Ask any parent how they’re going and you’re likely to hear some variation on “busy”, “flat out”, or “run off my feet”! Life is busy, and all that busy-ness is building stress.
Unfortunately, being stressed out and overly busy is bad for happy families. Research tells us that the more stressed we are, the more ineffective we become as parents. Stressed parents spend less time with their children, and use more punitive (and less effective) parenting strategies with their kids. Stressed parents listen less, shout more, and are less available than parents who are less stressed. (Are there any un-stressed parents?)
So today’s blog is brought to you by the letter ‘B’.
‘B’ is for ‘busy’
I recently spent some time coaching a mum (her name is not Melissa, but that’s what we’ll call her.) Melissa had perfected ‘being busy’. She has three children – one that is terminally ill. Her sick child requires almost constant care. The other two children have their own needs, and are struggling emotionally because of their mum’s inability to be available, combined with the stress of knowing they’ll lose their brother. Melissa has her own part-time business to run, a house to maintain, and all of the other things that make life busy. Oh, and her husband has just lost his job.
During our conversation we talked about a range of things we might do to help her guide her children more effectively. But it became obvious – quickly – that Melissa needed to do two things for her and her family. First, she needed to cut something – anything – from their schedule, and second, she needed some personal time to breathe.
‘B’ is for ‘balance’
Melissa’s response: “Yes, you’re right. But it’s easier said than done.”
We got creative. We played with her schedule. We talked about getting extra help from family and friends. And Melissa made some changes. She cut out the kids’ homework. She got her sister to help out one or two mornings a week in getting the two healthy children to school. And she set aside a couple of short but important moments each week for her to reconnect to what mattered most to her. She also scheduled a date with her husband.
It has been a month since Melissa made those changes. In our last conversation I felt as though I was speaking to a different person. Melissa is no longer swinging between all-out-stress and hopeless desperation and tears. While her life is still a long way from being ‘balanced’, Melissa has scheduled time to ‘breathe’ – and it has changed her. It has also made her family happier.
Finding time to breathe
The science tells a compelling story – people who make time to breathe experience less stress, depression, and fewer illness symptoms. They manage challenging situations better, are more optimistic and positive, and exercise more. There is a relationship between taking time to breathe and being grateful, resilient, and having more positive relationships. We need to find time to breathe – and stop being so busy, even if it’s just for a few minutes once or twice a week.
Here are four simple strategies to make that breathing space a reality:
Focus on the moment
It sounds a bit ‘airy-fairy’ – and entirely non-scientific. However, the past decade has seen a surge in ‘mindfulness’ research, and the jury has delivered a powerful verdict. When we focus on here and now (and not all the other stuff we have to do) we are less reactive, less stressed, and nicer to be around. We manage ourselves better. Being mindful means that we be where our feet are.
Focus on gratitude
Gratitude is one of the most powerful antidotes to stress, anxiety, depression, and being so stupidly busy you can’t think straight. By taking a few minutes to talk with someone about what you’re grateful for, we begin to see that things aren’t always too tough to manage. Playing the ‘gratitude game’ at dinner with the kids can be a wonderful way to de-stress and celebrate what’s great in life.
Just say ‘no’
We live in a world where we are expected to say ‘yes’ every time someone asks something of us. And we do it unquestioningly. But saying ‘no’ to something unimportant means you can say yes to something more important. It may be saying no to kids’ homework, or the overtime you were offered. It may be dropping some of the extra-curricular activities the children do. When we work out what matters most and say no to other things, we can reduce pressure on ourselves and allow more time to breathe and get balanced.
Stop wasting yourself
Because of the enormous stress we face, we often make poor decisions in an attempt to ‘de-stress’ when we get the kids into bed. Our screen-time goes up, or we start an unhealthy relationship with food, alcohol, or drugs. We postpone sleep or exercise so we can relax in front of the tv or Internet. Often, rather than being quality ‘me-time’ to allow you to breathe, these choices do the opposite. They tire us out and leave us unfulfilled.
Set some simple goals that will make you feel balanced
When I spoke with Melissa, she identified that a bath once a week would be bliss. She wanted to date her husband regularly and reconnect with him. And she suggested that a facial or massage once a month, while an indulgence, would make her feel like life was not so bad after all. Melissa wrote those goals down. She scheduled them in her calendar. She arranged baby-sitters. And she made it happen. It wasn’t easy, but making those small changes brought her balance, and let her breathe.
Our lives are busy. Sometimes they are frantic. Balance only comes through planning. We have to be deliberate about how we’ll get that time to breathe or it will not happen.
I’m not suggesting we all need to run down to the beautician for facials and hot rock massages. Instead, pause, think of one or two things you can do this week that will allow you to breathe. Schedule them. Make them happen. I believe it will make your family happier.