It happens all too often: I ask my children to complete a simple task. Nicely, calmly, directly with eye-contact. I question if they hear me and comprehend exactly what I am asking of them. “Yes ma’am,” three little voices peep.
I go about my business, circle back, and nothing. The kids have done nothing. I ask again, this time a bit more fervently. Silence. Stillness. My head pounds, my eyes bulge, my blood flashes, my jaw clenches. I’m in disbelief, outraged, and disappointed simultaneously. Then it happens. I roar into the otherwise quiet room, “Why aren’t you doing what I asked you to do?” Blank stares, followed by, “Mommy, you’re scaring me.” Seriously? Seriously.
My children aren’t the only trigger for my stress; it can be driving down the road behind someone who has never learned the importance of a directional or the accelerator. It can be the barking dogs; having to dig through my always too-full bag, fumbling for my “lost” car keys; or having to pause my busywork to help someone. It’s dealing with the health insurance company—every time I deal with the insurance company.
I feel like a two-year-old still grappling with the power to communicate with words and compassion rather than erupting into a tantrum. Most times it’s not even a full-blown rage, but there’s an agitated physical, mental, and emotional reaction to the situation. I’m normally mellow and calm (about most things). I attempt to meditate daily, and when I’m in a stressful moment, I try to breathe through it or walk away, just as I advise my children. Sometimes the lack of control over what is happening is just too much, and I explode.
It’s funny how as parents we are shocked by the tantrums our kids throw over not getting their way, or being told no, yet when we yell or are curt it’s an adult version of the same thing. It’s bananas that at 41 years old, the power of the ego is still prevailing. The silver lining is that I am aware of what is happening and want to change.
As I wrote in my last post, “Mirror, Mirror, Mirror,” I’m working on being a better role model for my children; and a prime area for me is my outbursts, grumpiness, and quick reactions to stressors. I recently heard a quote that, in its sweet simplicity, offered a new perspective on the whole idea of stress.
From Eckhart Tolle and Oprah Winfrey:
“Stress is being in a moment we wish was different.”
It’s so true. Let it steep.
When you pare down all of those intense feelings of stress and think of each situation in which you are flustered or incensed and reflect on what is happening, in every instance, it is you wishing that very moment to be different than it is. I wish my kids were acting, the traffic was moving, I had my keys, I didn’t have to stop what I was doing…
Life is truly just a series of moments in time, all of them fleeting, and if we can get it into our heads that every stressful episode is simply us not getting what we want, it becomes a little easier to live with. Accept the moment for what it is. Realize it is not ideal. And so what? In the big scheme of the world, I am not getting my way at that single moment in time. I laugh out loud sometimes now when I feel the stress monster starting to swell in my throat, as I replay the quote in my head—sometimes on replay. I picture myself as a child longing for a lollipop or to stay up later. I will survive without flipping out.
Fortunately, right now, my triggers are all minor, and I realize that others have much heavier issues to deal with. The bottom line is always the same though: worry, regret, and anger will never fix our problems or alleviate our stress. In fact, tantrums tend to create more chaos. We have control over only our perspective of that moment, that situation. And, positive thinking, new perceptions, and thought-out actions are all that can transform either the situation or the way we handle it.
If standing back and seeing the stress in your life as simply a moment in time doesn’t work for you, here are some additional tips for dealing with stress from familydoctor.org:
- Don’t worry about things you can’t control, such as the weather.
- Solve the little problems. This can help you gain a feeling of control.
- Prepare to the best of your ability for events you know may be stressful, such as a job interview.
- Try to look at change as a positive challenge, not as a threat.
- Work to resolve conflicts with other people.
- Talk with a trusted friend, family member, or counselor.
- Set realistic goals at home and at work. Avoid over-scheduling.
- Exercise on a regular basis.
- Eat regular, well-balanced meals, and get enough sleep.
- Participate in something you don’t find stressful, such as sports, social events or hobbies.
Eckhart and Oprah’s stress quote is now on exhibit in my kitchen, taped to the cabinet, offering a constant reminder to keep perspective as I am challenged throughout the day. I’m hoping the era of scaring my children into action is behind me. Best of luck to you in taming your stress monsters, too.