What a Gift

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”
– Alice Morse Earle

Have you ever experienced anxiety? If so, what did you do to calm yourself?

Middle school is stressing my oldest son out. I get it. New, larger school (3x the number of students than his elementary school had); new teachers; getting used to have six different teachers with different expectations; and a locker. Getting used to a new routine can be stressful for anyone early on (regardless of age). My son has high expectations for himself. He gets stressed when he doesn’t know what to do, even if he’s had little exposure, experience or training. In other words, no one holds him to the same expectations he holds himself to. It can be frustrating as a parent to watch. My husband and I do not push our son to be perfect. We encourage him to be open, willing to learn and apply himself. When he gets worked up in his failure to adjust as quickly as he’d like in a new situation, my husband and I try to talk him down often with mixed results — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t — it feels like we’re failing when our words don’t help our son.

I thought my son’s anxiety would start to wane after a few days at school, but they remained strong. One morning he came to me and shared how worried he was about the upcoming day. Instead of trying to calm him down with another speech, I thought, I’ve got to do something different, but what?  Then I thought about what has worked for me when I’m stressed and I thought meditation! I know I was reluctant to try meditation when someone encouraged me to consider it and wondered if my son would feel the same way. “Have you ever heard of meditation?” I asked my son. “Yea, but I don’t really know what it is,” my son said. “Well, meditation is something that can help you with stress. It gets you to relax.” I knew I was oversimplifying it, but was trying to find the words that would make sense for my son. I continued, “there’s an app I use sometimes called Calm. It’s got some really good meditations on it. Want to give it a try with me?” My son didn’t hesitate for a second. “Sure!” he said with a smile. I was surprised how quickly he agreed to try it. I quickly opened the app and scrolled through the meditations until I found sessions under “Calm Kids” (I love it because the app even breaks down the sessions by age group). I launched the intro session and my son and I meditated.

During the session the speaker shared the quote I wrote above. She attributed it to Master Uguay in Kung Fu Panda (I’m guessing so it would resonate more with the sessions younger audience). It made my son smile. I thought the quote was very appropriate. My son was stressing about yesterday, and worrying about the future. How many of us do that? I am guilty of this. Many, if not all, of us are. Instead of dwelling on the past or fearing the future, we have the present right in front of us. It is a gift.  The quote seemed to resonate with my son as well. We continued with the session, which talked us through how to ‘be in the present’ by simply paying attention to our body — our breathing, and how our body felt. Pretty simple stuff, but often overlooked or dismissed as something that isn’t worth our time. I’d beg to differ. When the meditation finished, my son and I opened and locked eyes. He had the biggest smile on his face. His demeanor had changed significantly in eight minutes. He was more relaxed and enthusiastic about the coming school day instead of being riddled with angst. He looked at me and said, “Mom, I’m not nervous anymore. I feel pretty good.” I felt relieved and elated. There is no better feeling for me than when I’ve helped my child. It was yet another gift.

New beginnings can be stressful. I’m glad my son was willing to try the meditation and hope it will continue to help — we’ve already got several more sessions under our belt, so right now they are working and I’ll take it!

How do you help calm your child when they are stressed?

Stressed Out

Have you ever seen your child stressed out?

My boys participate in their school play. One acts in the play, the other is in stage crew. Both want to do a good job each year, all the kids do. Mistakes always happen — sometimes ones you can easily recover from (e.g. someone walks out on stage at the wrong time, but quickly gets themselves back off), some not (e.g. someone says the wrong long line and it throws everyone else off — the kids struggle with whether they should pick up at the new spot or try to get the scene restarted where it should have). For the kids it is stressful. For the parents, it’s hard to notice (because you aren’t as aware of every single line, object placement and timing of everything like those participating are), and hard to console once you’ve realized it happens (e.g. upset kids after the show).  You try saying, “You did a great job!” and “You made a mistake? Well, no one noticed” which is often times true, but to the kids, they feel embarrassed, disappointed, sad, and/or angry. I’ve had mild success in getting them to acknowledge that performing and supporting the cast, regardless of mistakes, takes guts; and that the experience is supposed to be something they enjoy not fret over. They appease me with mumble’s of “okay, Mom” or “yea, we get it,” but it’s not convincing. Once the play is over, the stress disappears replaced by relief which is interesting to tangibly see — smiles on their faces, bodies less tense, more willing to engage — it got me thinking about my husband and I and our own stresses and how that must come across to our kids.

I sometimes think I didn’t know what stress was until I became a parent — the kids are not the cause; I am. I want to be present with my kids, teach them things, have fun and enjoy parenthood. At the same time, juggling a job and the increase in household responsibilities (meals, cleaning, carpooling, etc.) requires energy which gets depleted with so many things needing to get done. Being a parent can sometimes feel like a performance too. We are moving things (much like a stage crew) and do our own ‘acting’ when we put on a brave or ‘everything’s fine’ face in front of others when we are in fact tired, strained, and stressed.  Throw on what’s going on in our country politically, and the stress can feel overwhelming. When I force myself to relax I notice that I hold my shoulders high and my jaw tensed. Amazing that I don’t realize this or feel it until I’m forced to take a few deep breaths and lower my shoulders and loosen my jaw. I wonder what that looks like to my kids seeing Mom more relaxed, more easily smiling and more willing to engage then just trying to get through to what’s next. My guess is they prefer it to stressed out Mom, who is more snippy and less present.

My kids have once again reminded me of things I need to work on. Step 1) Notice stress, Step 2) Let it go. I’m much happier (not to mention more pleasant to be around) when I do this.

How do you handle stress? How do you help your child handle theirs?

 

Change of Scenery

Have you ever had to move your family?

When I was growing up, we relocated to a different state for my father’s job. It was pretty traumatic for my siblings and I. We moved from the suburbs to the sticks and had quite an adjustment to go through. It left an impression on me and created a desire to not move as a family once the kids were in school. I realize this isn’t an option for many, and there are many benefits to having your child move to different environments. It’s just my preference to, if at all possible, not move.

I’ve blogged in the past about how we are outgrowing our current home and either need to find another home or remodel ours. We are currently looking at remodeling and have found a home to stay in while the work is being done.

There is a part of me that is looking forward to the move. Moving forces you to rid yourself of much. It’s a catharsis, with a touch of sadness. Many items are a reference point for a memory, and while logically you know you’ll never use the item again it can be hard to know you’ll lose the reference point. I’m also looking forward to the change of scenery. We’ll be close to our home so we won’t feel so isolated, yet we’ll have an opportunity to experience something new — new layout, new way we navigate a new home, and make it ours while we’re living there. The kids are excited about the possibilities. I’m following their lead. Moving can be stressful, but it can be fun. It’s an adventure and hopefully we’ll all be better for it, in the end.

How did you get through you move? How did you help your kids adjust to their change in scenery?

 

Breathe in Breathe out

Have you ever had a week where stressors seem to pile up? This week I did. It started with the normal stuff: school forms that needed to be sent in, and schoolwork my children needed to complete (of course, the homework required parental involvement, which was fine). Next throw in a stressful work situation or two that becomes escalated, find out that not one, but two family members have serious medical situations going on, and have a spouse who is away on a business trip. It can start to feel overwhelming.

How do you handle such weeks?

As the week unfolded, each day seemed to bring a new strain and I’d think to myself, “It’s got to get better,” only to have another stressor added the following day. “I’ll get through this,” I’d tell myself as I tried to cope on my own. I was sharing my situation with a trusted advisor, who in turn asked me a great question, “What are you doing to take care of yourself?” Now, several years ago, that question would have just made me mad. I probably would have responded, “Nothing. There’s no time!” But since I’ve learned so much around the importance of it since then, it was a good reminder. What am I doing to take care of myself? I thought. I realized that I wasn’t doing anything. I was running on auto-pilot trying to get through each day and not allowing myself time to feel anything too strongly or think too much about any one concern. Instead I was seeking out downtime and rest.  As I realized this, I was first disappointed. Why wasn’t I seeking out more self-care? Then I thought, Cut yourself some slack. You’ve had a heck of a week. 

We all have stressors in our life and some weeks are better than others. What I noticed most about this past week was how much I longed to be comforted and held by my husband (I needed someone to tell me everything is going to be okay), and I needed rest. I needed to listen to my body’s cues and give myself permission and time to process and work through all the things I’m dealing with. I also realized that I wasn’t being fully present with my children. I was trying to get through each day, not interact with them as authentically as I would if I didn’t have this stresses hanging over me.

This came to a head when I was trying to read a book while in the same room with my older son. He was watching a college football game. Something he and I both enjoy. He was very excited by what was going on in the game and kept trying to engage me in what was taking place. After realizing I was missing an opportunity to engage with my son (I could read the book later), I put the book down and took a deep breathe. I’m not sure what prompted me to do this, but it felt good. Breathe in, breathe out. It helped bring me back to the present. My son saw that my attention was now on him and the game and he came to my side with the widest smile. “I can’t help how much I love this, Mom,” he shared. And while I suspect that he was referring to his excitement in watching the game, he reminded me how much I love spending time with he and his brother too.  Just one breathe brought it all back into focus.

I was grateful when my husband arrived home a few hours later and grateful when the week that the week is behind me, but possibly most grateful for the gift of a simple deep breathe, and how it brought me back to life. What a simple tool: breathe in, breathe out.

How do you take care of yourself when you have stressful situations? What brings you back to being fully present?

Driver’s Test

I was driving to work one day when it happened. I was near a tunnel entrance and decided to change lanes. I put my blinker on, checked my mirrors, looked over my left shoulder to make sure I had plenty of room, and then moved over. The car I pulled in front of clearly did not like my decision to change into their lane. They weren’t going especially fast prior to me changing lanes, and they didn’t run up on me, so how did I know they were upset? Because they threw on their high beams, and kept them on for the next three miles. The first chance to pass me, they did. They pulled up beside me and attempted to get my attention. I decided it would be best not to make eye contact, because I figured it would only make things worse. After the driver realized I wouldn’t take the bait, they sped off. I still have no idea what I did to provoke such a reaction.

I reflected on my decision to change lanes earlier. Had I done something wrong?  I had plenty of room to change lanes I checked a couple of times prior to moving over. What was I missing?

Then I thought I wonder what’s been happening with that other person today.  Did they have a rough night of sleep, or are they stressed out about a meeting, or did they get into an argument with a loved one before leaving?  I don’t know what caused them to get so upset, but I have to believe their mood didn’t have much to do with me. I think my lane change was their last straw.

I think about myself as a driver. While I like to think of myself as a calm and compassionate person most of the times, I must admit that gets tossed out the window when I get cut-off or have a bad encounter with another driver. I sometimes think is this some sort of test (of my patience)? It feels like I’m being purposely disrespected or dismissed, like the other person believes they are entitled, or that their needs or wants are more important than mine. And perhaps I’m onto something with this belief, but think it’s only a small part of it.

Prior to having children, I would mutter four-letter words under my breath or make hand gestures below the dashboard when I got in these situations.  It was my way of getting some of the frustration or anger out, without making the situation worse. Since having kids I’ve had to rethink my responses. Kids are constantly watching what we do. Sometimes when a drive does something I don’t like I’ll say, “Come on friend” to which my sons will ask, “who are you talking to? They’re not your friend?” I’ll explain that it helps mom calm down when she talks about someone as her friend. I’ll also try to explain what’s going on. “I’m frustrated because I want to get home and this person is holding us up. It’s not their fault, they might just be having a bad day.” Having this conversation with my kids requires me to practice patience, being aware of my actions and words, and using it to teach—not always easy to do.

I’m not sure how much I’m getting through to my kids, but I’m hoping that they are able to handle traffic a little bit better than I do when they get older. My sense is people will continue to cut each other off, and drivers will continue to get frustrated with one another.  I can’t control what others do, but I can certainly control my actions and prepare my children for how to deal with drivers when they encounter similar situations in the future.

Thank goodness they won’t be ready for their drivers licenses for many more years. I still have time.

How do you handle frustrating drivers?

How to Avoid the January Blues and the Resolution Cliff

Each New Year I start off in a blue kind-of-state.  The holidays are over, the decorations are down, and the magic of the season is quickly fading away. Top that off with the expectation that each of us are to come up with a resolution to keep during the New Year makes it all the more depressing.

The end of 2012 brought a lot of talk, stress and anxiety around the fiscal cliff and the importance of avoiding it. I offer up that we need to do the same with resolutions. Resolutions tend to involve a lot of talk, which can create stress and discomfort around changes desired in our own lives. Guilt is often the motivating factor. Add that to a difficult task (e.g. get a new job, lose 20 pounds in a month, give up sweets, etc.), and then beat yourself up, or throwing yourself over the “resolution cliff”, when you fail or are derailed early on, is something we should all be trying to avoid.

The New Year is a good time to reflect and think about what’s working in our lives and what isn’t, but I’d suggest we should be reflecting throughout the year, not just at the beginning. Resolutions that require change—job, weight, living situation, relationship, etc.—can be very stressful. Any change can be. Adding new stress to your life when you just got over all the stress that comes with the holidays doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

Instead of resolutions, my husband and I decided to talk about our hopes for the New Year, hopes for our children, hopes for our family, hopes for us as a couple, and hopes for ourselves.  These hopes will require action on our part to make happen, but because we want them to happen, we’re motivated.  Not out of guilt, but desire.

And that’s a much better place to start any New Year.

What are your hopes for 2013?

Hope through great sadness

I had my weekly blog written several days ago and was prepared to post it this morning prior to the tragic events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday morning. It’s hard to know what to say when something like this happens. For a large majority of us the world stopped for a while on Friday. A wave of grief came over us for the children and their families involved in the tragic events. It is impossible to comprehend and will never ever make sense what would drive someone to do this.

The holiday season is a time of hope. Hope for seeing the best in each other, and hope for what’s possible. My hope was suspended momentarily on Friday. It’s starting to return, as I see communities coming together, reaching out to each other; to discuss what happened; share our sadness and anger; and discuss possible solutions to avoid something the like happening in the future.

I hope one day violence isn’t the solution for resolving an issue. I’d prefer a world without guns, but in the absence of that hope we will finally figure out how to allow people to bear arms without endangering law-abiding citizens. I hope we will figure out as a nation how to work together as one and solve our problems together.  I hope we will learn how to take better care of each other physically, mentally and emotionally.

I still feel great sadness over the situation in Sandy Hook and probably will for some time to come. But the holiday season is about hope, and I grateful to be feeling a glimmer of it again.

The Scariest Thing of All – Part 2

My fear has changed since having kids.  Keeping my children and family safe is at the top of my list. This recently led to an epiphany for me on how I differ from others in how I deal with stress (or fear or anxiety).

When we went camping a few months ago, a lightning storm unexpectedly arrived. The thunder was loud and lightning was getting closer. As my husband was tending to the tent and campfire he was building with our oldest son my anxiety went through the roof.  I didn’t experience a gradual increase in anxiety.  The thunder boomed, my anxiety shot up and I immediately thought, we need to get inside. Our car was parked nearby and I felt this was much safer than being outside. Our youngest son was upset by the thunder and asked to go into the car. We went into the car and I tried to wait as patiently as I could for my husband and older son to arrive.  It took them several minutes and a lot of nonverbal communication between my husband and I (picture me giving him the “what are you doing?” and “get over here now” looks). My husband wasn’t pleased, but eventually complied and they got into the car.  While I thought it was obvious we needed to get in the car my husband didn’t feel the same. He didn’t appreciate my anxiety because he wasn’t experiencing the same thing I was.

I would love to tell you I came to this realization on my own, but I didn’t. Someone shared some very good insight with me.  People experience stress (which takes many forms including anxiety or fear) in different ways. Some confront stress, take it on and work to get through it. Others avoid it altogether. Simply put, some people handle stress by taking action, others by inaction.

When you and your spouse disagree about something, each of you thinks you’re right, and it’s common to try to coerce your spouse to your way of thinking. Except it doesn’t work and can lead to unwanted compromise and resentment.

I experience fear in real-time.  I trust my gut. I do not have an off button or a way to avoid feeling it. It is front-and-center when it occurs and can get very intense very quickly depending on how fearful I am.  My husband doesn’t experience stress the way I do, and we’re learning how to better communicate what’s really going on which each other when we experience stress, and what we can do to meet each other’s needs.

It’s not easy, but it’s needed. I realize I can no longer expect him to feel what I’m feeling, but need to make it clear to him that I’m experiencing stress (e.g. I am getting very uncomfortable being outside with this lightning and thunder).  If he is unwilling to share my stress, I need to be clear on how he can help me feel better (e.g. can we get in the car for the next 15 minutes until the storm passes?).  It’s little tweaks for us to better communicate and understand each other.  It’s about feelings (talk about scary!) and being confident enough to know when you are experiencing them and when they’re not.

How do you handle stress?  Do you take action or do you avoid dealing with the situation?

By not taking action, do your family members experience stress?