This post is sponsored by Well Being Trust.
If you are a busy working mom, then chances are you’ve had your share of stress. Our families depend on us to be supermoms, leap tall buildings in a single bound, solve every problem, and do so in a consistent fashion. But sometimes, it can be too much. The weight of it all can be overwhelming and before we know it, we are overcome with stress.
I’ve been there myself. When both my son and daughter were younger and I was working a full-time job in Corporate America, I was burning both ends. On top of working a 40+ week, being the taxi and shuffling the kids around, being a wife, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of home, I was also attending college to get my degree. One night on my way home from school, I pulled over and balled my eyes out. I forgot a major deadline at work, missed my son’s band concert, and my daughter had a fever. I felt like a failure.
Hindsight now tells me that I was overdoing the dramatics a bit, but it was a stressful time and I had a lot on my plate. At that time, I didn’t know how to deal with stress and I wasn’t even aware what my triggers were. I also didn’t know how to deal with stress.
Ten years later, I have it pretty much figured out. I don’t sweat the small stuff, and I don’t try to do it all. I manage instead of balance and I avoid stress and protect my peace at all costs.
I recently got the opportunity to interview Dr. Robin Henderson, PsyD on the topic of stress and triggers. She’s a Clinical Liaison at Providence St. Joseph’s Health to the Well Being Trust, whose mission is to improve the mental, social, and spiritual health of the nation. With the major readership of my blog comprised of working moms, I wanted her to share her expert tips on how to deal with stress.
Here’s what she had to say about stress, self-care, and more.
On the definition of stress.
Stress is a natural human response to stimulus, real or imagined. There are a lot of definitions out there on the internet, and they all struggle with one of the great realities of stress–some stress is good, some stress is bad—and the reality is, it’s different for every person in every situation. Good stress, also known as “eustress”, is the positive kind of stress that can energize us to complete a task, climb that mountain, run an extra mile, get out on stage and perform, or even just get through a tough situation with more resilience. Bad stress, also known as “distress”, is the stuff that can make us angry, sad, feel helpless, overwhelmed and, in many cases, make us sick. We need eustress in our lives. The problem is, each of us has to become aware of when eustress becomes distress, and most of us aren’t really great at that!
On if working moms adequately handle stress.
I think working moms are at risk for not understanding their line between eustress and distress due to the many competing priorities they have. We all feel that pressure to be a “good mom”, a “good partner” and a “good employee.” In pursuit of all those goods, we often forget to be a “good me” too—and that’s distressing! As a mom, it’s so easy to put your own needs aside and attend to all the other priorities, but what we don’t realize is how much more effective we’d be at all of them if we weren’t stressed out. That balance gets lost in the mix, and many moms start to go down the slippery slope of distress until they hit the proverbial “wall”. My hope is that the wall each of us hits is soft, and doesn’t do permanent damage. It’s one thing to wake up and realize you just don’t have the energy to do anything today because you’ve stressed yourself into a cold. It’s another to wake up and realize you’ve stressed yourself into something more chronic like diabetes or hypertension.
On what some of the triggers of stress are.
I think we’re all pretty good at defining distress after it occurs. We’re often our own “Captain Obvious” when we get out of a stressful situation like a big life event, or maybe a situation that we realize afterwards wasn’t really our cup of tea. What I think we’re bad at is defining “toxic stress.” Toxic stress is most often defined as prolonged stress without adequate emotional support—such as the effects of abuse, trauma, poverty, chronic illness, and family dysfunction. When we’re in those environments where stress becomes the constant, we are constantly firing those internal mechanisms, and that has long term effects on our well-being. This is especially true for children—the long term effects of toxic stress are life-changing, and result in much higher incidents of illness, poverty, and criminal behavior later in life. It also leads to substance use disorders, chronic pain, and many other conditions that start as dysfunctional coping mechanisms for toxic stress, then spiral out of control.
On the importance of self-care to help downplay stress.
I’m a big fan of “me time.” It doesn’t have to be a long time, but making time each day just for me is important. Whether it’s 15 minutes in the morning with coffee, a quiet bath, or even a minute of meditative breathing before you start your commute home can make a difference. It’s intentionality that’s important. Finding time for you, your partner, and your children is also important. We have “family game night’ each week, and we play a variety of board games. Sometimes other friends come over but it’s really just our time to connect, laugh and do something completely silly. My children are now 15 and 17, and last night, we had a rousing game of “Exploding Kittens”, one of the silliest card games I’ve ever played! Just the fun of doing something completely silly together reduced everyone’s stress with one of my favorite stress reducers: Laughter. They say “laughter is the best medicine.” Well, it really is. Find the humor in your work life, family life, relationships and even your commute, and your life will be less stressful every day.
On how working moms can manage stress.
Organization is a big help. I take time each weekend to plan what’s for dinner during the week, ensure the shopping is done, and post the menu in the kitchen. That eliminates the constant “what’s for dinner” struggles, and sets me up for success so I don’t have to think about it when I get home. We also have a family calendar with upcoming events posted where everyone can see it. This also reduces surprises during the week. We all have family chores so we share the responsibility. Whether it’s feeding the cat, changing the litterbox, doing the dishes, or even who takes out the garbage, don’t take it all on yourself. And, recognize that your family is imperfect—and when they fail to do something, it’s not your job to do it for them. It’s your opportunity to teach them responsibility and let them do it. I have two kids, and years ago, my husband created the perfect system that eliminated power struggles over who gets to be “first”—who gets the front seat, the first plate of dinner, first whatever—and who feeds the cats that day. He created “even” and “odd” days—and let the children choose whether they were “even” or “odd”. This one time decision has eliminated more power struggles in my home for more than a decade! It’s little things that reduce all the little power struggles that can make a big difference for a working mom.
Wow—Dr. Robin really hit the nail on the head for me, and I am sure that her insight can help all of us live better, more “eustress” lives!
The theme I get most from this conversation is to not be too hard on yourself, plan and organize so that you are less stressed, and take time out regularly alone and with your family to create an atmosphere of love, strength, and laughter.
I am all for that!