photos this time.
Just give yourself a break. There will be a withdrawal curve, for sure. But then, you’ll be surprised at how much you don’t miss it.