He that can have patience, can have what he will.Benjamin Franklin
The day I wrote this, I decided to clean and rearrange the living room, put away all the Christmas decorations and make the space more friendly for a soon-to-be-mobile baby.
When Cordelia woke up from her nap, it still looked like a bomb went off. Clearly unimpressed by the fray, she decided the time was now to have one of her first nonsensical meltdowns. She screamed at the top of her little lungs for over an hour as Evan and I passed her back and forth between us, desperately trying to move furniture and clean-up the ill-timed project.
It was the ultimate test of my new resolution: patience. Instead of melting down myself, I laughed it off. We got the job done and Cordelia eventually calmed down.
This is almost always the outcome in stressful situations, so why do we get so worked up?
One stressor at a time doesn’t bother me too much, but add any more into the mix and it starts to get iffy.
During especially chaotic moments I can feel my blood pressure start to rise, the panic sitting on my chest, the hopeless feeling of not knowing which task to tackle first and which to abandon completely.
Then later, after I’ve calmed down and everything miraculously got done despite it all, comes the guilt. I feel down on myself for losing my cool, for raising my voice, for putting the emphasis on the end and not the means. Sitting in the recliner pumping breast milk, my final task at the end of the day, I realize I’ve become the stereotypical high-strung, zero-fun mom of my nightmares. This thought in particular can really fuel a bedtime pity party.
As a mom, you can’t avoid multitasking. Not if you want to get anything done. Errands, cleaning, laundry, meal prep- the list of chores seems to go on indefinitely. And then there’s still life to live in between all of that- precious firsts with your baby, holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. The moments you want to cherish, not spend hyperventilating in a closet. And what of your own goals and dreams, surely there must be a few minutes to spare for that too.
Is it possible to have it all? Can you find balance without sacrificing one or the other? Or better yet, sacrificing your sanity?
I read recently that children are acutely aware of stress in their environment. Parents who overreact or lose their patience consistently produce toddlers who act out. The more independent children become, the more confidence and stability they require from their caregiver. If you cannot regulate your own emotions, what kind of example does that set?
Insert mom guilt here.
As a rule, I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions. January 1 is after all, just an arbitrary date. But after a particularly stressful lead-up to Christmas this year, I’ve realized patience is something I need to work on.
I don’t find this definition to be very inspiring or empowering. Let’s re-write it:
Okay, still easier said than done most days. Many of us, myself included, react instinctively with negativity. The baby is crying, dinner is burning, the cat just threw up for the second time today… FML.
A negative emotional reaction is itself a form of instant gratification. By getting angry we feel validated. Someone must see this is all so unfair! But typically, it does more harm than good and almost never gets us what we want. Instead, feelings get hurt and respect is lost.
But patience is more than anger management. It is an act of mindful living to prevent feelings of stress before they arise. Patience improves your relationships with your friends, spouse and children, and provides the discipline needed to stick out long-term goals.
Below I have outlined some strategies I have implemented into my routine over the last few months which I have found helpful in reducing stress and anxiety, along with the areas I want to work on going forward this year. I’ve also included the five affirmations I hope will guide my actions.
Strategies I have already incorporated into my routine:
This has been a game-changer for me. I find it nearly impossible to feel negative after I’ve crushed a workout. The confidence gained through challenging yourself physically extends to all areas of your life. After a 30-minute sweat session, I feel like I can take on the world. This is why it’s so important to schedule time for yourself, especially on crazy days. Whatever you’re doing can wait.
Similarly, I’ve found going for a long walk helps on days when I just can’t shut my brain off and my anxiety is getting the better of me. Before I leave, I set my intention and let my thoughts wander. If I’ve been struggling with writer’s block or the solution to a problem, I usually have the answer before I return home again
Keep a gratitude journal
This is a daily habit I’ve had to work on. I kept a journal for 12 years, but recently realized I was more or less using it as an outlet to complain or express negativity, so I didn’t feel it was a practice that was serving me. Having to come up with five specific things that happened throughout my day can sometimes be challenging, but it’s improved my outlook and encouraged me to seek the positive.
Establish a morning and evening routine
How you start and end your day will determine your future success. Having a baby has really helped me to consistently wake up and go to bed at the same time, and resist the temptation to fall back into bad habits (i.e. drinking/partying too much). I am in bed by 9 p.m., and up before 8 a.m. Every morning I write out a list of what I would like to accomplish that day in order of importance, complete my gratitude journal and write out the 10 dreams I most want to create in my life. It has completely changed how my energy is directed throughout the day and keeps me focused on the bigger picture.
Nourish and listen to your body
It’s not rocket science, when you eat like crap, you feel like crap. The last few months, I’ve started practicing intuitive eating. When I am craving something, it usually means I am deficient in something else. I pay attention to these cues. I also try to avoid letting myself get super hungry. It makes me irritable, saps my energy and just leads to overeating and burnout later. And drink your damn water! As someone with pelvic floor damage, I know how annoying it is to have to pee all the time, but when you’re properly hydrated, your memory is better, you think clearer and your body functions smoothly.
Create daily and weekly task lists
As aforementioned, I create these lists each morning. It helps me stay on track throughout the day so I’m never wondering, what do I do next? I’m a big fan of the bullet journal method. Worth a read if you’re into organization.
Areas for improvement this year:
Narrow my focus
Having a to-do list is great, but if there are too many items on it, I’m just setting myself up to be overwhelmed and stressed when I don’t get them all accomplished. Ultimately, many of the ‘tasks’ I classify as important, folding the laundry for example, could be put on hold in favour of taking Cordelia for a walk or working on my writing.
Letting the housework slide is a huge struggle for me. Mess and clutter give me major anxiety. I often put off doing what I want to do, in favour of getting chores done, all in the spirit of avoiding future stress and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle. But the truth is, the world will not implode if I wait to do the dishes. No one is going to give me a medal for changing the litter box. Mopping the floor will not get me closer to my goals. It can wait.
My intention is to highlight my top four tasks each day, do them exceptionally well and let myself off the hook if I don’t get all the housework done. When every second of the day has a task attached to it, there is no room for spontaneity.
Practice delayed gratification
If you’ve seen Ronny Chieng’s Netflix special: Asian Comedian Destroys America!, he does a great bit on our need for instant gratification; we want food from our favourite restaurant delivered to our home in 30 minutes or less and our Amazon orders on our doorstep the same day. The gap between wanting something, to having it becomes narrower every day and we don’t give much thought to how this affects our psyche. Patience is a muscle, and most of us have spaghetti arms- myself included. Delaying gratification ultimately makes us happier and appreciate things more. Think back to when you were a kid and had to wait until Christmas to get that toy you really wanted.
My intention is to say ‘no’ to myself three times per day and make myself wait: for things like browsing social media, eating junk food or ordering items online.
Become more aware of my body language, unconscious responses, and negative self-talk
Mindfulness is being aware of the situation you’re in and how you’re reacting to it. Awareness is allowing emotions to flow through you, without becoming emotionally attached to them. Observe the anger like a monkey in a zoo, objectively, curiously, with humour even, then let it go. Select a more helpful emotion. Choose your own adventure. Slow down, take three deep breaths before speaking. Focus on your breath to silence the dialogue in your head. The only thing you can control about a traffic jam is your reaction to it.
My intention is to wait five minutes before responding to a situation, to quiet my mind through breathing when stressful moments arise, and choose positivity whenever possible.
My five affirmations for 2020:
My true purpose has no time limit or deadline
I take control by releasing control, I accept what I cannot change
I loan my role, I own myself. I am a mom but still Meagan
I see challenges where others see difficulty
I easily handle stressful situations because I know everything is temporary, I trust myself to deal with whatever arises