Ellen Galinsky, the head of the Families and Work Institute and author of “Mind in the Making” asked children in 1,000 U.S. families, “If you were granted one wish about your parents, what would it be?” Most parents predicted their kids would say spending more time with them. The results of the survey may come as a surprise for many of you. They were an eye opener for me.
The number one wish was that their parents be less tired and less stressed. From the same article: “Studies have shown that parental stress weakens children’s brains, depletes their immune systems and increases their risk of obesity, mental illness, diabetes, allergies and even tooth decay.” (Published in Time, October 2013, How to Have a Happy Family – 7 Tips Backed by Research)
As I think back some 25 years ago, I wonder if my younger “self” was thinking about how my own stresses were impacting my children? I doubt it. As a single mother, I was in survival mode. I was working full-time, commuting an hour to work (another hour back), juggling my two children’s school and extra-curricular activities, and taking care of all of the household administrative duties, relationships, community service, etc. There was always something that needed to be done, and it was seldom that something was relaxing.
The take-away from not only my personal experience as a working mom (and this applies to all moms), and the current data, is that it is very important to manage our own stress. This is not only for our health, but also for the health of the children in our lives. It was my job to educate them about the health benefits of nutritious foods, the importance of joyful exercise, compassion towards others, expressing gratitude for Mother Nature and the importance of family and friends as support systems. However, I have learned that I could have reduced my stress load in several ways, and therefore given them more stress management tools to positively affect their futures.
What would I tell/ask my younger, 35 year old self today about stress and doing some things differently?
- There is always a day, a time, when “it’s enough.” Some days I remember feeling guilty because I only checked off two things from my “to do” list. On any given day, I’ve learned that we are all doing our best and we need to give ourselves permission to say “it’s enough.” And I’ve learned to accept this with grace.
- Look for opportunities everyday, even in 15-minute windows to carve out some quiet time. When I look back on my busy previous life, I can see that I did have those windows but I didn’t take advantage of them. While I didn’t have the time to take a yoga class or go for a long walk, I did have several times during the day in which I could just stop, close my eyes, and listen to my breathing or to soothing music, either while waiting for the kids in the car at times or sitting on the subway on my way home from work in the city.
- Does this activity or relationship feed and nourish me, or drain and diminish me? I have spent too many years saying “yes” to doing things that left me feeling resentful and exhausted. We all have relationships that we treasure and we all have ups and downs in which we are happy and honored to support each other. However, I have also spent too many years being “worn down” by toxic people. In the big picture of life and health, I have learned that my soul is fed and I am less stressed and happy when I make choices that include activities and people that lift me up and support me.
Say “no” more often. I remember being young and thinking I could do it all. And most of the time I did, but at what cost. Even when there’s a wonderful opportunity, I sometimes now have to say “no” because it’s packing too much into my week. I relish the thought now of leaving myself space in my calendar as a way of reducing stress overload. Saying “no” was and still is one of the hardest things to do. I now know that “quality” is more important than “quantity.” And it’s been truly liberating to set healthy boundaries – mentally, emotionally and physically.
- Get outside to enjoy nature more often. Like a lot of people, I have spent an awful lot of time working inside. So many of our household duties require additional indoor time, particularly on the weekends. What I would tell my younger self is, “leave the dishes, dust and what you can, let’s take a walk or go for a bike ride — enjoy the sunshine and fresh air.” What we gain is Vitamin D (from the sun), fresh air, focus, time to daydream, exercise and less stress!
- Laugh and find joy more frequently. Motherhood is demanding and full of responsibilities on so many levels. I remember forgetting at times that the job of parenting includes finding the joy and laughter in our everyday lives and sharing that with our children.
- Ask for help more often so that my children would also see the value in learning to ask. I would have asked for more “downtime” for myself so that I could refuel and renew, whether it was alone or with girlfriends. Maybe it was because I was a single mom that I felt my children needed a parent present at all times. In trusted friends, when family is not around, we find an abundance of love and kindness and support. They were there, I just didn’t ask enough.
- Turn off the news and instead turn to books, music and uplifting movies!
“Many studies have shown that stress is a risk factor for cancer, and for example, that psychological stress is linked to breast cancer aggressiveness.” (Medical News Today) These studies are still controversial, but I don’t believe that any one thing contributes to a cancer diagnosis. It has been proven, however, that stress weakens the immune system. A weakened immune systems does make all of us more vulnerable to disease.
There are no “do overs” in real life, but we can learn from our previous actions and try not to repeat the same mistakes. I look back and wish I hadn’t been so stressed out when I was raising my children. I was in survival mode and doing the best I could, particularly as a single mom for many years. I am proud of the job I did and it’s the role I am most proud of. I have learned much about stress management from having been through a cancer diagnosis and in moving forward with good health, I hope to share this with all of you and to “pay it forward” to my children, grandchildren, family and friends.
I make better choices each and every day. I am so grateful for that! And while I am empowering myself, I contribute to reducing the family stress load and can look forward to sharing the gifts and tools that may empower my children and grandchildren to make healthy stress management part of the non toxic lifestyle.
Be well and joyful!