You're stressed out. With kids, a job, a life, parents aging, siblings fighting - not to mention the enormous amount of household responsibilities you need to keep track of, stress is more like a daily sensation than an occasional event. And then that thing happens. You know, the one that makes you panic, maybe over-panic, but it doesn't seem that way at the time. It's more like the "why is this happening to me" type of freak out. Countless articles seem to offer the same advice: count to ten, picture yourself on a beach, and take some yoga. If you had a nickel for every time you heard that, you'd probably be a lot less stressed right now.
Andrew Bernstein, author of "The Myth of Stress" and founder of ActivInsight says we need to start viewing stress differently. "Stress doesn't come from what's going on in your life, it comes from your thoughts about what's going on in your life," he explains.
Here's how he suggest we proceed when that freak out happens: "While situations are unique, the thoughts that provoke stress tend to fall into the same three buckets: This shouldn't be happening. That shouldn't have happened; and I know something terrible will occur. All negative emotions come from beliefs like these." Bernstein says.
So, instead of thinking of stress as things that happen to you, think of it as situations you can react to, and take a more active role. Here are some strategies he recommends for tackling common stressful situations:
1. The Public Tantrum
Your child is melting down. Whether you're at Target or a party in your honor, there is no way you can make a graceful exit.
Brenda Stern, a Certified Social Worker at Westchester Reform Temple's Childhood Center in Scarsdale, NY gives this advice:
- Keep calm. A tickle, cuddle or silly song can break the tension with a child. Losing your patience will not deter or shorten a tantrum and could make it worse.
- If possible, prepare. If you know your child has a hard time in unfamiliar situations, let him know what to expect. If you can, rehearse.
- Use snacks, toys, etc.. Create a diversion to help occupy or redirect.
2. The Person Who Pushes Your Buttons
Maybe it's your sister-in-law, or your mom or those women at your daughter's ballet class. These women just make you crazy and the mere thought of seeing them makes your heart race.
- Think objectively. What advice would you give your child or best friend if she were in a similar circumstance? Ask yourself if you are in any ways contributing to the tense situation.
- Bring a diversion. A book or an i-Pad or whatever can help you avoid strained situations. Help out in the kitchen, or somewhere else at the next family affair.
- Don't fixate. By ranting about it all the time, it will make it worse.
3. Asking for a Raise
Talking to the boss about getting more money is nerve wracking, stomach-clenching stress, but it can be done with minimal sweat.
- Get confident. List all your accomplishments from the past year. Did you save the company money? Did something that normally takes two people to do? Write it down and remember it.
- Rehearse. Don't memorize a speech. That will make you look like a weirdo. Ask your partner or a close friend to help act out various scenarios. You'll be ready for anything.
- Don't personalize the request. Don't bring up financial hardships as reason for a raise. Talk about why your work deserves better compensation, not try to guilt your boss into more money.
- Be prepared for bad news. Not getting a raise does not mean you are doing a bad job. On the contrary, in some cases having a job may mean you are vital to the organization. If the boss says no, ask how you can grow within the company.
4. Nanny Calls in Sick
For many working parents, any deviation from the plan will lead to chaos. And of course, a sick care-provider always seems to happen when you Absolutely. Cannot. Miss. Work.
- First, remember Care-on-Call. This mom-reviewed emergency backup care function was created for these very situations.
- Try to always have options. Create a list (when your nanny isn't sick) of friends, family or neighbors who may be happy to help in these kinds of emergencies.
- Stay strong. Asking for help or allowing people (aka your boss) to understand is not a sign of weakness. It's part of life, but if it's happening too often, it might be time for a new nanny.
- Create a plan with your provider. When hiring a nanny, make sure you ask for her to contact you at the first sign of illness - to give you the most lead-time possible. And when there is an emergency, see if she has a friend or a sister who might be able help out. It's best if you meet this person before a sickness arises.
5. Missing a School Event
For some reason it seems events at your child's school always coincide with something important at work. Besides, you can't take a day off for every little thing.
Wendy Sachs, Editor-in-Chief of Care.com and author of "How She Really Does It, Secrets of Successful Stay-At-Work Moms" offers up these tips:
- Cut Yourself Some Slack. Your kid might have just given you the saddest puppy-dog look, but remember that you won't be able to make it to everything. It's okay. We all have working mom guilt. Remind yourself why you work and that you do the best you can to make your family-time count.
- Make it Up. If you can't make it to "Apple Day" at school, ask the teacher if you can come in on another day and do something else with the class. Instead of 10 moms, you'll be the only mom at school that day.
- Plan in Advance. Find out the days you absolutely can't miss at school early in the year. (End of Year Picnic, Holiday Concert) Make sure you ask for those days off. The rest, Dad, a nanny, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle can fill in.
6. Grousing with Your Spouse
You love each other, but sometimes you and your partner are on each other's last nerves. It can be a stress that is often ignored until a full out blow out happens. Nip that in the bud.
- Either Talk or Don't. You can talk about what is bugging you, or you can choose to move past it. Ask him about his day. Watch TV together. Tell him something funny that happened with the kids.
- Date Again. With kids and work and life, your relationship can fall low on the list of priorities. Schedule some alone time with each other. If a babysitter on a Saturday night isn't an option, set the clock early one morning and have coffee or just spend time.
- Stop Nagging. Nagging will not change behavior. Repeat. Nagging will not change behavior. Besides, it's not sexy.
- Laugh. Laughter heals a lot of annoyances. Joking around, watching a comedy or even laughing at a clip on YouTube can break the tension. When things are light, you can talk about what's on your mind without the stress.
7. Crisis with an Aging Relative
Mom just fell down the stairs. She's okay - for now. But what does this mean for her future? It's hard not to feel upset or scared or stressed in this type of situation, but it should not leave you feeling powerless.
- Don't go it alone. Even if you are an only child, this is a big job to shoulder by yourself. Look into senior caregivers, community centers and nursing services that can help your ailing parent.
- Talk to professionals. There is an army of resources you can lean on. Elder care lawyers, financial planners,senior care advisors can all help you feel less overwhelmed and start guiding you towards a plan.
- Don't forget about you. This type of stress can take an emotional and physical toll. Get rest, schedule some of your favorite exercise or spa routines, stay healthy and keep in touch with friends and loved ones. It's easy to deprive yourself of these things for the sake of others. But it does no one any good if you feel like you are falling apart.
It's perfectly natural to feel stress. Sometimes that feeling can be a good thing, and act as a motivator. But there are times it acts as a distraction or overwhelms you.
"Stress always indicates confusion about the truth, and having an insight fixes this," says Andrew Bernstein. "You don't have to learn to let go, accept, or quiet anything. Just learn to see reality more honestly. It takes some coaching at first, but it's a very useful ability if you want to live a happy life."
And while life may never be totally stress free, you are always entitled to be happy.