Don't let finances freak you out
The moms we surveyed say that money is their biggest stressor. It makes sense; the U.S. Census Bureau reports that in the years since the official end of the recession, the American family's household income has fallen 4 percent, nearly the same decrease as during the recession itself. Gaining control through help from a financial expert or library books about money management will make a difference. So will a change in perspective.
Question what's "essential." "I want to know that my kids have everything they need," one mom said. But look closely at wants vs. needs. "Most of what you think your kid should have is unnecessary," says Parents advisor Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee.
Share. Swap child care with a friend, or organize toy trades or neighborhood potlucks. "People feel isolated when it comes to money worries," says Dale Atkins, Ph.D., author of Sanity Savers. "Helping each other erases that lonesome feeling and gives you a sense of control."
Don't shop for sport. Even though money worries are your biggest anxiety-producer, when we asked respondents how they relax, one of the most popular answers was shopping! Instead, find other ways to zone out (refer to "Remember How to Relax," on page 3).
Stop stress eating
When you're on the food ledge, Parents advisor Elisa Zied, R.D.N., a nutritionist in New York City, suggests these ways to talk yourself down.
Wait it out. Take 15 minutes. Go for a walk, snuggle with your partner, knit, paint your toes. Doing something else can distract you from your craving.
Eat--but in your mind only. In one study at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, when people merely imagined eating a food such as cheese, they subsequently ate less of the food they'd imagined eating.
Brush, floss, and rinse with mouthwash, or have a strong mint or a piece of sugarless gum. The routine may also help you convince yourself that eating time is over now that your teeth are cleaner.
If all else fails, indulge in your craving but in the right portion size. Measure out a 5-ounce glass of wine, serve yourself one scoop of your favorite ice cream, or have one snack-size bag of chips.
Be the boss
Many moms report that the daily tasks that irritate them most involve catering to family members' needs. "Resist taking the roles of Sherpa, butler, crabby concierge, short-order cook, talent agent, and hospital staffer wiping the bottom of people old enough to do it themselves," says Dr. Mogel. Some ways to lay down the law:
Don't snap to attention every time someone makes a demand. "Kids aren't hothouse flowers; they're hardy perennials," Dr. Mogel points out. "Let them be cold, wet, or hungry for more than a second and they'll appreciate the chance to be warm, dry, and fed."
Assign a task the next time you feel mom-martyrdom creeping in. "It's the worst thing in the world to feel resentful," says Dr. Atkins. Annoyed that no one sees that stuff on the stairs except you? Don't sigh dramatically as you haul it off--delegate the job to someone else.
When that doesn't work, practice selective perfectionism. "Deal with the one or two things that bug you most and force yourself to let everything else go," says Parents advisor Alice Domar, Ph.D., author of Live a Little: Breaking the Rules Won't Break Your Health.
Manage your time crunch
"I feel like I'm running in circles. I have good intentions to get things done, but by day's end my list seems longer than when I started," confesses one mom. Sound familiar? When our moms were asked to describe their current state of mind, they used terms like "pulled in all directions," "hectic," "preoccupied," and "too much to focus on." The upside is that 58 percent say a typical weekday is "busy but fun." A few strategic maneuvers can help you keep the busy in check and capitalize on the fun.
Identify the high-stress parts of your day. Figure out how you can make those times more relaxed, suggests Ashley Stoffel, O.T.D., clinical assistant professor of occupational therapy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. If mornings are chaotic no matter how much you plan, try getting up 20 minutes earlier so that you have some quiet time to get organized or even do some calming stretches. Or try writing out a step-by-step routine to keep everyone on task.
Plan your to-dos-don't simply put them on a list. "One of our biggest stressors is the ticker tape of tasks that runs through our head," says Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management From the Inside Out. To tackle them, integrate them into a calendar or a planner that goes where you go (not a calendar on the fridge). Write your usual to-do list, but then input two or three tasks into each day's schedule, along with how long they'll take. Example: Instead of scribbling "buy teacher gifts" on a Post-it, mark out an hour on your schedule when you can tackle it, she suggests.
Set a timer. When you time your routine tasks, you learn how long things really take. "We tend to think that something we dread, like doing the dishes, takes an hour when it's really more like seven minutes," says Morgenstern. Realizing this makes tasks feel more manageable--it's easier to sort through a pile of unopened mail when you tell yourself you'll do it for just 15 minutes.
Automate. "The primary job of parenting is not chores; it's being present for your family," says Morgenstern. Put all of the jobs that nag at you on autopilot: Make a list of ten rotating dinners that your family likes, sign up for deliveries of diapers and household goods, assign a time for chores: Put in a load of laundry first thing each morning, gas up the car every Tuesday, etc.