Stress is part of everyday life. The physical symptoms of stress: increased heart rate, tension in the neck and shoulders, tummy cramps, sweaty palms and others, are linked to our primal fight/flight response that even our prehistoric ancestors felt.
There is healthy stress and unhealthy stress. Healthy stress is short term and controllable, like working towards and successfully meeting a deadline or finishing an exam. Unhealthy stress, however, is not relieved in the short term and weighs you down, like the anxiety of extended lockdown or an unhappy work environment. The good news is that you can manage your stress levels!
Here are 5 ways to help you manage your stress, instead of letting your stress manage you:
When you’re stressed your body produces cortisol. In small amounts cortisol is helpful, but in excess amounts it can trigger weight gain, affect digestion, memory and concentration, as well as exacerbate insomnia. Cortisol is the enemy of learning. The quickest and most effective way to disengage our stress is to take 3 deep BELLY BREATHS. To decrease the cortisol, we need to increase oxygen to the brain, as oxygen is brain food. 3 deep BELLY BREATHS help to move our diaphragm, massage our internal organs, stimulate our thinking brains and cut off our fight/flight stress response. You can think of this as a metaphoric superhighway from your diaphragm to your brain. The added bonus of us taking 3 deep belly breathes when we are triggered or overwhelmed, is that we model this tool for our children.
‘You can’t drink from an empty cup.’ Whenever I ask parents what they do to fill their tanks, the answer is often, ‘There’s no time’. My advice: make time. The example that you set for your children when you don’t look after yourself first, is that they don’t need to take care of themselves. Find something that you love to do that also fills your tank, like dance, painting, gardening, yoga, running or Zumba, and diarise it. You wouldn’t compromise a meeting time with your boss, so don’t let busyness get in the way of selfcare.
3. The power of acceptance
Conscious Discipline has 7 powers for conscious adults to teach 7 skills to children, and the power of acceptance ‘This moment is as it is’ is a game changer. We also have an acronym in Conscious Discipline: Q.T.I.P – Quit, Taking, It, Personally. To not take something personally is hard when we’re feeling overwhelmed. Become aware of your triggers, and when the world doesn’t go your way, take a step back and say: “This is happening in front of me, not to me”. This helps create space between any stimulus and your response to it. The next point will assist you with the power of acceptance.
4. Make a list of things you can control and can’t control
In the last 6 months, I have seen many variations of this, both for children and adults.
What you can control:
- Information you receive
- What you do with your free time
- Taking care of yourself: staying hydrated, choosing nourishing healthy food
- Limiting your time on social media (mindless scrolling on FB, Twitter or Instagram can be an energy drain)
- Asking for help
- Your mindset
What you can’t control:
- The actions of those around you
- What others say
- What others believe
- Past mistakes
- The weather!
‘The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression’ Dr Stuart Brown. Play is essential for both brain development and self-regulation. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown lists 10 goal posts for Whole Hearted Living. The one that resonates most with me, and speaks to the importance of play is #7: “Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth; and cultivating rest and play”. If Covid19 has taught us anything, it’s that the excessive busyness of our lives is draining and often unnecessary. Find playful things that you can do with your partner as well as your children. Have an indoor picnic, make pancakes with food colouring (click for to view our recipe), have a dance party or camp in the garden. These are the moments that will live on in your memories.
Finally, don’t be a hero. Watch for patterns of behaviour, if you identify feelings of deep despair, prolonged helplessness or red flags such as sleeplessness, weight loss, appetite loss… seek help! No man is an island. Make an appointment with your GP or Psychologist. Even spending time with a close friend who is able to hold space for your to process what you’re experiencing, can be very helpful. Often all we need is someone to genuinely empathise with where we are at. If you are experiencing ongoing power struggles with your children that result in feelings of anxiety and being totally overwhelmed, phone me. We can work on upgrading your parenting toolbox. You’ve got this!
- Responding to disruptive younger children at home: https://t.co/1MrYQoEENM?amp=1
- Brown, Brené., and OverDrive Inc. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2010.
Contributed by Mandy Herold Headmistress at a leading independent school in Johannesburg and International Conscious Discipline® Certified Instructor.
Cell: 082 829 2112