The uncertainty in the world may be getting on your nerves, and the problem is that you are not the only one you need to worry about. Your children can also feel your stress and that can create stressed kids. If you and your children were struggling with anxiety before the pandemic, it has now probably heightened. Summer may have provided some respite, but new worries may be cropping up. What’s a parent to do when there are so many issues to worry about and no chance of knowing with certainty that your feared outcomes won’t come true?
Here are a few questions to help you gauge your current stress level:
- Have you found yourself getting upset by trivial situations?
- Have you found it difficult to wind down?
- Have you found yourself over-reacting to different circumstances throughout the day?
- Have you been unable to relax?
- Have you found it difficult to calm down after something upset you?
- Have you been in a state of nervous tension?
- Have you felt overly sensitive and touchy?
- Have you found yourself becoming easily agitated?
Whether your stress level is high or low, take a moment to PAUSE every day. This break may help you recognize that you don’t have to bow down to stress and the anxious thoughts your mind generates all day long.
- Prioritize. Are your daily deeds harmonizing with your values — the things that matters most to you? If a loved one was observing you from afar, would they be able to see by your actions that you are living a meaningful life? Is your stress getting in the way of doing so? Keep a log of your daily activities for one week to notice if you need to add, change or decrease some activities. Changes to your routine may provide you with more peace and purpose each day.
- Adjust to your present circumstances. It has been rough for all of us lately, more for some than others. If you are a parent, it is extra difficult to stay calm and flexible. Your kids are watching how you are handling adversity. Developing flexibility takes time and practice. Every night before retiring to bed, invite your kids to notice their breathing. Ask them to place their hands on their chest or belly and notice how it rises as they breathe in and how it falls as they exhale. You and your family can do this together for one minute every night or more often if possible. This simple practice is a step towards becoming aware of your body and more flexible during stressful times.
- Unwind. Make sure you save time for yourself every day. Plug in time to unwind and not plug yourself into social media. Take a break from it, and do something else. If your mind insists that this activity is the only one that can help you unwind, treat your mind as a separate entity from you and genuinely thank it, “Thanks Mind.” Then do something different. Read a book, go for a walk, play a sport, build or create something, play a real board game with your kids, dance, or listen to some music.
- Self-compassion. As a parent you may believe that it’s selfish to practice self-care and self-compassion. There is plenty of research that confirms that you cannot give what you don’t have. Are you treating yourself like your best friend or your worst enemy? Take time to acknowledge the stressful moments, “Wow, this is hard right now.” Remember that you are not alone when it comes to pain and suffering, “Others are feeling like I do.” Then say kind words to yourself, “May I be kind and patient with myself right now,” and give yourself a hug!
- Engage in what matters right here, right now. You’ve had many experiences in the past and will yet experience many more in the future. However, the past is over and gone. Sometimes you may get caught up in lamenting what could’ve or should’ve been, but getting stuck in the past does not help your present. On the other hand, becoming obsessed and worried about the future only takes you to a seemingly endless rabbit hole. There is no way to prevent future events despite what your mind tells you. See if you can catch yourself time traveling (to the past or the future), and gently bring yourself back to the present moment — the only time that matters.
Take time every day to PAUSE and see if it can help you find more joy in your parenting and overall life despite challenging times.