When you’re at the hospital preparing to take home that 7-pound bundle of joy, the nurses don’t provide any advice on dealing with stress. They don’t even hand you a book.
I was thinking about stress recently when my wife called me at work and said, in a tone of voice that matched the circumstance: “There’s water in our basement!”
We already had a garbage disposal that wasn’t working, a dishwasher that was leaking and a clothes drier that wasn’t drying. With three small children, clean clothes and dishes are a necessity. Things weren’t looking good, but God soon provided. The basement leak slowed, and we pinpointed the problem. We fixed the drier (lint blockage) and then discovered that the dishwasher leak was linked to the broken garbage disposal.
Through it all, we told one another: Don’t stress out, this is small potatoes. In other words: Keep things in perspective.
Everyone deals with stress differently, but when you’re surrounded by (sweet but) demanding children who have needs, it becomes essential to learn to cope with it.
Here are eight ways that have helped me cope with stress that just might benefit you, too, especially if you’re a parent:
1. Keep an eternal perspective. In other words, understand that all the “stuff” we’re consumed with at the moment—that casserole in the oven, that sporting event on TV, that home improvement project—is meaningless in the long run. James tells us that our life is like a “mist” (James 4:14) that soon will disappear, and Paul urges us to keep our eyes on the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Paul’s not talking about money. Our primary responsibility as parents is to transform our children and teenagers into Christ-followers, but too often we get distracted. The “stuff” really doesn’t matter.
2. Keep a life-long perspective. That moment that raised your blood pressure last week? You’ll be laughing about it in a few years, perhaps already. And you’ll look back at today’s events fondly. That’s how we are: Today’s stressful moments turn into tomorrow’s precious, funny memories. When my oldest son grows up I’ll tell him about the time when we all went on a hike and he threw a fit right there on the trail—two miles from the car. He refused to move. I was frustrated with him, but days later laughing about it. After all, he was only 3.
3. Simplify your life. Look at your daily schedule. Do you struggle to find time to eat? Learn to say “no” to friends and family—and even to your church—if that will lessen your stress and improve your family life. Realize that everything does not have to be done today. Prioritize what’s important.
4. Take a break. Just as our bodies need a night of rest each day, our minds and souls need a break, too. That includes time alone with God. It also could include a book or a TV show or a hobby or a conversation with a friend. It just needs to be relaxing.
5. Take a breath. Experts say that breathing helps during moments of stress, and they’re right. When my three children are all crying in a chorus of high-pitched screams, I’ll often take a deep breath, and then perhaps another, and then I’m fine.
6. Look at old pictures. And videos. Taking a trip down memory lane will help remind you that you really do have a sweet family and that all the frustration really is worth it. An evening looking at old videos probably is funnier than the latest TV sitcom, anyway.
7. Listen to music—and sing. It’s no accident that infants often stop crying when they hear music. It’s because we were made to enjoy music—and it’s relaxing. If that doesn’t work, then …
8. Go outside. It’s called fresh air for a reason. Blue skies and green grass beat white walls and brown carpet any day, right? If you have time, take a hike. Yelp.com and AllTrails.com have a great listing of hikes in the San Diego County area. Go to a local park. Or even better, pack a lunch, get in the car … and just go to the beach.
— by Michael Foust
Foust is the father of three small children, a writer and editor, and blogs about parenting at www.michaelfoust.com.