Have you ever Googled “eliminate stress” only to find a long list of impossible tasks from people who obviously don’t have a job and aren’t married with kids? My personal favorite ideas were to quit work (really… because last time I checked you work to earn money to care for your family and quitting work would add considerable stress to your life), have an open schedule (this is laughable as my schedule is almost entirely dictated by my kid’s activities), and avoid difficult people (yes, that is really possible when you work with difficult people all day long). You already know that you need to reduce the stress in your life but having ridiculous suggestions about how to go about it only increases stress and gives you the impression that reducing stress in your very busy life is impossible. It’s not.
Here are a few suggestions that been tested and proven to be effective by very busy people like you.
- Know where you are going. As silly as it sounds, having goals for each area of your life actually reduces stress. For instance, if your goal with your teenage son is to help him be a self-sufficient adult who is not stuck playing video games on your sofa at age 25 then you have a goal. With that goal in mind he should be making his own meals, taking care of his own laundry, and working at a part-time job. Doing this process for each area of your life makes decisions easier and less stressful.
- Stick to your plan. Using the teenage son example you will undoubtedly be met with stiff resistance on his part as you enforce the new direction. This is good. As a parent your responsibility is to teach your child to become a functional adult it is not to be their friend (hopefully that will come much later). By remembering your goal and sticking with it and serving out consequences for not following the plan, you will reduce more stress in the long run but not the short run.
- Set realistic expectations. Just because you spent all day cleaning the floors of your house does not mean that anyone will even notice. If you clean the floors expecting gratitude or praise then you are likely to be disappointed. Instead, recognize that you like the floors clean and you are really cleaning them for yourself.
- Monitor your thoughts. This is a biggie for most women as thoughts tend to run ramped and one strange phone call can leave you replaying it for hours if not days. Give yourself the two times rule. You are allowed to replay a conversation two times but any more than that you need to distract yourself and move on. Think about it for a second, when was it ever productive to waste a bunch of time obsessing over something that you can’t change.
- Be your own best friend. Your inner dialogue should be as kind to yourself as you are to your best friend. Would you ever look at your best friend and call her “stupid” for making a mistake at work or call her “fat” for eating a piece of chocolate cake or call her “loser” for missing an appointment? Of course not! So stop doing this to yourself.
- It’s ok to say “no”. Mommy guilt runs strong and powerful especially when you are working and you know that your kids don’t have your undivided attention. This means that some activities will conflict with work forcing you to say the dreaded “no” word. It’s ok, you are not in this alone and it is good to teach your kids that they can’t get everything they want when they want it. Remember the bigger picture.
- Don’t lie. It is very tempting to play God and believe that you know what someone else is thinking and can make someone feel better by telling a little lie. But lies have a strange way of catching up to you and creating much bigger problems and stress in the end. So make a habit of being truthful even if it might hurt someone’s feelings.
- Set boundaries in your life. Boundaries are like walls which are very useful after all who wants to watch you in the bathroom at work (ok, I admit that visualization was a bit over the top but highly effective). Here are some practical stress reducing boundaries: don’t answer your phone when it rings, check email only three times a day, non-emergency communication gets an automatic 24 hour wait before responding, and limit social media stuff to once a day.
- Choose OCD behaviors wisely. Some OCD tendencies are rather useful such as always putting your keys or purse in the exact same place every day. This eliminates the mad dash to find things. But some OCD behaviors are not useful such as needing to wash your hands 50 times a day or cleaning obsessively with bleach. Get help for the behaviors that you need to change and embrace new habits that are time savers.
- Work on you, not everyone else. In the end, you are only responsible for yourself. (Yes, there are those kids of yours but they are already responsible for some of their behaviors and most likely need more not less responsibility.) When you take time to work on your own issues instead of pretending they don’t exist, you will find more energy. After all, you can’t give what you don’t already have.
Reducing stress in your life does not have to be about taking a yoga class, changing you schedule, exercising more and eating healthy. These are all external things, not internal things. And while these things certainly have their place, the best place to start is in your mind.
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