"How can I stop feeling so overwhelmed so I can stay calm with my children? I was never the most calm parent but now ever since we have been sheltering in place I shout a lot more." - Raidah
If you're a parent, and your children are home under lockdown during a pandemic, it's natural that you're going to feel overwhelmed. That makes it much harder to be calm when our children act up. In fact, at times it can feel impossible, because we have so few inner resources, and they seem to be acting so much worse.
But it's worth remembering that our kids are under stress too. Since they can't articulate that stress in words, they act it out. If we respond from our own stress, it's like pouring gasoline on a fire.
Our job is to calm the drama, not escalate it. So our most important responsibility is to manage ourselves, and that starts by pushing back against the overwhelm.
Easier said than done, of course.
But you don't have to let this moment overwhelm you. Here's what helps: Practices that calm your anxiety and restore your well-being. Of course, this isn't a one-time thing; you'll need to use these practices all day long. That's why it's called a practice!
The prefix "RE" means Again. As in, again and again. That's how you create habits, it's how you change your experience, and it's how you rewire your brain.
Here are ten research-based practices that will help you melt away overwhelm.
1. RELEASE anything you can't control.
Stop fighting with reality. Revise your expectations of yourself, your child, your partner, your life.
Some of our overwhelm comes from the anxiety of facing the unknown and coping with big feelings -- disappointment, anger, fear, powerlessness. That's true for everyone during a pandemic, of course, but people who aren't parents presumably have more time to work out those feelings while they perfect the kneading technique for their bread dough. We parents have to do it in our (almost non-existent) spare time.
So wait until your kids are in bed, light a candle, and hug yourself while you let yourself feel all those big emotions. Just let them well up and notice how that feels in your body. Can't find those feelings? Write a list of everything that's overwhelming you, and watch the emotions bubble up. Yes, that means that you'll grieve. That's okay. We all need to grieve so many losses right now. After you let yourself feel all those emotions you've been lugging around, they'll begin to dissipate, and you'll notice that you feel lighter. You'll have more inner resources to change the things you can change.
2. REMEMBER that you CAN control one thing: YOU. You can't control what happens to you, but you can always control how you respond. When you see yourself headed toward shouting, use your Pause Button: Stop, Drop, Breathe. Now try a Do-Over.
3. Take RESPONSIBILITY for what you're thinking, which causes your feelings. Imagine for a moment that you're surrounded by all your thoughts, like a cloud that clings to you as you move. Imagine that your thoughts shape your perceptions. They cause your feelings and moods. They drive your behavior. They radiate to all those around you. If this were true (and it is), would you be surrounded by a storm cloud, or a halo of warm light? What thoughts would you want to be thinking? Start talking back to negative thoughts and replace them with more positive interpretations. Watch your overwhelm diminish. Notice the difference in your family.
4. RETURN to the heart to calm the nervous system. The mind never feels anything is enough. Its job is to be afraid, hoping that will keep us safe, motivate us to grab more, more, more. That spinning mind creates overwhelm. But when we shift our focus to the heart, we experience more well-being. The heart has no guarantees about the future. But the heart is fully here in the present moment. And in this moment, there is no fear. Whatever happens, we will handle it. We have enough, we do enough, we are enough. We are more than enough.
How do you shift from your mind to your heart? Research shows that putting your hand on your heart, breathing into your heart, and feeling love -- sending love to someone, or recalling a time when you felt safe and loved -- increases emotional and physical well-being in a number of helpful ways.
5. REPLENISH yourself over and over, all day long, by being present with yourself. Build replenishment into your daily schedule: yoga breaks, dance breaks with your kids, a short guided meditation, a cup of tea, a walk in nature, a hug. Boost your family's sense of well-being by including Gratitude practices in your family's daily routine: Gratitude Practices to Change Your Happiness Set Point
6. REDUCE your news consumption and online time. Research shows that you'll see your mental health improve. (People who watch the news on screens become sadder, angrier, and more prone to negative thinking. That doesn't help you cope better. Reading news reports is less harmful because they are usually less emotionally manipulative, but you don't need a steady stream, just occasional updates.)
7. REFRAME the challenging experience you're having during this pandemic lockdown. Imagine we're all being "home-schooled" right now, trained to function at a higher level of well-being. How can you use these tough circumstances to help you to show up as the best version of yourself? (Clue for perfectionists: The best version is the most loving version, not the most perfect version.) How can you give your children positive memories of this time? How can you create habits that will serve you and your family long after the pandemic is over?
8. REMEMBER what matters most and keep your perspective. You're keeping your family safe. You're putting food on the table. You're working
on your own emotional regulation and connection. You're doing what you have to, to get through the day. Don't make yourself crazy with unreasonable
expectations. Extend grace to yourself and everyone else.
9. REVISIT your values, whether that's making the world a better place with your presence or practicing forgiveness.
Discuss with your family how you can all live these values during such a tough time. Research shows that finding ways to live our values gives life
meaning and increases well-being.
10. REPEAT. Again and again.
You'll notice an immediate decrease in your overwhelm, so you can cope with more patience when your children having a hard time and giving you a hard time. And as these practices become habits and rewire your brain, you'll see a lift in your daily well-being as your happiness set-point shifts upwards -- So you can handle whatever life throws at you, long after this pandemic is over.
"Mishaps are like knives, that either serve us or cut us, as we grasp them by the blade or by the handle." - James Russell Lowell