A client recently shared that listening to podcasts always results in more anxiety for her because she feels there’s so much to learn and so much to do “right.” The burden to cultivate humans who survive their adolescence, care about themselves, others, their planet, nutrition, exercise, science, the arts, and the dog’s bathroom needs at the same time I’m cooking dinner after soccer practice and before piano lessons is…heavy. Parenting can become so stressful and exhausting it feels like a job with no benefits.
Moms often ask us for practical tips on how to feel less anxious and more happy in parenting. And we have many! However, a review of these coping skills is not a directive to add all of them to your to-do list. Once, after a session of coping skill review, a client walked out promising facetiously: “I’m going to do all the things!”
Herein lies the problem, of course. We can’t set the bar at doing all the things! Expecting ourselves to do all the things is a set up for failure. We will quickly find ourselves overwhelmed and unable to sustain so many changes at once. We then assume that WE are the failures rather than THE PLAN being a failure from the start.
Let’s set our intentions at trying to do one or two new things each week. Start with the steps that seem easiest to work into your busy schedule with the greatest potential reward. We want to choose steps that feel both important and achievable. The goal is to gradually build a package of strategies that replenishes your energy and helps you cope with uncomfortable feelings. You can try different strategies each week as you piece together a plan that works for you.
When you figure out your personalized collection of strategies that work, you’ll feel more emotionally stable and energized so you can actually enjoy your kids too. Parenting can be a job with perks for all of you!
Begin by selecting 2-3 strategies from the following menus. Each week examine what worked best and decide if you want to switch strategies or add a new one.
Strategies to Set Yourself Up For Success:
- Be open to the idea that you can improve the moment and, in doing so, can improve your day and your general well-being. Once you’re open, ask yourself, “How can I feel better in the next 10 minutes?…the next hour?”
- Police your social media exposure. Clients often admit that after they’ve scrolled through facebook or instagram they find themselves feeling “frantic,” “anxious,” or “less than” as they inevitably compare their personal lives to others’ highlight reels
- Remove apps from your home screen
- Turn off notifications
- Snooze people who increase your distress
- Consider how your exposure to the news affects your fears, hope, irritability. For example, if you know you are anti-war and you collect clothes for relocated war victims, then maybe give yourself permission to stop reading or listening to the horrible details of war. If you can’t sleep tonight, that doesn’t help the war victims. The same is true no matter what stressful news you’re consuming. Take action in ways that feel meaningful then set limits on absorbing more content.
- Assert yourself and your needs at home and work. Let the people who are closest to you know that you need to prioritize taking care of yourself and what they can do to support this. Where possible, speak your mind. Research shows that lack of assertiveness is correlated with low mood.
- Say no to obligations and people who drain you. Your energy, time and attention are limited resources that you must spend wisely. In order to have what you need for yourself and your family, you must set limits elsewhere.
- Go to therapy. Sometimes we need a professional to help us sort through our feelings and take steps toward healing.
- Carefully consider your circle of control and actively shed worries that lie outside of it. Apply rock solid boundaries where possible. If someone’s issue is not in your square, let go and leave it to them.
- Adopt a present-tense focus over dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Catch yourself shining your brain spotlight on thoughts like: “I wouldn’t feel this way if 5 years ago I had…” or “If she can’t do it now how will she ever move out of the house?” Rein in that light. Refocus. Stay present.
Strategies to Replenish Your Energy & Boost Your Mood
- Practice Daily Gratitude https://lakefrontpsychology.com/2019/09/20/boosting-joy-with-gratitude-practical-steps-to-build-a-meaningful-practice/
- If you have a partner, schedule time to connect or possibly have sex.
- Move your body.
- Get outside into nature.
- Watch a funny movie or show.
- Connect with a friend.
- Name your feeling and practice holding space for it. Just allow the feeling to be present and notice how it feels in your body, heart, and mind for a few breaths.
- Read a book (for adult audiences!).
- Revive a hobby or activity you’ve always loved.
- Celebrate your daily successes. Make a ta-da list rather than a to-do list. Note all of your successes each day, including when you choose NOT to do something that would be draining.
- Create a calm or inspiring space for yourself in your home.
- Speak to yourself like you would to someone you deeply loved and respected.
Strategies to Enjoy Time With Your Kids
- Teach your kids about something you love. Share your passions and interests with them in ways they can participate. Show them how to cook your favorite meal, point out your local trees during a hike, listen to your favorite musical artist together or share your love of your favorite sports team. The options are endless.
- Do things you genuinely enjoy doing with your kids rather than what you think parents should be doing or what others are doing. Stop worrying about enrichment or instagram worth moments. Watch shows you both enjoy, cheer on your football team, walk the dog, play cards, flip through magazines, sing.
- Spend 10-15 minutes doing something your kid really loves to do. Let them teach you all about it knowing you have a time limit. Do not instruct or direct. Simply absorb. And then be proud of yourself for joining their world!
- Record your kids doing activities they enjoy, then watch the videos together.
- Teach kids how to help you with household chores. They learn to appreciate the work of running a household and eventually reduce your daily burden.
- Share gratitudes with your kids.
- Laugh. What were you doing the last time you laughed together? Do more of that.
We hope you find satisfaction in choosing your own adventure with these strategies. Focusing on “some of the things,” rather than “all of the things” is a gift you can give yourself and your family.
Co-written by Carrie King, Ph.D., Clinical Child Psychologist and Suzanne J. Smith, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist. If you are interested in learning more about Dr. King’s work, you can visit her website https://drcarrieking.com/