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Stress Awareness Day: My Inconvenience Vs. Tragedy Scale for Managing Stress

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Do you get stressed out by the small daily mishaps of life? Does something going wrong in your morning impact your mood and set the tone for the rest of the day? Someone parking in your spot, the line at Starbucks, your computer taking forever to load, forgetting about a meeting until the last minute, sitting on hold with your credit card company, road work, etc. If you silently yelled a resounding yes, then I can pretty much bet you feel stressed as a parent.

I find that your stress level as a parent directly correlates with how bothered you are by life. As a parent, you are well aware of the many daily mishaps! The spilled milk, coloring on the wall, finding goldfish crackers in your tub (or is that one just me), losing shoes, having to go to the bathroom minutes after leaving the house, etc.

As a therapist, I realized that many of my clients were feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and defeated as parents because they were placing too much importance on the daily inconveniences of life. They didn’t like feeling frazzled and yelling all the time. They wanted to be able to relax and have fun with their kids. There are days when I find that the correcting and yelling outweigh the positive interactions I’ve had with my kids. It upsets me when I look back on days like those and realize that most of it was due to my own stress level and not necessarily anything my kids were doing differently. They were just being kids. Don’t let all of the daily mishaps overshadow the fun, mystery, and beauty of parenting. So, how do you take the stress out of the mess?

Stress is a funny thing. You can’t see it or touch it, but you can feel and experience it. Feeling and experiencing stress depends on your perception of events. Your thoughts and how you view a situation determines how stressful it becomes. You decide how much weight to place on the events, situations, and encounters in your life. There is no stress in life. There’s only the way you perceive a situation that allows it to become stressful. This is such a powerful concept to understand as a human being and as a parent. The power to lower our stress level doesn’t rely on the world becoming a calm, quiet, and peaceful place; it comes from within. I can’t think of many things more stressful than parenting. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are three simple steps to help shift the way we look at our child’s accidents and messes.

  • Step 1: Where does this fall on the catastrophe versus inconvenience scale? Considering situations on a continuum from inconvenient to harmful or catastrophic can help you gain perspective. Your stress level will decrease as you become aware of the daily occurrences that you attribute too much weight and importance to. My child spilling their cereal while trying to drink the milk from the bowl is an inconvenience especially if we are running late. Which by the way we usually are. However, it doesn’t deserve the same reaction and amount of mental and emotional energy as my child climbing over the railing of our balcony. That falls on the harmful and potentially catastrophic side of the scale. Shocked and scared to death doesn’t even begin to describe my reaction after stepping outside and seeing my four-year-old dangling from the balcony.
  • Step 2: Consider what your child was trying to learn or figure out. Kids are curious about everything in their environment and can be little sources of chaos with all their exploring. But that’s how they learn. They are in awe by the world around them. They use all five senses to explore the world and figure things out. That’s why my daughter will pick up a little bright pink squishy thing in a parking lot. I see germs and someone else’s gross chewed up gum and she sees something interesting and unique that she wants to learn about. When we can consider what our kids were curious about and what they were trying to do, we can quite often replace the stress with humor. I remember my daughter walking into the living room after having colored her face green. Of course, I was shocked and immediately thinking of how I need to wash the marker off. But I also had to laugh to myself when she started explaining how she wanted to look like a zombie. Those are the funny stories we often tell our friends and family.
  • Step 3: How can you turn the mess or situation into a teachable moment? What if those amusing situations didn’t have to be stressful in the moment and we instead considered the opportunities for learning and growth during the daily “inconveniences” of life. Teachable moments are everywhere. My daughter’s zombie makeover led to a great discussion on Halloween make-up versus markers and products that are meant to go on our skin. I could have just yelled at her and put her straight in the tub. Before I started using the inconvenience to catastrophe scale, that would have been my go-to. Life is going to happen regardless so take advantage of those teachable moments instead of defaulting to scolding.

Shifting the way we view our child’s accidents, messes, and mishaps can be a powerful tool in managing the daily stressors of parenting. Remember, it’s only stressful if we tell ourselves it is. Using my three-step process also builds trust and understanding making it easier for kids to come to you in the future when they mess up.

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