Remember how to relax
Says one mom, "Before I became a parent, I could just decompress in my living room without feeling like I was hiding out." And another: "I always have so much on my mind--being a good mom, wife, employee, friend, sister, daughter, not to mention getting everything done."
But learning how to relax doesn't have to mean disengaging from life, says Dr. Amit Sood, whose clinic has taught relaxation skills to more than 40,000 patients. "You don't have to retreat to your basement and meditate for 45 minutes." (Although if that works for you, go for it!) Try these tips:
Institute family downtime. "A while ago, I read a study showing that families where both parents work outside the home spend less than two minutes together when they first reunite in the evening before moving on to other things," says Dr. Sood. "So my family purposefully started spending 15 minutes together each evening. We don't do anything special, we don't try to improve each other during that time, we just be. It helps you gain perspective."
Let your environment lead the way. For instance, try listening to a favorite playlist while you do dishes instead of suffering through the sounds of Power Rangers in the other room. Says one survey respondent, "When I'm tackling household chores, I put on hip-hop. It energizes me."
Don't numb out. Our first impulse when we're stressed is often to dull the feelings--with food, say, or by escaping into bad TV. But this doesn't defuse the tension; it just temporarily puts it off. In fact, data from more than 45,000 people collected over 35 years show that people who ranked highest on happiness scales watch the least television. Instead, look through old photo albums, write an over-the-top bucket list, listen to TED talks, or watch a video from TheMoth.org, a series of cool monologues.
Avoid "contaminated free time." In other words, you collapse on the sofa after a long day but you spot a toy on the floor so you go pick it up, and the next thing you know you've spent 20 minutes cleaning. Or you sit down to send a quick e-mail and 45 minutes later you're still online. Enjoy every second of your time off, whether it means turning off your phone or even leaving the house (and its laundry piles) to go for a walk.
Go to bed 30 minutes earlier. "I always take quiet time at night," says one mom. "Sometimes I go to bed extra early just to have time for myself."
Embrace the concept of "me time"
"I never have a free moment," says one mom in our survey. "It's rare that I ever get to do something just for myself. That's stress, baby." Explains another, "I feel like I don't even have ten minutes for myself. My older kids have after-school activities and my 5-year-old needs my time too--and my husband is just like one of the kids sometimes. Everyone needs my attention."
But here's a radical thought: The obstacles to having more free time may be self-imposed. Think about it--maybe the only reason why you "can't" meet a friend for coffee on a Saturday afternoon is because you haven't given yourself permission. A quarter of us even admit to lying to our own family about our schedule just to get a little time on our own. Some of our surveyed moms' desperate stories are shown below (1 through 3). But it's 4 though 6 we can learn from--moms who have taken time for themselves and are all the better for it.
1. "I was dying to see a movie that no one else in my family was interested in, so I said I was working late one night and snuck off to the theater."
2. "I was at a doctor's appointment and my family kept texting me. I told them that my phone battery was dying so they'd leave me alone."
3. "I told my husband that I was stopping for groceries after work and I'd be about an hour late. I went shoe shopping instead. I felt sort of devious but..."
4. "I never made time to read because life was so busy, but then I realized that life would always be busy. Now I read every day."
5. "My husband and I make sure that we each have a few hours to ourselves once or twice a week. I catch up with friends over a glass of wine, or sometimes I go for a bike ride or watch a show."
6. "Once a month, I take an afternoon off from work just for me."
The TV Mom You Relate to Most
1. Kristina (Monica Potter), the slightly overprotective, deeply loving mom on Parenthood
2. Lily (Alyson Hannigan), the hip, slightly neurotic mom on How I Met Your Mother
3. Claire (Julie Bowen), the competitive, overachieving, control-freak mom on Modern Family
Originally published in the November 2013 issue of Parents magazine.
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