Ever wonder how a real pro handles stress? Want to know? Read on!
It is 6:17 AM, I know because as I hear the door to my boys’ room slam shut and the pattering of my youngest’s steps coming towards my room I check the clock on my husband’s night stand. This is only the third time in the past 8 hours my sleep is disrupted by the boys. The prior two times were at 12:52 AM when I was asked by little one (LO) to locate his water, and then at 2:54 PM when his older brother woke me so that I could zip him up “all the way” in the sleeping bag he chose to use last night. We are on day 11 of such disruptions, I feel like a new parent adjusting to the sleep loss and it does nothing for my patience or my stress management abilities. LO, cute as a button, crawls in my bed and proceeds to ask me how my day went; I am 90 seconds into my day, but I guess good is an appropriate response. He wants me up. Oblivious to my eyes’ unwillingness to be pried open, he shoves a finger in my eyelid, “open your eyes mommy, the sun is up.” Breathe, that is what I remind myself to do. Reframe that is my second step – I mean this is actually quite cute and endearing, and it will not last much longer; one day I will be the one trying to get them out of bed and up, and I doubt they will be as gracious as I am. Good, angry voice and frustrated tone are momentarily averted. Thirty minutes later I convince myself to get out of bed and get ready for work. LO found an ipad and plays pre-schooler games on it.
I brush my teeth and wonder what I will wear for work in the forecasted 88 degree weather. How am I going to be sharp and focused with such disrupted sleep? And what will I put in their lunch-boxes? I can feel myself getting stressed, I catch the thought “there is just too much to do, this day is already starting with me behind the eight ball.” Breathe! Time to reframe, “this is fine, it is no different than most days, except that I stubbornly refused to make lunch-boxes last night and have an extra 15 minutes of work to do today.” The big one (BO) gets up and immediately catches his little brother on the ipad and wants it. Cue fight #1 of the day as the boys argue back and forth about holding onto the ipad and what to watch/play. I realize I am not winning mother of the year with my ipad morning, but given my inability to figure out what to wear I decide to let it go. I do, however, have to repeat myself about a dozen times (further solidifying my loss of first place in the parent of the year contest this morning) as I threaten the boys of taking away the ipad all together if they cannot collaboratively play.
I give up on finding figuring out what to wear, I have tried three different outfits, and none of them satisfy me. I still have to get the boys ready, get them to school and address all the adminisrative tasks that require attention before people start rolling in. I remind myself that one bad style day won’t matter to my clients, and that they probably won’t even notice or care. Again, stress averted because I was able to catch some unrealistic expectation and a tendency to mind read (a power I don’t actually possess). I take a deep breath. I convince the boys to get dressed, by reminding the oldest one that when the LO gets dressed he will give up the ipad, at which point BO can claim it; he just has to model the getting dressed part for his little brother.
The boys follow me downstairs, and settle in to playing while I make breakfast, feed the three pets, prepare lunch boxes for all three of us, make coffee and rearrange all the plates my husband put in the dishwasher last night, because I don’t like the way he put them. Clearly, that last action was my self-sabotaging way of adding a bit of stress to my life. I take a deep breath. I catch myself and remember that it is no big deal, this is not purposeful and doesn’t matter. I make coffee, getting the to-go cup ready- I can’t wait for the first sip, but will not take it until I have perfect peace in my office. Coffee -the first sip of hot coffee that is – is my go to comfort food. During this time LO is laying on the floor crying because we are out of bacon and he has to eat sausage with his eggs this morning. BO is taunting him from the dining room. I ignore LO and remind big one to not antagonize his brother if he wants to stay in my good graces. Un-encouraged by my stoicism, LO agrees to sit and eat breakfast since that is what the rest of us are doing without him.
I plan for the mayhem that is leaving the house, to reduce that chaos I take all our lunch-boxes and put them in the trunk of the car right now. I also cut fresh flowers in the garden and place them in a cup with water, which I leave in front of the door so as not to forget them. The flowers make me smile every time I look at them at work. The smile helps me de-stress, gain perspective, and relax. I manage to get the boys fed, their shoes on and their teeth brushed (well, they brushed their teeth, so it’s probably not dentist approved as they are 5 and 2 1/2, but I will do a better job tonight). When I put the lunch-boxes in the car I left the front gate open and car unlocked to make our progress to the interior of the car more seamless; this appears to have been a good idea as BO walks straight to the car door and buckles himself in. I am lucky, LO waits for me at the top of the stairs and we walk to the car together. All buckled up, coffee and flowers in the cup holders of the car we head out to school, but not until I turn one of my Pandora stations on and belt a song out loud. I point out to BO that singing helps with stress and feeling down because it helps us breathe with a calm breath and distracts our thoughts. In their own capacities the boys join in the song. As we do each morning we go over how well our morning went. Today we agree was a bit rough, but we decide to make the rest of the morning easier on each other.
Miracle of all miracles, by the time we get to school both boys are calmer and ready to walk into school as directed. Even better, rather than our usual 15-20 in class morning routine they give me a one-kiss-one-hug goodbye so I can run back to the car and get to work 12 minutes early. Just enough time to enjoy the first sip of very hot coffee and get ready and set-up for the day to come.
Being a healthcare professional means I am probably a bit more self aware than the average person. I have spent a lot of time learning to look at my thoughts and how they affect my mood or stress. I also spend a lot of time with other people changing thought patterns, addressing stress management, and looking at how small behaviors can either improve or worsen our thoughts/mood. But look back, all the italicized text is stress management attempts. Nothing was huge, nothing required me to stop and break my day, no one action required a Ph.D. in Psychology. There are times when my stress is high enough that more involved coping skills are called for, but the ability to use small stress management* techniques often helps us avoid those bigger moments.
* catching negative thoughts and reframing them not to be positive, but just more neutral, picking fights, letting go of doing things perfectly all the time (I can only be perfect about 98% of my life), preparing my environment to reduce tension or difficult transitions, breathing, singing…