I’ve come to realize in recent months that the act of processing (or distressing, releasing tension, relaxing, unwinding, etc.) is very important as a busy woman and tired mom. And particularly if you are a stressed mom. Doctors and counselors and your own mothers will tell you that the build-up of stress and responsibility and to-do lists that never seem to get fully crossed off can truly weigh us down.
It’s not one day that makes your heart weary. It’s not two piles of laundry that makes you want to have the whole house go around naked just to spare yourself the chore. It isn’t only Thursday’s dinner menu that has you thinking perhaps the whole family should go on a juice fast. It is the build up. It’s the pileup. It’s the day after day after day filled with things after responsibilities after chores after life. Relationships and friendships and jobs and duties and, well, just life. And it happens day after day.
I like to take 30 minutes to 1 hour and just be with myself. Walking, a hot bath or just laying on the couch. The key is: no media, no phones, no books, no distractions. My mind races, thoughts come and go, emotions come and go. Sometimes nothing coherent is “decided” or I don’t arrive at any conclusion, but afterwards it is as though all that activity in my brain has simply settled into its place and I feel peace and quiet. That may sound silly to you, but you can find your own way! Here are some tips for lightening your mental and emotional load.
(1) Find a healthy way to unwind.
The end-of-the-day feels as though it’ll never arrive. Then – miraculously – it arrives and yet what do we do? Fill it with things that add to our stress, prevent us from unwinding, or simply cause us to be even more tired. Find a healthy way to unwind. By healthy I mean something that is good for you (or at least neutral) and that actually provides an outlet to release the stress and burdens of the day.
Exercise, a creative pursuit, or perhaps a nice bubble bath may be the ticket. Exercise gets the body working and gives you time to think. Creative pursuits such as writing, sewing, decorating, etc. provide an outlet for expressing the parts of you that get neglected as a busy woman and mom. A bubble bath might be a quiet and calm place for you to think through the day. The key is to find something that is easily accessible and that is not a bad habit. What are bad unwinding habits?
(2) Avoid escapism.
A former boss of mine spoke once of a time in his life when he was trying to find healthy ways to relieve stress and to separate work from home life. Since he worked in the same building that he lived he found it hard to “shut off.” So, when he walked in the door in the evening he said he’d put on a movie or a TV show to unwind.
After it had become habit he said he realized it was actually not helping him unwind at all, but rather he was just avoiding processing or thinking through the day and settling in at home. His kids nor his wife nor himself were benefiting.
He set about finding a new way. Things like excessive TV viewing, Internet usage, or video games may take your mind off your worries, burdens or responsibilities, but they are not actually recharging you. They are just deflecting your attention for a time. It’s like sweeping up the living room and then putting a rug over the debris. The rug helps you not have to look at the mess, but it’s still there. And if you’re honest with yourself, you haven’t forgotten about it either.
If you find yourself (and I struggle with this as does everyone else) with a strong desire to be constantly stimulated or entertained by books, TV, games or movies, then you are probably in an avoidance and escapist cycle that is absolutely unhealthy in the long run. If you can’t go a night without something entertaining you, then RED FLAG!
(3) Know your triggers.
I am an over-analyzer, over-thinker and all around Type A neurotic. I’m not saying I’m proud of it, I’m just saying I know myself. In my masters degree I had to take about 5 dozen personality, self-awareness tests and I can honestly say I was never surprised. As such, I can spot my triggers (here’s how to spot yours) from far away and I do my best to prevent them from coming too close. For example, exhaustion or out-of-control environments (and I don’t mean spontaneous fun environments) cause me a lot of stress. If I’m really tired then I am impatient and I wake up in a bad mood.
If I get up in a bad mood, everyone is in a bad mood. If everyone is in a bad mood, I get in a worse mood. If my work environment or home environment is out-of-control (as in, kids running amuck ignoring my instruction, no food in the house, too high stack of unattended business, grass that hasn’t been mowed since Valentine’s Day, etc.) then I feel the weight of responsibility to fix it immediately causes me great stress. If I’m stressed, I’m in a bad mood. If I’m in a bad mood, everyone’s in a bad mood. If everyone’s in a bad mood, I get in a worse mood. You see where I’m going with this.
(4) Make your unwinding consistent.
You might not need a bubble bath each day, but you may very well need it every other day. In our home we instituted a quarterly day-away-in-a-hotel-for-mom day where I go away in the morning somewhere relatively close and I spend the night, returning the next day after checkout. It may only be around 24 hours but those 24 hours make all the difference. I’ve heard this termed a mommy sabbatical.
I buy a new book, eat my most favorite meals (bacon cheeseburger or four cheese Italian pizza…what can I say? I’m sophisticated) and take a lot of bubble baths. It may only come once every three months, but every three months it does come. The key is to find your frequency and stick to it. Even if you think “I can do without those few hours on a Saturday” you may find come Wednesday that you were very wrong.
(5) Put in place personal boundaries.
Depending on your personality type you may find this one fairly difficult. I fear I find it too easy. What? You want me to do what, when? Sorry, that is about 15 minutes after I usually take my afternoon nap. Wish it were different. Good luck. Okay, perhaps I’m not so uncaring, but I have long realized the value of boundaries. This is where you learn to let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no” and you learn to not give kneejerk responses that commit you to doing things you don’t want to do.
If someone asks you for a favour, to lead a committee, plan an event, bring food to a function, etc. before saying yes without thinking, advise them you’ll check your calendar and get back to them. Take a day and think on it. The church potluck will go if you don’t bake two casseroles on your busiest night of the week. Learn to evaluate whether you are stretching yourself beyond your healthy limits and, when necessary, stop it. You can’t be everything to everyone. But as a mother, you will have to be pretty much everything to the little ones in your life and, as such, they are going to take priority in this season of life over other things. Since you can’t
Value yourself and your contribution to your family. Part of valuing yourself is giving yourself space to breathe. Space to unwind. Space to do the things that you always think about doing but can’t seem to “find the time” to do. Perhaps work out an arrangement with a friend to swap childcare every so often and give you a morning or – shock of all shocks – a day to yourself. Think creatively. Evaluate your needs. Heck, you may have buried your needs in the back of your closet with your pre-pregnancy pants. Unearth those puppies and get back into them. Both of them. Trust me, you’ll feel more like yourself. And the more “yourself” you feel, the more of yourself you’ll have to give to those who depend on you.
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