Life can be hard. Add being a parent into the mix and sometimes it can feel down right impossible. I thought life was stressful before taking care of 2 littles, but I really had no idea. The pressures of trying to succeed at work, trying to be the perfect mom, the perfect spouse, and take care of myself ultimately caused me to burn out.
What I didn’t know at the time is that stress (in all forms mental & physical) can wreak havoc on your health. Now that I’m on the other side of my burnout healing journey, I’ve made it my mission to share the items that helped me the most. Purpose, sleep, nutrition, mindset, detox, and movement are all key players in my stress management toolbox, but today I want to focus on some of my “in the moment” tools.
These are for when shit is hitting the fan, so to speak. Maybe your toddler is throwing a tantrum inside Target, your kids are fighting at home, you’re sick of being touched and crawled over, your strong-willed kid just pushed your biggest trigger button, or maybe it’s your brain telling you stories like “I’m a bad mom”.
No matter the situation, these are my top 3 strategies for dealing with stress in the moment:
Our bodies are miraculous. They do so much for us without even thinking. Our food is digested, our heart beats, our liver detoxes, and our brain continually monitors our surrounding for threats without a single conscious thought to do so.
This is all thanks to our autonomic nervous system which is divided into 2 parts: the sympathetic (fight/flight/freeze) & parasympathetic (rest & digest) nervous systems.
The piece I find most intriguing is that we have basically no control over these systems. By design, we can’t choose when our brains decide to declare when we’re in danger. Baby screaming in public? Adrenaline. Missed deadlines at work? Adrenaline. Housework that feels like it’s never ending? Adrenaline. You get the idea.
If we could have our way, those everyday stressors wouldn’t trigger our fight/flight/freeze response (which is stressful on the body). But here’s the fun part, we can have our way. There is one ANS function that we CAN control.
Our breath. We can consciously choose to breathe deeply and exhale slowly.
When your exhale is even a few counts longer than your inhale, the vagus nerve (running from the neck down through the diaphragm) sends a signal to your brain to turn up your parasympathetic nervous system and turn down your sympathetic nervous system (e.g. switching from fight/flight/freeze to rest/digest).
During times of high stress I use a 4-7-8 pattern (breath in for 4, hold for 7, out for 8) to calm down. If you run through the cycle 3-4 times I guarantee you’ll feel completely different than you did 5-minutes prior. It’s magical and accessible at all times.
“I’m a bad mom”, “I feel like I’m failing”, “Everything is terrible”… and so on.
These are all thoughts I’ve had (and will continue to have in the future) and I’m sure you can relate. I hear renditions of the above from my clients all the time. The interesting part is that these thoughts are never true, in fact they couldn’t be more opposite from the truth. Why is that?
Have you heard of the black dot theory? This is a trick I use whenever I need perspective or am feeling myself spiral on negative thoughts and emotions. Before I explain it, first let me ask you what do you see when you look at the image below?
Do you see a black dot?
………….or do you see all the beautiful white space surrounding it?
As humans we are designed to fixate on all the black dots (a.k.a. failures, sources of pain, fears, etc) in our lives. It’s a survival mechanism that played an important role when we were outrunning lions in the wild or trying to avoid eating poisoned berries, but that’s not where we are anymore (thank goodness!).
We fixate on the black dots in our lives and forget to celebrate all the beautiful white space that surrounds us. Our wins, even when they’re huge wins, are fleeting and forgotten almost as quickly as they arrived.
We have to retrain our brains to focus on the white space. We have to let perfectionism go and celebrate the progress.
When I’m in one of those thought spirals I ask myself “where is the white space?”. That simple question is usually enough for me to shift perspective back into the positive and away from my anxiety.
Next time you’re focused on the black dots in your life, remind yourself to look for the white space. Put the question on sticky notes and hang them where you will see them daily.
Sometimes moments feel really heavy. When feelings of guilt or shame arise around my parenting I’m at my most bleak, but triggers will be different for everyone. In those moments I pull out the big guns and lean on self compassion.
I’ve noticed that as parents we tend to be our harshest critics, but yet if a friend were feeling the same emotions we would offer only empathy and compassion. Why don’t we extend the same kindness to ourselves?
Offering yourself compassion is all about dropping into the moment and feeling your tough emotions instead of suppressing them. I love using Dr. Kristen Neff’s self compassion break as a guide, it goes like this:
And that’s it. You can go through this process any time you need it for the current moment or moments that have already happened in the past.
Part of my job is to help clients understand what stress management tools work for them and when to use them. It’s pure magic when a client realizes that theres SO MUCH white space around them that they couldn’t see before. It’s truly one of my favorite aspects of coaching.
If you’re ready to get control of the stress in your life, book a call. I’d love to help.