On Saving Mommy: Building an Arsenal for Battling Stress

I had a rough weekend…to say the least. It was the longest period of time my husband was away since the birth of my one-year-old son: three whole days and two whole nights. It felt exponentially longer. My sister even came into town for part of the time to help me keep my senses. And, thank God for her because tag teaming rather than lone parenting meant I got to go to the gym (probably my #1 sanity saver!) and actually take a shower afterward. The relief she provided may have been the only thing that kept me from taping a binky to my son’s mouth or supergluing him to his crib (kidding….mostly). After his long weekend away, when my husband walked in the door, exhausted and probably looking for a hug, all I could do was hand him our son and say, “mommy needs a moment.” Thankfully, he understood that…and the four-hour shopping trip that followed.

I’ve said it so many times: who knew being a mom would be this hard?! Maybe I’m just more of a free spirit than I thought. I have a really, really difficult time with the whole not-having-my-independence thing. Even as I was shopping for trash bags and baby soap at Target, the freedom of being all by myself without my wiggly son in the cart and a diaper bag on my arm was absolutely cathartic. And, I’m definitely not proud of that…or the fact that I’m just not one of those moms who relishes every second of mothering. But, it is what it is. I’m learning that’s just the kind of parent I am.

So, here I am, after two full days back to work. (Yes, I feel guilty admitting this too, but I find being at work far less stressful than being home alone with my toddler.) Finally, I’m slowly morphing back into the me before the demon I became this weekend—the mommy we all like much better. To celebrate the return to me, I thought I would brainstorm a little about ways to cope with the stresses of parenting…because Lord knows this isn’t the last time the monster in me is going to try to rise to the surface. Here’s what I came up with:

Prevent: What to Do Before the Diaper Hits the Fan

Prepare for difficult situations. Knowing my husband was going away, I did call my sister to come into town for relief. I should have called in all the troops. If you know you’re about to face a challenge, start thinking now about everything you can do to make it easier on yourself.

Schedule time for you throughout the day. Even if it’s just a few minutes to read an article in a fashion magazine or listen to some music, do it. Think about things that help you relax and put them in your mental calendar.

Get away. Every once in a while, get a sitter or have a family member watch the kids (if you have that luxury). Then, leave your usual environment. Get a pedicure. Go out to lunch or coffee with a friend or to dinner with your partner. Even if you can’t get away from home, get away from your routines. Have a candlelight dinner or take a long bath after the kids are in bed. Changing things up can break a pattern of stress.

Get physical. Lift some weights. Go for a run. Do some jumping jacks…anything to release the negative energy and tension. Aside from the many other benefits of exercise, it is a stress reliever.

Maintain healthy habits. Like I said, exercise. But also, get enough sleep. Eat nutritious foods. Drink water. Don’t overdo caffeine or alcohol. When your body is functioning well, you’ll be in a better place to handle all aspects of your life.

Find a hobby. Obviously, I like to write. But, I also love to bead, sew, and draw. Although I only find time to enjoy these crafts now and again, they are great outlets. Having a project with small goals to work toward makes me feel productive and de-stresses me.

Reflect on what you’re thankful for. I’m not really sure how this one works, but it does. I guess if I’m thinking about all the good things in my life and how I’m fortunate in a lot of ways, then there’s just less room for me to be negative about the things that aren’t going as well. Taking time to be grateful just gives me a little peace. And, more peace means less stress.

Deal: How to Manage in the Heat of the Moment

Take a time out. Who said time outs are just for kids? They’re perfect for adults too. Sometimes a second of silence is the ideal way to hit my reset button. Kids screaming? Baby crying? Make sure everyone is safe where they are, then take a step outside. Close the door behind you. Breathe in the fresh air. Soak up the serenity. Breathe some more. If I feel like I’m about to snap, I often find the best way to keep my cool is to remove myself from the stressful situation…even a minute or two can make a difference.

Talk to someone.  Sometimes all I need is to vent or hear a perspective unlike my own. Think about what you need—whether it’s a receptive ear, a more positive view, or just a similar story from someone who’s going through much of the same. Then, reach out to the person who can offer you that. Make sure to enlist a listener who will make you feel better, not worse.

Healthy “junk” food.  Have a snack. My irritability peaks and my coping skills crumble if I haven’t eaten in a while. Even when I’m not that hungry, it just relaxes me to have some salty sweet potato fries, a piece of dark chocolate dipped in peanut butter, or a cookie dough flavored nutrition bar that tastes like dessert but won’t give me the sugar crash later. Comfort food can be even more comforting if it doesn’t leave you feeling sluggish and guilty.

Accept and Learn: The Calm after the Storm

Think about what you did right and what you can do better next time. So, your reaction was a far cry from the Carol Brady approach you intended. At least, you didn’t resort to duct tape or superglue. Although you may not win the mom-of-the-year award, you achieved a minor success in my books. Give yourself a pat on the back for not doing the worst of the worst, and then think about how you can handle things even better next time.

Write about it. I started this blog (that you’re reading right now) for a lot of reasons—one HUGE one was because writing is therapeutic for me. Since the birth of my son, I’ve hardly found (made?) time for recording my thoughts. I figured if I started something a little more formal and structured than my paper journal, then I would actually carve out some time for a little writing therapy. It worked! Journaling is great for venting and organizing your thoughts and priorities when they seem jumbled.

Envision the person you want to be and how you will get there. I believe the only reason I react in certain ways is it’s what comes naturally…because I’ve really never considered how I could do better. Sometimes, it helps to close my eyes and think about the me I want to be. How would the best me treat my kids, coworkers, partner, and friends? How would that version of me react in stressful situations? This simple reflection serves as a reminder that I’m a work in progress. If I get a little closer to a better me by learning from my mistakes and by strategizing for success, then my personal life project of bettering myself is coming along.

Any other ideas? Although I wish I had asked for them before this weekend, I’d love to hear some other tactics for not flying off the handle. Now that my blood pressure is back to normal, I’m in the perfect place to plot my plan of attack for next time. Moms never can have too much anti-stress artillery, right?

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Posted on May 17, 2011, in Parenting and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I knew that you were distracted on Saturday, and I suspected that Joe being out of town was hard. Between that and the hormone thing, you must have been ready to tear your hair out! I spent almost seven hours with a fussy toddler this morning and I was more than ready to hand her over. Having public radio on in the background actually helps me on tough nanny days–gives me perspective when I think one more crying fit will kill me.

  2. I really need to listen to more public radio anyway! Thanks, Anne-Marie 🙂 Love it!

  3. “Even as I was shopping for trash bags and baby soap at Target, the freedom of being all by myself without my wiggly son in the cart and a diaper bag on my arm was absolutely cathartic.” This line sums it up for me. Sometimes it’s just good to get a moment to yourself. I’ve started going to the grocery by myself Sat. or Sun. mornings for some shopping and a coffee from Starbucks. It does wonders for me for the rest of the day. If I don’t do it, then by Sunday night, I’m stressed and exhausted and excited about the alone time I’ll get at work the next day.
    Just know that you definitely aren’t alone on this one!!!

  4. I’m on a ten day single mom stint right now. Definitely plan fun things that you have always wanted to do with the little loved one but haven’t made time to do. You will be amazed at what you can do on your own and it feels really good to explore instead of run errands and the norm–especially since the world isn’t the norm for anyone when dad is away. Plus I let some of those hard and fast rules (like don’t stand on the couch or bedtime is 8 sharp) fall a little bit–much less feeling like a failure and not as much stress.

  5. Jessica– thanks for the reminder that I’m not the only one! I think it’s so important to take at least some part of the weekend to myself. Still, I don’t always do it!

    Jen–that’s a great idea! I get into ruts with my son and stepson, and we end up doing the same boring things whenever we’re w/out dad, which stress me out b/c I’d rather be having more fun. I can’t wait until the weather is warmer– there are so many fun things to do outside!

  1. Pingback: Baby’s first year: Strategies that work! « On Becoming Mommy

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