Prior to becoming a mom, I legitimately though I knew what stress was. Of course, I'm not saying that people without children don't know stress. The studying college student definitely knows stress; the CEO knows stress; the post-grad twenty-something knows stress; the deployed soldier knows stress. However, motherhood gave me a dose of stress the likes of which I had never really seen before. Thankfully, I have found ways to de-stress during the day, because my stress doesn't just affect me anymore, it affects my son.
As a working mother, I've found that stress hits me from multiple directions and at all angles. Honestly, it seems never-ending. I can feel the social expectations that our culture applies to new mothers, and my innate need to live up to them, even though I know that they're horrible and unrealistic and unhealthy. I feel stressed to accomplish more than is probably humanly possible. I feel stressed to excel at my job and parenthood and my friendships and my romantic relationship, being multiple things to multiple people and at the best of my ability. I mean, it's a lot, and it can negatively affect even the most steadfast of individuals.
I don't always handle that stress well, however, now that I've been a mom for two years I have found little ways that help me chip away at that tension and strain. Some of the things seem pretty minuscule, to be sure, but the impact the following things have on my daily life (and my mental health) are undeniable. When the stakes are high and you're caring for another human being, the best thing you can do is take care of you.
Admit That You Need A Break
This is the most important step, and one that so many mothers are afraid or unwilling to take, because they're told they shouldn't. The expectations placed on mothers are unforgiving at best, and horrifically unrealistic to the point of being dangerous, at worse.
You don't have to do everything every day with a smile on your face. You don't have to deny yourself some very real, very valid human emotions; like, anxiety or exhaustion or frustration. Admit that, sometimes, motherhood is too much and you don't want to do it anymore and you need a break. If you stop holding yourself to ridiculous standards, you'll start to de-stress on a daily basis.
Be Realistic About The Day And What You Can Accomplish
Every day, usually, I wake up with an idea of what I would like to accomplish. I want to get some things done before I go to work; I want to go to work; I want to run some errands during my lunch break and then go home and do more things and play with my son and then accomplish even more things once he has gone to bed.
Yeah, about half of that (on a good day) actually gets accomplished.
When I manage my expectations and be more realistic about what it is I will actually get done in a day, I am infinitely less stressed. I don't have to do all the things in order to prove I have my life together or that I'm a good mother. There will be tomorrow, so I prioritize what needs to be done today over what can wait, and then adjust accordingly.
If Necessary, Stay Off Social Media
I, personally, think social media is pretty fantastic. Sure, it can be the worst, but it also lets us connect with distant family and friends and ask questions and get information at a pretty incredible speed.
However, the lives people paint on social media aren't always (read: hardly ever) accurate representations of reality, so seeing perfect pictures of clean houses and fashionably dressed children and three course dinners made from some organic garden someone has planted in their back yard, can make you feel like garbage. If you start to feel like you're lacking (because, yes, it's hard not to compare yourself to others) log off. Don't touch your phone. Shut off your computer. That newsfeed can, and should, be ignored.
Leave The Dishes, Pick Up A Book
I don't know about you, but when my kid is taking a nap I take it as an opportunity to actually accomplish something around the house. I'll usually do laundry or clean the mess my son has inevitably left behind or do the dishes. However, I've also learned that if I truly need a break and I definitely need to de-stress, picking up a book while my kid sleeps is just as valuable as getting a task done.
The dishes can wait. The laundry isn't going anywhere. If it makes you feel better to do those things, by all means. However, if you're exhausted and stressed out, relax. Read. Write. Get lost in some Netflix show. Do whatever it is you want to do, for you.
Scroll Through Pictures And Remember A Time Your Kid Wasn't Throwing A Tantrum Or Crying Or Driving You Insane
I love my son, but sometimes he's the worst. He's adorable and sweet and smart and wonderfully independent, but he can also throw temper tantrums with the best of them and when he's throwing toys or screaming or throwing his little body on the ground, I'm not his biggest fan. Nope, I'm just stressed (and angry).
In these moments, I will remove myself and look through my phone at pictures of him when he wasn't being a completely irrational human being. Perspective is a good thing, and when I see pictures of his sweet face or smile, I can remind myself that he isn't some devil-spawn, he's just a toddler and this, too, shall pass.
Take A Long, Hot Shower (And Bring A Glass Of Wine)
Whether you're taking a shower while your kid naps or you're taking a shower the moment your parenting partner (or a friend or relative or nanny or sitter) show up; take a hot shower and take your time and lock the door and don't let anyone disturb you. It seems trivial, but it beats shelling out thousands for a trip to the beach. It's as close as you'll get to a quick vacation, and it can feel just as rejuvenating.
If you've never brought a glass of wine with you into your shower before, I suggest you do, immediately. You're welcome.
Make Plans For The Weekend, Just For You
Give yourself something to look forward to, even if it's Monday and the weekend seems like a freakin' pipe dream. Call your girlfriends and demand a happy hour. Tell your partner you're taking yourself out, and plan for a solo dinner and a movie. If you're stressed, make an appointment that will benefit you, and only you, and then stick with it. Giving yourself something to look forward to will make all the crap you're dealing with during the rest of the week, worth it.
Take Advantage Of Screen Time (And Don't Feel Guilty About It)...
Look, nothing captures my kid's attention like Sesame Street and Elmo. He's obsessed. Am I saying you should stick your kid in front of a television or with an iPad for eight hours ever day? No. Then again, you do you, mom. I'm not one to tell anyone what they should be doing with their child.
I am saying, that if you're stressed out, take advantage of all technology has given us. If popping on some informative DVD gives you some peace of mind and a few minutes (or even longer) alone, go for it. You don't have to kill yourself to entertain your kid. You don't have to push yourself to the brink of insanity just so you can tell people your kid never watches any television, ever. You kid will benefit more from a mentally happy and healthy mother, than a TV that's never turned on. Trust me.
...Or Go Outside And Let Your Kid Run Around
Then again, if you can take advantage of a backyard or a park, go for it. Let your kid run around while you take a few minutes to breath. Not only will they get some physical activity and fresh air, you'll get to bask in the bedtime benefits associated with a tried, physically drained child. Win-win.
Don't Think About Your To-Do List. Just Focus On One Thing At A Time.
My to-do list can be overwhelming when I look at it in its entirely. I need to do this for work and this at home and this with my kid and, well, it seems endless. When I stop and focus on just one thing at a time, I can feel myself become less and less stressed. It's difficult, to be sure, and it requires some constant effort, but when I keep myself on task and just check off one thing at a time, I feel better (even when my list isn't completed).
Vent. Seriously, Let It Out.
There's a healthy way to vent, to be sure, and I'm definitely not suggesting you scream at your child because you're frustrated. I am saying that you need to let it out, so call someone or go outside and scream or yell into a pillow; whatever you need to do to let lose. The more you bottle up your stress and frustrations and emotions, the worse they will be.
Call Your Mom (Or Someone Who Constantly Supports You)
When I'm at the end of my figurative rope, I call my mom. Sometimes, I just need to cry, and there's no one better or more suited or more supportive, than my mother. She understands exactly what I'm going through, because she has been there, herself.
I know that not everyone has this ability, so I'm thankful. If you're mother is either toxic or no longer around, I definitely encourage you to find someone who does support your endlessly and can sympathize. Then, call that person when you're the most stressed out, and allow them to soothe you. You don't have to do everything (or anything) on your own.
Make The Parenting Responsibilities Someone Else's, If You Can
It's an absolute fallacy that mothers need to be on, all the time. Look, motherhood is about responsibility and sacrifice, but not constant sacrifice. You need, and deserve, a break. So, take it.
Call a sitter or a family member or have your parenting partner take over completely. You don't have to do it all and you certainly don't have to do it all the time. You're not a bad mom for taking some time alone, to yourself, and doing whatever else it is that makes you happy, because, yes, you are more than a mother.