Spring is an exciting time of year, full of sweet anticipation. The days are getting longer, brighter and warmer as nature shakes off her winter sleep and comes back to life. For many, it is a time to feel energized and tackle new goals with the family. However, if a long winter has left you drained, you may feel too bogged down by stress and fatigue to enjoy this season. Parenting is demanding work, and we can hit the wall at any time of year.
Take heart, it doesn’t take much to make a shift. Just committing to a few simple changes will help you shed that heavy overwhelm. Picture your stress like a dark, cluttered basement. A little tidying up will create breathing space and free up energy. Your daily jobs will get easier, and you’ll have more room for fun.
Step 1: Take out the trash. Like any cleaning project, good mental clean-up starts with getting rid of the things you don’t need. Mostly, this includes self-criticism and unrealistic expectations. Being hard on yourself drains your energy, but it can be hard to notice. Pay attention to the voice in your head when you are feeling overwhelmed. Is it saying you are incompetent or inferior to other people? Tell that voice to stop; it is not helping.
Action: Do something that helps quiet the mental chatter. Try walking, yoga or mindfulness meditation. Just focus on what you are doing and keep gently pushing all other thoughts away. If you need some help getting still, try a class, online video or CD. Listen as the instructor talks about releasing the urge to be critical. Notice your breath rolling in and out, your heart beating and your whole body doing exactly what it should. Give yourself permission to just exist in your quiet, perfect body.
Step 2: Define your purpose. A pleasant, well-organized space has a clear purpose, and so can your thoughts. One way to keep your headspace clear is to focus on a positive target. Your goal doesn’t have to be lofty or overwhelming, just something concrete that would make you feel good. What would make your load lighter? Maybe you want to make your weeknights stress-free by planning meals in advance, or letting your kids take this on. Maybe you want to arrange babysitting and take yourself on a date once a week, or get your family out for a nightly after-dinner walk. It doesn’t matter what the goal is, it just needs to feel good.
Action: Pick a feel-good goal and celebrate it. Share it with a friend, write it in a journal or stick up inspiring pictures. Keep it in sight, work toward it and remind yourself that you deserve it.
Step 3: Organize. Ever drooled over a really great walk-in closet? The appeal isn’t just about largeness - it is about functional arrangement. When there is a place for everything, it is easy to use what you need, get your jobs done and appreciate what you have. It also helps you notice when something doesn’t belong and then get rid of it.
The best way to organize your brain is to externalize; get all those thoughts out where you can see them. Then, sort them into the time and place where they belong. Use a to-do list, calendar or schedule to help you focus on one thing at a time. This frees your mind to do its easiest and best work. When intruding thoughts creep in, jot them onto your list and give yourself time to address them later.
Action: Find whatever ‘external brain’ format works best for you. Paper lists and sticky notes are great if you like to hold your thoughts in your hand and rearrange them. If your smart phone is always nearby, try apps with to-do lists, reminders and timers. Or savor the satisfaction of a white board as you wipe away each completed task and watch your obligations get lighter.
The best thing about Spring-cleaning your head is that it doesn’t matter how you approach it. By simply taking that first step, you’re already shifting your focus toward feeling better. You owe it to yourself and your family to take care of your mind so you have the energy to enjoy this lively season.
10 scripts to ease self-criticism
Having a script in mind makes it easier to speak up when you need to set a boundary. This applies when you need to stand up to your own critical voice.
Try these phrases to quiet your inner nitpicker:
1. I do not have to convince anyone that I am good enough. I just am.
2. No one is perfect, but we can all do great work.
3. I care about my work, and I can do it well.
4. I do not need shame or fear to perform well.
5. I do my best work when I feel calm.
6. I deserve to feel good and be gentle with myself.
7. Everyone has their own struggles, and we all do our best to cope.
8. No one approach works for everyone, but everyone can find something that works for them.
9. I am happy and successful when I do what works for me.
10. I can acknowledge my weaknesses without forgetting my goodness.
Laurie is the mom of a 4-year-old future litigator, and an 18-month-old who is training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Her mental décor currently features a gym with great babysitting, where the sound of her breath bubbling in the pool fills her with calm clarity.
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