Tag Archives: Stress

Bam! Life Happens!

Hi Mama! Tell me if you can relate to this:

I was plugging along really great! I was focused on my “School Year’s Resolutions” and making great progress. My to-do list at home was under control. Regular routines were in place. My house was (relatively) clean. We were making it to all our scheduled activities and even making it on time. Lunches were made, breakfasts eaten, laundry done. Then bam! Something happened that threw it all out of whack.
In my case, it was a car accident – rear ended in a three-car hit-and-run accident. Fortunately we (my son and I) are fine. Beyond whiplash we have no major injuries. I am very grateful. But now there are doctor’s visits, endless phone calls with insurance agents, a rental car to arrange, a new car to shop for, negotiations to make, a nagging headache and shoulder pain… And suddenly the house is a mess, there are papers piling up on the counter, I forget about a meeting at my son’s school, my dog eats one of our passports and my checkbook, my step-son informs me that he and all his room mates have scabies (don’t get me started on how grossed out I am – I’m not sure if he is allowed to come home for Christmas!), a Halloween costume must get made, and the weekend is obliterated with soccer games and a Cub Scout camp-out. How can it all get out of balance so quickly? And the more behind I get the more I just want to curl up in my sweats and watch mindless TV.
Please tell me you can relate to this. Surely I’m not the only one who gets dismally sidetracked.
So how do you get back on track? By doing one thing. Dispose of one piece of junk mail. Empty one overflowing garbage can. Wash one dish. Make your bed. Pay one bill. It doesn’t matter what you start with. Just do one thing.
There are those who will tell you that you need to take stock of what needs doing. Make a list and prioritize it. Then start with the most pressing task. It’s true. Prioritizing a list is helpful. Clearly, paying your water bill before the city shuts it off is more important than sorting through the junk mail piling up in the front entrance. But sometimes it’s overwhelming to look at the big picture. Sometimes you just need to start – anywhere – and build some momentum before you can see what is most important. This is a strategy I used when writing papers in grad school. Start in the middle. I could stare at a blank paper (or screen) forever trying to figure out how to start. So instead I would skip the beginning and start somewhere in the middle. I would pick something I knew I wanted to include in the essay and write it down. Then later, when I had a better idea of how it was shaping up, I could go back to the beginning.
So, I did a load of laundry and swept the floor. I could see it needed doing. The rest will come. I know it will. I’ll just keep plugging away one thing at a time.
I know this article isn’t the one I promised you about modeling values for your children – but it’s better than staring at a blank screen. You gotta start where you’re at!
PS. If you are looking for more strategies to get things done, accomplish a goal or develop a habit, consider joining the next G.o. B.i.g. class. Connect with others who can cheer you on and hold you accountable. Click here for more information.

15 Nov 2013

School Year’s Resolutions

Labor Day is over; the unofficial end to summer. Another school year has begun. We have new school supplies, new back packs, new shoes and new attitudes. “This year I will get my kids to school on time every single day.” “This year I will always make my son a healthy lunch – no more school lunches.”

I have always thought that New Year’s Resolutions made more sense in the fall. I’ve spent the majority of my life tied to the school year so I guess I’m programmed to think of fall as a time of new beginnings. Do you have resolutions this fall? What are you trying to do differently? What projects are you trying to get done? And what has stopped you from accomplishing it thus far?

There are lots of things that stop us from achieving our goals. Here are few of them:

1. Unrealistic Expectations – You have a to-do list that is three pages long and includes things like “re-finish the kitchen cabinets, plant a garden, read to the children every night, establish a family game night, get more sleep, make my own baby food… If you are trying to (like Mary Poppins) be perfect in every way then you are setting yourself up for failure. Choose one thing to focus on at a time and then break it down into smaller steps.

2. You Don’t Believe You Can Do It - If you don’t believe it’s possible you will sabotage your success. It’s important to get your emotional mind on board. You have achieved many things in your lifetime that have required skills and talents. Inventory your strengths and put them to use.

3. There is Never Enough Time - It’s true. There is never enough time. There will never be enough time to do all the things you want to do. But there is enough time to do some of them. If you decide to make something a priority you will do it. The tough part is that many of us habitually put our own desires (and often our needs) at the bottom of the list.

4. You’re Overwhelmed at the Thought of Adding Something Else to Your Plate - This is a sign that self-care needs to move to the top of your list. That doesn’t mean you need to leave your family for a weekend at the spa (though go for it if you can manage it!). For busy mothers, self-care sometimes means spending 2 minutes by yourself in the bathroom. Savor that cup of coffee in the morning instead of gulping it down without even noticing it. Stop to enjoy the sun on your face for a moment. Go to bed 10 minutes earlier than you did last night.

I struggle with all these issues – sometimes all at once! But I know that change is possible and I know that goals can be achieved. One of my School Year’s Resolutions is to finally start an online support group for you folks. I’ve been thinking about it for 3 years – 3 years! Do you have any projects that have been on the back burner for that long? Or worse, has your own self-care been on the back burner for that long? Are you ready take action – even a teeny, tiny action that you’re sure no-one will notice? Join me and work together in accomplishing something – anything! Watch your email for more details coming soon!

First Published 2013

15 Nov 2013

Prepare for the Journey

suitcaseHave you ever had a dream that seems to hit you over the head with a message? Last night I had one of those dreams… I was going on a trip with my family and, try as I might, I could not get ready to go. There was always something else I needed to do first. We were late and everyone was waiting on me. But I needed to clean the dried-up macaroni out of my son’s bed (don’t ask me – it was a dream!), and fold the laundry, and create a detailed Christmas shopping list. Someone needed me to find clean socks and someone else wanted me to help with a project. My husband wanted to make sure I printed out directions and knew where we were going. Every time I went to pack my own bags and get ready to go, something else needed to be done.

I woke up anxious. But it was a good reminder for me. “Take care of yourself. Be prepared for the journey.”

I’ve been busy – but let’s face it. We’re always busy. There is always something that needs to get done and there is always someone who needs something from you. It is so easy to make ourselves last on the list of priorities. Make sure you take the time you need to care of yourself.

So today I want you to make yourself a cup of tea, or sit in a sunny window for ten minutes, or buy yourself some fresh flowers, take a bath, breathe deeply for 3 minutes, finish a small task that has been nagging you forever (not start a big project that will swallow you up!), color a picture out of your child’s coloring book, read a poem, write a poem, doodle for 5 minutes….Anything that will nourish your soul and remind you that to live your best life, you must make yourself a priority. Be prepared for the journey!

First Published 2011

15 Nov 2013

Don’t Let Perfectionism Ruin the Holidays

MC900439764[1]How is your “to do” list looking? I’ve been crossing things off mine – not because they’re completed, but because I’ve decided some things just won’t get done this year. My excuse is that we will be leaving town in a week, so our holiday season at home is truncated. We have a Christmas tree, holiday music, and some greenery. But no exterior lights on our house this year. No holiday hand towels in the bathroom or tea towels in the kitchen. I have not sent Christmas cards yet, but I still hope to complete those. However if I don’t, it’s ok. I can let people know I appreciate them in other ways, all year long.

So, how are you doing? Do you need to cross some things off your list too? We all want Christmas to be special for our families. But sometimes we lose sight of what is important.

Perfectionism can ruin the holidays. Trying to have the perfect holiday dinner, the perfect Christmas tree, the perfect family picture, the perfect gift for everyone on your list….only leads to stress, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. Stressed-out Mom does not make for happy holiday memories. So stop trying for perfect and settle instead for “good enough.”

A “good enough” Christmas is one where you do what you can and let go of the rest. A few decorations and some holiday music provide a wonderful backdrop for a family gathering. Make one batch of cookies with your kids, not twenty. Send a few Christmas cards, not a hundred. Your children will not remember how beautiful your perfectly roasted turkey was. They may not even remember the gifts they got this particular year. But they will remember the feeling of joy that comes from happy times with their family.

Here are just a few of the things I remember from my childhood holidays:
  • The smell of hot apple cider
  • The feel of buttered hands and hot caramel while making popcorn balls
  • Skating with my dad
  • Cold toes and nose after sledding
  • Being allowed to stay up way past my bedtime in order to go to the candle light Christmas Eve service
  • Putting red and green garnishes on my Moms Christmas wreath shortbread cookies
  • Singing Christmas carols around the piano
  • Making special gifts (the kind only a mother – or a best friend could love)

What are your best memories of the holidays? What memories are you creating with your kids this year? I hope your season is filled with good smells, happy sounds and plenty of love and light!


First Published 2009


07 Nov 2013

A Good Enough Christmas

MC900439764[1]Well, it’s the second week of December and the holidays are officially upon us. I’ve been meaning to write a short piece on managing holiday stress, but I’ve been too busy shopping for presents, digging out the Christmas cards that I bought on sale last year (haven’t written any yet), removing the Thanksgiving masterpieces from the fridge to make way for the painted snowmen and cut-out snowflakes, putting the fall pumpkins in the compost, making 15 pairs of elf shoes for the kindergarten show, getting decorations out of storage…

Amazing isn’t it? The holidays have a momentum of their own. When kept in balance, we can bounce along on the excitement, anticipation and good cheer of the season, but too often our expectations and commitments run out of control like the snowball rolling down the mountain. The crash at the bottom is never a pretty sight and the best we can hope for is getting through Christmas dinner without any bloodshed.

So, what’s the secret to having a perfect Christmas (or any other major holiday)? The answer is to stop trying to have a perfect Christmas. Instead, aim for having a “good-enough” Christmas. Practice saying these phrases until they roll off your tongue: “It’s just fine the way it is.” “That’s good enough.” “Not this year.” “That’s enough for now.”

Perfectionism, as always, can hijack your holidays and turn Christmas cheer into a nightmare. We try to do too much. We try to do it perfectly. We want our homes and families to look like the ones on the greeting cards and magazine covers. The job of decorating (or baking, or writing the Christmas cards and family letters, or shopping for perfect presents…) seems overwhelming because of our huge expectations. Then, we procrastinate and leave things until the last minute. Then we turn into raving lunatics. Then, if they know what’s best for them, our families avoid us because “Mom’s in one of those moods.” Lots of fun and Christmas cheer, huh?

So, downsize the expectations. Don’t sit and think about the witty Christmas letter you’re going to write complete with a photo journal of the year. Instead, get up and spend 15 minutes addressing Christmas cards. Then say “that’s enough for now.” Spend 15 minutes putting up some Christmas decorations, then say “That looks great. It’s just fine the way it is.” Make paper snowflakes with your children for 15 minutes and then say “that was fun. Maybe we can do some more tomorrow.” Don’t let the tasks become big and overwhelming. Just do a little and then let it go. You are much more likely to enjoy the holiday preparations this way. Put on the Christmas music and have fun.

Next on the list is to take a minute to reflect on your family traditions. Do you enjoy them? Do you feel enslaved buy a particular ritual? A few years ago a friend of mine told me about a family tradition that has since gone by the wayside. In her home, Santa was the one who put the lights on the Christmas tree. This meant that after spending Christmas Eve with the in-laws, driving an hour and a half home, getting two excited, over-tired children off to bed, and filling stockings, then they had to put the lights on the Christmas tree. They never got more than a few hours of sleep before having to get up and be festive and cheery. Re-evaluate which traditions are meaningful, enjoyable and worthy of your time and energy. If they bring more stress than joy, let them go.

Thirdly, notice how much of your attention is focused on the final product of your activity and how much is focused on the activity itself. Are you worried about how the gingerbread house looks? Does each cookie have to be perfectly shaped? Each present a work of art? (Note the subtext here: are you a control freak?) When possible, try to shift your attention to the process. What your children will remember is a feeling of happiness. Joy in the home. Good smells. Good times. They will remember the fun of decorating the tree, not how perfectly balanced the color scheme is.

Now, I’m not telling you that you need to let the kids be in charge of everything. If there are some things that are important to you, be clear about it. If you want to have grown-up, color-coordinated decorations in the dining room, that’s fine. Just let your kids know that these decorations are for mommy to do and provide a place of honor elsewhere for the paper chains and handprint Santas.

Finally, I want to say a little word about the stress of extended family. There are many people for whom holiday cheer is mixed with varying amounts of dread regarding the family gatherings. Family events can stir up painful memories, highlight differences of opinion and provide a stage for bad behavior. In order to minimize the effect of this stress on your holiday experience, spend some time preparing. Decide ahead of time how long to stay at a family function. Give yourself permission to “step outside for some fresh air” if you need a break. Talk with your partner about your concerns and plan a graceful exit strategy.

One common mistake is to go into the situation hoping, wishing, begging for things to be different. This is a set-up for disappointment. It is unlikely that any huge transformations or enlightenment has happened since the last family gathering. The flip side of the same coin is to enter the event already angry about how it’s going to turn out. You look for and anticipate the problems before they occur. You are ready for a battle at the drop of a hat.

In both scenarios, you are contributing to the dynamic of conflict. The best thing to do (though not easy, I know) is to accept the situation for what it is. Your resentment and your “wishing things were different” only contribute to your stress. They don’t change the situation. Don’t expect anyone to behave any differently than they always have – if they do, consider it your Christmas bonus. Instead, just come prepared with some coping skills and a healthy dose of light-heartedness.

I read a brief article on Oprah’s website (all good clinical research begins with Oprah, doesn’t it?) about strategies for coping with difficult family gatherings. There were a couple of fun ways to avoid being sucked into the same old family arguments and destructive patterns of behavior. Maintaining a sense of humor and playfulness is hard to do around people who drive you crazy, but it will help you tremendously if you can do it.

Martha Beck suggests comparing stories with a good friend before and after the holidays. Make an agreement to see who can come back with the best tale of family dysfunction. Whoever returns with the best story gets a free lunch. Then, during the family gathering you can be viewing the shenanigans as good comedy material. Plan how you will tell the story. You could be a winner!

Alternatively, Beck suggests making yourself a bingo card of the words and phrases you expect (or dread) to hear your family say. When you get a “bingo” you must sneak off and call your friend. Whoever gets “bingo” first gets a free lunch.

Activities like this can help you shift your perspective. They are not meant to be mean-spirited and should never be shared with the family at large. It is a way for you to protect yourself from your own anger and resentment. If you can maintain a sense of humor, perhaps your family dinner can be salvaged.

Regardless of your particular challenges this holiday season, I wish you heaps of love and happiness, laughter, excitement, good smells, joyous sounds, moments of peace, and warm feelings. All the best to you and your loved ones!


First Published 2008

06 Nov 2013