If you’re anything like me there are always several months of the year (usually in the winter) where stress reaches critical mass. When I was in school, it was usually around this point that I started missing classes, getting behind on homework, and getting very little rest. Now that I’m working, it consists of getting in late, getting behind on projects, and (still) getting very little rest.
Whether you’re a working mom or a stay-at-home working mom, here are some tips to help you manage those stressful times (and maybe avoid them entirely).
Tip #1: Write, Write, Write
I can’t tell you how important it is to write your feelings. Even if it’s just for 10-15 minutes a day, write down what frustrates you or what you’re feeling discouraged about. If you have only a few minutes a day, try starting a stress journal. When you feel stressed, take a second to write down what you think caused the stress (even if you’re guessing), what you’re feeling (headache, anxiety, nausea), and what you did or are going to do to relieve it.
This will help you in two ways. After awhile, you’ll be able to recognize and avoid stressful situations. You’ll also be able to review your coping strategies to find what works for you. Doing this for 1-2 weeks can really help you identify stressors and find which coping mechanisms are most effective.
Tip #2: Eat and Sleep Right
Oftentimes when we get stressed, the first thing we stop taking care of is our bodies. I know that as soon as I get into a stress cycle, I stop grocery shopping. As a result, I often eat out more or buy fast food because I don’t want to make my own meals. This only makes my body feel worse. When you start feeling stress, take some extra time to take care of your body. Eat healthy food and avoid junk food. Even if you think that tub of ice cream will make you feel better, it won’t.
Also, make sure you are getting a full eight hours of sleep every night, maybe even a little more if your body needs it. To help you sleep, try to keep your schedule consistent, even on the weekends. Avoid eating food past eight, and don’t do anything stimulating (like watching a movie or going for a run) past eight or nine. In fact, if you turn off your electronics and sit in bed with a good book around nine or ten, chances are you’ll be sleepy at just the right time.
Tip #3: Spend Time on Your Hobbies
One of the best things you can do when you’re feeling stressed is make time for your hobbies. If you love reading, gardening, hiking, painting, crafting, cooking, make time to do it! Even if you feel like you don’t have time, you’ll be a lot more productive in your other activities if you aren’t so burnt out. Schedule a time to do fun stuff just like you would schedule time to do work, homework, or housework. Spending time doing what you enjoy is a wonderful stress reliever.
Tip #4: Create a safe space
Create a space for yourself that is a stress-free environment. Do this by decluttering and getting your space organized. If you have a house full of children and decluttering your house is only going to make you crazy, try decluttering just your bedroom. Even if the rest of your house has to be a total mess for awhile, create just one space where you can escape. Keep things neat and quiet in that space, and try to spend an hour yourself there every day.
As you spend time in your space, consider meditating or trying guided imagery. Guided imagery is simply imagining yourself in a relaxing space. When I get stressed, I picture a lavender field in Oregon. Focusing on the sights, sounds, and smells of the field keeps me from dwelling on my own stress. Being able to re-coop after a long and stressful day will help you keep moving forward.
Tip #5: Exercise
Exercise is a great way to release endorphins, your body’s natural feel-good chemical. But most of us can’t manage to make time to go to the gym every day. Here are two tips to help you get going.
Start by increasing how much you walk every day. Less than 5,000 steps a day is considered a sedentary lifestyle. Buy a pedometer and pay attention to how much you’re actually moving every day. If it’s less than 5,000, try adding a half hour walk to your day (about 2,000-3,000 steps), to get into the “low active” range. You can do this by taking quick 15 minute breaks throughout the day, or by hopping on the treadmill for a bit. If your office has a gym or offers a gym pass, take advantage of that opportunity. I’m lucky because my office has a Sole Treadmill that I can hop on for a couple minutes every few hours.
Another tip to help you get exercising is one that was recommended to me by my counselor in college. Set health goals for yourself, but start easy. For instance, pick three evenings of the week when you could plausibly go to the gym, and then set a goal to go at least once a week on one of those days. That way, if you miss a potential day, you still have two more days you can go. This takes the stress off of you and keeps you from beating yourself up. If you start trying to exercise by going to the gym three times a week, the first day you don’t make it will take the wind out of your sails. Just start off slow. The important thing is to start.
(Bonus tip!): Keep going
You might not want to try all of these tips at once. They definitely shouldn’t be seen as one more thing you have to do. Try to take a couple of them and incorporate them where you can, and keep going. As you find your stress levels going down, add in more stress-relieving techniques. Also, let your loved ones know about your plans so they can help you out as well. Stress doesn’t have to take over your life. Taking some time to care for yourself with a few positive steps will go a long way to helping you feel normal and productive again.