I’m sitting in the middle of the twins’ nursery, enjoying a laughter-filled moment with my kids. We are three hours into an ordinary Tuesday, and our day thus far has been uneventful. Mornings tend to be the happiest time of day in our household, and I am doing my best to be mindful and present within this moment, appreciating this gift of time with my favorite tiny humans.
Without notice, and seemingly without impetus, a rogue thought enters my mind. The thought itself is unimportant: it could be about something that needs to get done later in the day, or a temporarily suppressed concern that has inched its way to the surface of my mind, or an unbidden memory that has usurped my attention. Specifics aside, this triggering thought catapults me into an altered state of body and mind. My kids continue to play around me, but I suddenly feel as though I am drowning, succumbing to the murderous waters of stress.
My vision starts to blur, then goes entirely black. My ears are deaf to all but the sound of my racing heart, pulsing anxious blood through an overtaxed body that has broken into a cold sweat. My hands are shaking, my mouth is cotton, and my mind is spiraling, unable to focus, on the verge of complete severance from my surroundings.
I wish this was an isolated event. Unfortunately, this scenario is a common occurrence for me, happening at least weekly and often multiple times in a day, for as far back as my memory can stretch. Even as a child, I had a remarkably low threshold for unpredictability and chaos. And for a mom, unpredictability and chaos are the name of the game. Don’t misunderstand me, I LOVE my life and my family and wouldn’t trade our chaos for anything, but coping within this life and this family is a constant challenge.
Over the years, I’ve developed systems and routines that help me manage the day-to-day stress of Mom Life, and I credit these (as well as a supportive husband and HEAVY reliance on the Lord) for preventing me from taking up permanent residence in Crazy Town. But these “moments of crazy” still happen on the regular, and in my current reality as mom to three littles, living within the most unpredictable circumstances of our generation, my Crazy Brain has been escaping from the vault with excessive frequency of late.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there is more going on here than an unwarranted physiological response to disproportionate stressors. I have done—and will continue to do—the deep spiritual and mental work needed to conquer (or at least cope with) these inner demons. Journaling, therapy, consistent prayer, and routine self care all play a part in this continued pursuit of emotional health. But for those moments when I become nearly nonfunctional and simply need to pull myself back to the surface of sanity and competence, I have identified a few quick fixes that help. I’m sharing these today in hopes that they might be helpful for some of you who are also struggling to stay afloat in these markedly stressful times. And selfishly, I’m listing out these strategies so that I can refer to them myself next time (later today, I’m sure!) Mr. Crazy stops by for a visit.
1. Slow down.
These moments of derailment often come when I’m doing too much at once. I find it helpful to corral my multitasking and force myself to focus on a single task. (And for a moment, that task might just be taking deep breaths.)
2. Turn off the noise.
I might not be able to press mute on Charleston’s incessant questions or the twins’ squeals, but I can eliminate the excess by turning off the Sonos and taking out my earbuds. The added noise of a podcast, audiobook, or even worship music are the opposite of helpful when I’m struggling to get a hold of my thoughts.
3. Step away from the screen.
Virtual “noise” is a trigger as well, so putting down my phone and closing my computer is also a must.
4. Clean something.
It’s hard for me to destress when my environment is messy. Scattered toys and rogue crumbs are unavoidable these days, but I often find relief from clearing off just one surface or vacuuming one room in the house.
5. Seek connection.
Though it’s often the last thing I want in a stressful moment, I’ve found that connecting physically or emotionally with my family members is the fastest way to get me out of my head and back into the present. Whether it’s tickling the twins to see them giggle, asking Charleston to tell me a story, or requesting a hug from Luke, these brief connections succeed in derailing my crazy brain before it can do too much damage.
6. Light a candle.
The act of lighting the candle, combined with watching the flickering flame and breathing in its scent, is comforting and grounding for me. Charleston has caught on to my use of candles for easing my stress: when he sees me reaching for the lighter, he is quick to check in, asking how I’m doing and what he can do to help.
7. Move my body.
A regular exercise routine is one of my top tools for coping with stress. I’m not always able to fit in a full workout when I feel an “episode” coming on, but even just a few jumping jacks or an impromptu walk around the block does wonders. (Though not essential, it’s extra helpful when this movement gets me outdoors.)
8. Write it out.
My stress is often tied to my (perceived) inability to accomplish the day’s tasks; listing what needs to be done makes my to-do list seem less daunting or, at the very least, helps me develop an action plan for getting things done. When my stress is unrelated to my to-do list, I find relief in offloading my anxiety to a list of what is bothering me and promising myself that, if necessary, I can tend to these emotional burdens later in the day.
9. Remember to “follow the energy.”
My Stress Brain tells me that I don’t have time to get everything done, but generally that isn’t the case: I usually do have enough time. However, I don’t always have the energy (physical, mental or otherwise). Forcing a task into a low-energy moment tends to be a recipe for frustration (and a trigger for my Crazy Brain), but if I ride the tides of my energy—making the most of the moments when inspiration and sanity strike—I can accomplish a lot in a very little amount of time, freeing me up to take it easy when my energy is waning.
10. Recall what’s important.
This may seem trite, but coming back to my core values is my number one tool for overcoming a stress attack. Whatever has me feeling overwhelmed—be it my laundry pile or a blog post or getting dinner on the table—is not all that important in the grand scheme of my life, and allowing myself to fall prey to those stressors robs me of my joy and distracts me from living a life of significance and purpose.
I know that not everyone is prone to stress, but we all have moments when life feels daunting. When you feel yourself succumbing to life’s stressors, how do you respond? What calming strategies work well for you? I’m always looking to add to my Toolbox of Sanity Savers, so I would love it if you would share your strategies with me.