"I know I'm not being the best mom I can be right now. But I just feel so overwhelmed."
Fear is infectious during a pandemic. Sometimes we wake in the night in a cold sweat. But more often fear comes up as Stress. Worry. Anxiety. Overwhelm. Anger. Perfectionism. Crankiness. Over-Eating. Doom-surfing. Trying to control everything.
If we let fear have its way with us, it steals our joy, our resourcefulness, our ability to be fully present. We aren't the parents we want to be.
But you don't have to let fear control you. You can acknowledge it, and then say "Thank you, Fear. I've got this. You can take a break."
Then take charge of your fear, with some simple daily habits that help you stay centered.
These seven habits don't have to take a lot of time, and they will reliably help you feel more energized, more calm, and less overwhelmed. You don't have time NOT to do them!
1. Give yourself a break.
When you feel overwhelmed, it means your internal resources don't feel adequate to manage all the incoming demands. So stop demanding so much of yourself. You are under unprecedented pressure right now. Don't add to that by expecting yourself to become a terrific teacher or take up a new hobby. Keeping your family healthy, food on the table, and your own mood emotionally generous is your priority. Your children need your good cheer much more than they need you to educate them.
Make a schedule that balances the most important needs for the whole family, and keep adjusting until it feels right for you. Don't load yourself up with expectations and don't compare yourself to others.
Exercise changes your body chemistry to boost your mood, give you energy, and reduce the feeling of stress (which is just a form of fear.) But you need to do more than make dinner and pick up after everyone. Have a dance party with your family; put on an exercise video for the family, or get your children laughing with a roughhousing game. Schedule this in to be sure you get to it at least once daily. Remember that you get bonus benefits for laughter!
3. Daily mindfulness practice.
This is no longer a luxury; it is essential to manage the stress that goes with living through a pandemic. Your practice can be very simple, such as a short guided meditation or a yoga routine. Kids disrupting your downward dog? Set up a yoga video for kids or sit with them to listen to a guided meditation.
You're in quarantine, but you don't need to feel isolated. Research shows that connection reduces stress. Structure opportunities into your day to warmly connect with each person with whom you live. If you have more than one child, find time alone with each of them. Every day, reach out via phone or video to someone you care about but can't be with in person. If you're feeling stressed, find a "listening partner" who will let you blow off steam without judging or trying to fix you; and return the favor for them.
5. Reduce incoming stressors.
That means news and social media, if they increase your stress level. And how could they not? It also means that you need some time to yourself, every day. Build it in to the routine.
6. Nurture yourself.
Managing your mood gets easier when you set up your environment to support you. For instance, play music that soothes you. Cook food that smells good and helps you feel nurtured and healthy. Write in a journal. Take a bubble bath after the kids are asleep. Stop doom-surfing and get yourself to bed as early as possible.
If there were ever a time for self-care, this is it! Make two lists of things that nurture you: the first that you can do while your children are with you, and the second that you can do on your own. Then do as many of them as you can, every day! Even if it seems to take energy to get started, they'll end up energizing you.
7. Extend Grace.
When we're cooped up together, it's easy to get on each others' nerves. But collecting resentments will make you feel more overwhelmed. And when you gather
enough kindling, you'll usually end up with a firestorm. So choose to be emotionally generous whenever you can. (That means put any frustrating incidents
on a list to solve later, but in the moment, let them go.)
Research on couples shows that when we're upset, it's impossible to work things out constructively. In other words, when you're angry is NOT the time to talk about what's bothering you. So when you get upset, first take responsibility to calm yourself. A Magic Wand To Manage Your Stress gives you a 4-Step Process that you can use to return yourself to calm any time you get triggered.
In this moment when life itself seems precarious and we feel powerless, there is one thing that you can always control -- yourself. When you notice that your mood is cranky, ask yourself what you need. Five minutes to yourself? More sleep? Give it to yourself now, or make a plan to give it to yourself later.
Also consider what thoughts are contributing to your cranky mood, and find antidotes. For instance, "I can't stand this for another whole month!" might become "I can manage this right now, and take it one day at a time."
Is this asking you to be a better person than you think you can be? You can do this.
This is a hard time, there's no way around that. But you can choose to act in ways that will make you a better parent and a better person, especially if you take responsibility to give yourself support. What's a pandemic for, if not to grow into the best versions of ourselves? Who says we can't spin dross into gold? You've got this.
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