The Pressure to be Wonder-Mom

I come from a long line of women who do too much. And I know that’s true of most of us. We work full time jobs, take care of our families and homes, volunteer, have side projects and still find time for our friends. And then we add to it. And add to it. And add to it.

“How hard is it to make 2 dozen cupcakes? A birthday only comes once a year!”

“Sure, I would be happy to help you create your website – let’s meet for lunch.”

“I really want to make sure that we are documenting our family’s growth and experiences – I’ll just stay up later and work on this photo album.”

Sometimes, we manage it all beautifully. But other times, we overload ourselves until we collapse. This can take many forms – less tolerance for frustration, greater irritation, loss of sleep, loss or increase in appetite (usually for quick and unhealthy foods), headaches, stomachaches, and more. Why do we do that to ourselves?

I think part of the problem is the culture of the day. Mommy-blogs can be fun and inspiring reads, but they can also cause us to compare ourselves to others. And that generally means that we are comparing their best to our own worst. We look at photos of someone else’s pottery barn styled home and children beaming with joy over fresh baked mini apple pies with hand churned whip cream and compare it to our pile of unfolded laundry, bickering kids and pasta-from-a-box dinner and feel like we are failing at this game.

It’s so easy to fall into that hole.

But is that reality? Can any home be perfectly neat and styled all the time, with angelically behaved little ones and the constant aroma of fresh baked goodness wafting through the air? Of course not. But very few people are putting up pictures of the reality of their lives – it tends to dissuade sponsors, I suppose – and many of those blogs are actually businesses. Which means they are selling you something – an idea, a lifestyle, whatever. And if you want to know what shade of blue that bedroom is, here’s the intstructable for how they DIY’d the hand painted border motif with handy affiliate links to Benjamin Moore paints. All to often, we buy into it and the next thing you know, we are up at 1am trying to make marshmallow cloud icing like we saw on Pinterst for our daughter’s girl scout troope sleep-over jamboree.

But is that really what you want your life to look like?

I know that I want more time with my family, more energy at work, and to have time for my own creative endeavors and socializing. Is staying up until 1am trying to perfect an icing technique honoring those goals or is it trying to keep up with the pressure to be a hyper-stylized Martha Stewart in skinny jeans?

I’m not saying that homemade is bad (I love to bake) or that mommy-blogs are the cause of all this stress (I love getting inspired by creative projects and before/afters). What I am saying is that I find it really helpful to sometimes reflect on what my goals for my own heart-felt life really are versus what I am stressing out about accomplishing. When they aren’t in-line with each other, I know I need to seek a compromise.

I, for one, am not willing to compromise my family. Not even for Instagram.

~ Jessica S. Campbell, LCSW

4 Alternatives to a Balanced Life

We have all heard that we need our lives to be balanced. Work and play, friends and family, stress and relaxation all need to be present in equal parts in order for us to be successful, happy, productive, at peace. This puts a lot of the control for our lives and our happiness in our own hands. We just need to find and utilize the right ways to achieve balance.

Yet, it occurs to me that this idea is actually rather toxic. Our lives are often unpredictable and can be thrown into chaos at any time. The kids get sick, we get laid off, our car breaks down, we have a fight with our partner, our home is burglarized…how do we balance those things? We can’t and by telling ourselves that we should, we are only setting ourselves up for failure. And that failure takes it’s own toll on our self-esteem, worth, and happiness.

So, here are four things to try to do instead of attempting to achieve balance:

Focus on what you are doing, when you are doing it. Try to let go of nagging worries, and when they distract you from your current task, remind yourself that you can’t do anything about that situation now so you are focusing on this instead. In this way we can optimize our effectiveness in other areas of our lives so that when we can work on our worries, they also get our close focus.

Maximize the most efficient use of your time that you can.
With an hour of free time, does it make more sense to start a load of laundry and write the grocery list or attempt to do your yearly taxes? Look for tasks you can complete or have the most effective impact on in the time that you know you have available. Don’t try to cram in more tasks than possible.

Utilize your energy where it is most needed. It may be useful to keep a running to do list, with deadlines for yourself. In this way, you can know in a glance if it’s more urgent to work on bills or correspondence or any other task you may have. Once you know what you need to prioritize, you can make sure you are focusing your energy where it is most needed.

Be present and mindful of your own needs. Be honest with yourself and those around you. If you know you are stressed out and nearing your breaking point, ask for help. Tell others that you need a chance to catch your breath. And then accept their help or take the time to relax and breathe. It’s often more than enough as long as we are paying attention to our hearts as well as our minds.

Too often, when life throws us the inevitable curve ball, we are so thrown that we run ourselves ragged in crisis mode. We try to accomplish everything else in our lives and manage the crisis. What does this look like? How long can we sustain it? If we are honest with ourselves, when we go back over the experience we often wish we’d had more help – but we so rarely ask for it. Instead of trying to do it all, let’s do all we can, ask for all the help we need, and show ourselves all the compassion we yearn for. In this way, we can be sure to get all of life’s priorities met while also taking care of our more gentle needs. That’s the best balance.

Jessica S. Campbell, LCSW

How to Listen to your Partner

One of the best gifts you can give your partner is your own acknowledgment. Too often in our lives, we feel rushed, unimportant, or discarded by our interactions with others. It’s not a significant hurt if the cashier at the grocery store doesn’t make eye contact with us when asking in monotone if we found everything we needed. But it is a significant hurt if our partner takes the same attitude and posture when asking how our day was.

Most likely, there’s a lot of things demanding your attention each day. The kids, jobs, chores, friends, cars, and households can fill up every free moment we seem to find and with all that vying for our focus, it can be hard to connect with our partners. But let me ask you this: do you find time to watch your favorite TV shows each week? If you can, then you can also find time for your partner. Shut off the TV, power down the computer, and give your focus to your partner. It will make them feel important and validated and cared for, and it will make you feel more connected and intimate.

A good way to give your partner your full attention is by becoming an active listener. This means that you don’t interrupt with your own ideas, solutions, theories or similar experiences. Instead, make a conscious effort not only to hear your partner’s words, but to also understand the message. Avoid distractions (like smart phones) and try not to form your own statements in response for when they stop talking. It may help to mentally repeat what they are saying to yourself. Make eye contact and use your body to show you are listening by nodding and smiling.

Instead of relying on your own assumptions, experiences, beliefs and judgments about what your partner has said, reflect back what they’ve told you by paraphrasing (“What I’m hearing you say is…” or “It sounds like you are…”). Ask questions to clarify their points (“What do you mean when you say…?” or “Do you mean this…?”). And when you do respond, be open, honest and respectful.

This is a skill set that can take time to learn, but by practicing it often you can improve your communication (and the quality of your relationship) dramatically!

~ Jessica S. Campbell, LCSW

Making Time for Valentine’s Day

Before I was married and became a parent, I decried Valentine’s Day for many reasons; commercialization, shaming singles, cheapening the reality of love with teddy bears and over priced chocolate. But, it’s easy to allow our daily lives to overcome romance. Now I see that making an event of this day is about letting our partner know how much they matter because we create space in the midst of our hectic lives to celebrate our love. Having a nationally recognized day like Valentine’s Day gives some of us the reminder we need of how important it is. And that’s ok. Of course, if you choose not to participate on February 14th, make sure you partner knows and is okay with why as well as making sure you are doing romantic dinners, flowers, candies, or whatever else is meaningful for you both at other times.

But what about the rest of the year?

Here are some ideas of ways to keep your romance alive:

Touch:
Many studies have shown that the release of oxytocin – which is produced during orgasm, hugs, dancing, massage, hand holding, and breast feeding – reduces cortisol (our main stress hormone), improves bonding and even has a positive impact on the health of our hearts. Karen Grewen and Kathleen Light, psychologists at the School of Medicine at the University of North Caroline-Chapel Hill, found that 10 minutes of hand holding and a 20 second hug could comfort us long into our hectic days. So make sure you are sharing a hug and a kiss when you leave each other and return, hold hands while walking through the store and snuggle up on the couch. Oh, another thing that can give us a dose of oxytocin? Chocolate! Perhaps the candy industry was on to something…

Write: The power of the written word is hard to escape. Perhaps seeing something documented in words on paper strikes a chord in us that can’t be reached any other way. Whatever the cause, write your partner a note, a poem, the reasons you fell in love, why you are still in love. Giving the gift of something authentic and from your heart is something you won’t ever regret, and it’s something they will treasure too. I know, because I still have little notes my husband wrote to me when we first started dating. I believe this is so important that I included a promise to my husband to remember to do it in my wedding vows!

Help: Our lives are full of minutia that we must accomplish: grocery shopping, folding laundry, wiping down counters, vacuuming, etc. Why not help out and do them for your partner? If he normally does the dishes, offer to take over. If she normally prepares all the meals, try your hand at it. It will shake up your routine, possibly breaking you out of a rut, can improve your sense of unity, reduce stress and heal resentment. And I don’t know of any relationship that can’t benefit from those things.

~ Jessica S. Campbell, LCSW

5 Ways to Overcome Holiday Stress

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The holidays are wonderful, aren’t they? All the cheer and joy and family and gratitude and the wonder of children as they experience it all is a pleasure each year. But…

Well, all the crowds and shopping and bills and pressure can be more than a little overwhelming too. So, here are a few ways in which you can fight back against holiday stress and regain your jolliness!

1. Push away perfection. Don’t try to live up to the Pottery Barn catalog! Set realistic goals and, even more importantly, limits on what you can accomplish by keeping in mind that you should have time to enjoy yourself with your family too. Don’t miss out on the warmth of your loved ones because you are so busy trying to get the whipped crème topping on the hot chocolate just right, or the perfect amount of glitter and bows on the gifts you are wrapping. You’ll create better memories in the moments you are relaxing and tuned in to what makes your heart sing.

2. Prioritize you. Schedule in your own self care between the shopping trips and recipe researching. Take a bath! Break out the vanilla bean bath salts, dim the lights, and soak yourself silly. Close your eyes, focus on your breathing, set aside time to meditate, use creative visualization, take a walk, stargaze or cloud watch – whatever it is that relaxes you, make sure you are doing it.

3. Listen to yourself. It’s normal to feel the sadness of loss more sharply at the holidays. Don’t force yourself to be happy because of the season. Instead, show yourself some compassion and give yourself room to experience all the emotions you need to, even if it means crying beside the Christmas tree. Acknowledge your feelings of grief – they are just as valid and no less important than your joy.

4. Make a budget – then stick to it. Money can’t create true happiness, no matter how many gifts you try to throw at it. Know what you can afford to spend on gifts and food and then don’t go over. Remember, there are alternatives to pricey gadgets or luxury items. Try giving an experience – admission to a museum exhibit, for example. Homemade gifts can be among the most meaningful and cherished, as well. Gift someone your time and caring rather than adding to your own debt and stress.

5. Eat chocolate. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying a handful of Hershey kisses can cure what ails ya! However, cortisol, our anxiety producing hormone, is counteracted by antioxidants. And one of the richest sources of antioxidants (in the form of flavonoids) is dark chocolate (not milk, sorry)! Look for 70% cacao or higher for maximum benefits.

Happy holidays!
~ Jessica S. Campbell, LCSW

4 Steps to Free Youself From Nagging Thoughts

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We all get trapped by our thoughts sometimes – those nagging ideas that keep coming up over and over, only to drag us down. Here are 4 steps to try and beat your brain back into working for you instead of against you:

Identify your patterns: It may not seem like it as first, but most of the time those thoughts that trap us are variations of the same theme. For example “I’m not working heard enough and I am going to be passed over for promotion” and “I’m not spending enough time with my family” are both centered around guilt and fear of failure. One of the key signs to figuring out a pattern is if the story feels like a rerun of a past experience. Another sign is that your thinking becomes rigid and repetitive, offering no alternatives (or hope, most often). The best way to institute change is to have a starting point – and recognizing your patterned thinking is a great place to start.

Take a step back: Repetitive thoughts crowd out rationality, the same way the dense foliage of the rainforest crowds out sunlight. But you need to see the forest for those trees! So take a step back and classify your thoughts for what they really are. For example, change “I’m not spending enough time with my family” to “I’m having the thought that I’m not spending enough time with my family”; change “My partner is wrong, they make me so angry” to “I’m having the thought that my partner is wrong and I’m feeling anger”. Classifying what you are thinking and feeling allows you to see your thoughts for what they actually are – transient sources of data that may or may not be helpful.

Move towards acceptance:You don’t have the believe everything you think, or act on every idea and emotion. Nor do you have to resign yourself to feeling badly because of those nagging thoughts in the back of your mind. But you can note your thoughts and emotions with an open attitude, paying attention to them and letting yourself experience them. Leaning into such thoughts and feelings can be uncomfortable, but taking a few deep breaths and paying attention to what is happening for you in these moments can bring you more relief than you might expect. It can also bring home how deeply impacted you really are, of course. But the important thing is to show yourself some compassion and examine the reality of the situation at hand. Then, decide what you want to do about it.

Take action: When you recognize, identify, and accept your thoughts and emotions you free yourself to make far more choices than if you simply reacted. You can decide to act in a way that aligns with your values. Is your action going to serve you? Will it help steer you in a better direction? Are you making a move towards feeling better about the situation? Or are you engaging in the same pattern of behavior that has left you feel badly? Making a choice for yourself based on conscious and rational thought will empower you in more ways than one and can have positive impacts on your self-esteem, happiness, and clarity of direction!

~ Jessica S. Campbell, LCSW

5 Steps for Better Self-Esteem

We all need a little help in regards to our self-esteem. I’ve put together a quick list of 5 things you can do to improve how you think about and how you treat yourself. Enjoy!

Positivity needs pals. You’ve heard that misery needs company, right? So does a positive outlook! If you are surrounded by negative people, especially those who put you and your ideas down, your self-esteem is going to suffer. Make sure the people you are spending your most time with are accepting, supportive and encouraging – just as you are for them.

Create your booster list. We all need a boost now and again, and the best way to get it is to remind ourselves of our past successes. Make a “booster list” of your victories (anything you feel good about – learning to skate, graduating, receiving an award, finishing a painting – really, completing any goal fits the bill) and read it often! I often encourage my clients to carry their list around with them and refer to it whenever they feel low.

Stop comparing. The grass may be greener on the other side, but it’s often just as hard to cut. Beyond that, have you ever noticed how often we come up short when comparing ourselves to others? That’s because we are usually comparing someone at their best to ourselves while we are feeling at our worst. So we highlight the other person’s accomplishments while diminishing ourselves. That’s the opposite of self-esteem.

Stop the negative self-talk. You can’t develop of healthy sense of self while also telling yourself that you are stupid, lazy, or a horrible cook. Try to look at yourself with consistent positive regard – and when the negative voice in your head pipes up, quiet it back down by looking at your booster list!

Relax. Make an oasis in your home, filled with great music, great books and great art. Spending just ten minutes a day, meditating on the things you are thankful for, reflecting on your goals, the important aspects of your life, or even just enjoying the silence and tranquility of your space can spread a greater sense of calm and confidence throughout your day.

~ Jessica S. Campbell, LCSW

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