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Sally Clarkson, is a mom with heart. The more I read her blog, her books and learn about her choices, even though we are very different, I admire how she was intentional. She was convicted about her priorities: God, Marriage, … Continue reading
Excerpt: Right now, I have nothing to give. Nothing. Nada. I’m tired and don’t feel good and honestly, I want a break from everything. It’s not that I want to leave my family, trade them in, or get new ones. I WANT to be with them. I just want a break from hard hearts, discipline, correction. I want their hearts changed and I can’t do it myself. Sometimes, the knowledge of this makes me feel hopeless and helpless.”
~A Weary Mom
YOU are NOT alone…
“I believe God’s plans for me are good. Therefore, I commit today that I will never give up on my family, and I will never give up on God’s ability to move in their hearts. With His help, I will take the next step of faith even when I feel I can’t, because He is the God of miracles. If you’re ready to make this commitment too, copy and paste this on your wall.
For encouragement for the journey… check out this ebook at: Hope for the Weary Mom
|Make an announcement|
Save time, money & paper… by going digital with birth announcements! As your postpartum doula… I’m happy to coordinate these on your behalf to ensure everyone gets your news in a timely fashion. Plus, Smilebox allows you to print a small run for those who aren’t email savvy and baby book keepsake.
By Brittany 5/31/2011
Little Bird is tired of school. It was really fun for about eight months and she couldn’t wait to go. Now she complains. She drags her feet, she whines. I can’t say I blame her. I’m getting tired too.
I know I need a break, and yet I keep going. Scheduling appointments and playdates when what we all need is an hour with the shades drawn and a stack of books. I can guarantee you we need this more than we need a clean kitchen or car, and heck, maybe even more than we need clean socks. I don’t know why I imagine I should be capable of going enormous stretches of time without rest. If I don’t rest, I’m not a good mother. Simple as that.
It’s the same reason why on an airplane they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting your child. We are no good to our children if we have passed out.
So why is it so hard for moms to take a little break? Often, when I do get rest, I feel guilty about it. My husband takes the girls out to the park or I escape to a coffee shop, and as I sit there nagging guilt wriggles in—I should be with my kids now, the little voice says. But I remind myself that I am resting now so I can enjoy them later. I can’t have one without the other.
Rest is important for every task. I once heard it said that resting when you are tired is as important for creativity as working when you are inspired. The same thing goes for all jobs, and especially for mothering. I notice some rests are more satisfying than others. Sure, we’d all love to fly to the Caribbean. But in the meantime, I find a big difference between slumping brain dead in front of the TV at 9 p.m. for my ‘rest’ and taking a half-hour coffee break to do some journaling or just sitting outside looking at the sky. Sure, sometimes the slump is necessary because we are exhausted. But it’s the purposeful rest that revitalizes me and makes me feel like I’ve had some quality time for myself. That allows me to keep giving to my kids.
We all know this, but I know I can use a reminder. Little Bird and Starbuck are just plain tired of school. Their bodies are telling them it’s time for a break. If we listen, our bodies will too. I’m no expert on scripture, but I’m pretty sure that even God took time to rest – so I’m pretty sure it’s okay for moms to as well.
I am one of these moms mentioned in this article below… I hit a wall when my boys were 4 years and 15 months… almost 2 years ago. Although I’d had postpartum with my oldest child when he was a year, I had seen a therapist and had been able to exercise, use nutrition and schedule my way forward to a new chapter I thought.
Yet with all the balls juggling in the air 3 years afterward… I’m still not sure how I perservered (other than being stubborn and very strong willed!!) I’m MOST thankful my pride was replaced with some humble pie… what I was doing just wasn’t working; I felt lifeless and sucked of my joy– this wasn’t me! This realization enabled me to reach out for help I desparately needed (in spite of denial from many of those close to me).
I cried a river of tears multiple times a week leading up to this point which I attributed to being sensitive (I have always been emotionally charged) as well as hormones and good ol parenting exhaustion… but I kept thinking I’d survived this before… just keep going.
Thankfully I had an amazing friend that would REALLY listen and pray for me– I felt I could confide in her because she loved me unconditionally and was honest about her own marriage, mothering and financial struggles. Over time she referred me to a therapist who could assess my level of depression based on symptoms and help me explore the sadness, anger and even numbing loneliness I was feeling inside; despite my life “looking” picture perfect from the outside.
My first step for this to happen was to have childcare support that enabled me to REST, and consistent, dedicated time to self care for the first time since becoming a mom. This was the road to recovery…to see the TRUTH and embrace the power of self care as essential not a luxury or worthy of guilt! How to set clear boundaries of things that were important to me and let go of those that just weren’t (like pleasing people that were never pleasable!) and over time embrace my human limitations (instead of living by superhuman standards): physically and emotionally. Ahhhh… it hasn’t been easy, but God has worked all things together for good.
By Katherine Eban
Depression is the last thing most moms expect to experience once their babies are sleeping through the night, talking up a storm and walking around. But one in five working women is depressed—and the illness can hit years after a child is born. We spoke with a few brave working moms about the crippling darkness that overtook their lives and their steps toward recovery.
Teresa Bagan had every reason to be elated. After four years of bruising fertility treatments, stress and disappointment, she was finally holding her beautiful son, whose piercing blue eyes and sweet smile made her feel that at last all was right with the world. “I thought, The most difficult part is behind me,” recalls Teresa, 41, a manager at a publishing company in New York City. But just as her child was turning 2—and thriving—Teresa began to feel anxious. Though usually calm and deliberative, she felt easily unnerved. She grew impatient with her son. All she wanted to do was sleep. Doomsday scenarios flooded her mind. She developed stomach pain, which grew steadily worse. Soon she was convinced she had stomach cancer, but she refused to go to the doctor, in part because she didn’t want to face the diagnosis. “If you feel rational, ultimately you want to go to the doctor,” she says. “I wasn’t rational.”
At the office, Teresa found it increasingly difficult to maintain her composure. In the middle of a staff meeting, she couldn’t breathe. Her heart was racing. She excused herself, escaped to the ladies’ room, locked herself in a stall and sobbed. Though she could retreat to the bathroom at work, at home there was nowhere to hide. Her attacks of breathlessness and sobbing increased, sometimes striking in the middle of the night. Despite her exhaustion, she couldn’t sleep. On a getaway weekend, she confessed to her husband that she thought she was dying. He insisted she go to the doctor. When she refused, he became angry. She walked around feeling “like a bad mom, a bad employee—and a bad wife because I was frustrated that my husband wasn’t rescuing me.”
One day, after three long months of veiled suffering, Teresa knew that she couldn’t continue like this for one more second. “My son grabbed me as I walked through the door from work and I shook him off, handed him to my mother, who babysits for me, and drove to the emergency room. I couldn’t care for my child—and that was my breaking point.” The diagnosis wasn’t cancer. It was anxiety disorder and chronic depression. “I was stunned,” Teresa says. “It was the last thing I’d suspected. I mean, depression, that’s what happens postpartum or when there’s a history of it in your family.” With the help of medication and therapy, she came to realize that she had been in such a just-push-through-this state, managing her pregnancy struggles, marriage, new motherhood and a demanding job with such compartmentalized focus, that she’d suffered a breakdown precisely at the moment when she could finally draw a breath. “It was as if the minute I let my guard down, boom, I was hit. This darkness was just waiting in the wings.”
Deadlines & Diapers These days, most women learn about the risks of postpartum depression, the haze of new motherhood that can threaten to plunge them into a crippling, if brief, depression. About 15 percent of new mothers succumb to it, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. What most women don’t read about in brochures in their ob-gyn’s waiting room is that some of the triggers for postpartum depression—feelings of isolation and overwhelming stress—can wallop you years later. It’s often their can-do qualities—juggling deadlines and diapers, deal-making and day care—that enable many working women to sail through the challenging early years of their baby’s life, only to tip them into serious depression once the hardest part has passed. “It’s a strong-woman feature: High-functioning people keep on going,” says Sharon Dobie, MD, a family medicine physician and professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.
The working moms who “think they can get everything done are going to hit the wall at some point,” she adds, especially if they insist on the same level of performance. Those conditioned to keep going in the face of all obstacles may be particularly vulnerable to depression and least likely to seek the help they need. “We are getting more and more calls from women who say, ‘My baby is four and I am depressed,’” says Karen Kleiman, founder and executive director of the Postpartum Stress Center in Rosemont, PA. Because working mothers are under pressure to be productive and maintain their composure, she notes, they have a strong incentive to hide their depression—even from themselves.
“I treat women who are attorneys and physicians, and their inclination is to pretend it will go away by itself,” says Kleiman. “Women who run corporations and have a hundred people below them seem to be doing really well at the office, but they go home and cry themselves to sleep, thinking of ways to kill themselves.” Indeed, a key trigger is the gap between how a working mom feels she should be behaving and performing and how she believes she actually is. More working mothers suffer from depression than anyone might think. Consider this: One out of every five women in the workplace will experience depression in her lifetime, according to the National Mental Health Association. Women are about twice as likely to suffer depression as men. And it’s estimated that more than a third of women in their child-bearing years have symptoms of the disease.
Despite the prevalence, about 40 percent of afflicted women don’t seek help, a result of the continuing stigma of mental illness. “Men are seen as troubled, while women are seen as nuts,” says Kleiman. Experts say that, clinically, depression is depression, whether it happens to men or women. And it can come days, months or even years after the delivery of a child. The symptoms include feeling tired, sad and hopeless. Activities and hobbies that you usually can’t wait to get to seem like chores, and the deep funk persists for two weeks or longer. Recognizing these signs for what they are is critical, because depression can be a chronic relapsing illness that requires swift treatment. “There are brain changes that occur during depression,” says Anita Clayton, MD, the David C. Wilson Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia. “The longer depression goes untreated, the more those changes occur.” Once mothers return to work, they may chalk up their fatigue, negative outlook or changes in weight or sleep to the stress of juggling motherhood and career. But for the working mother who forgoes treatment and is “just holding her breath,” says Kleiman, the result can be “catastrophic.” Being aware of what triggers depression, understanding high-risk factors and seeing symptoms for what they really are can save your life.
Neglecting Yourself Six months after the birth of her second child, Michelle Hogan,* a sales manager for a software company, was exhausted. She had a demanding boss, a work environment that was “sort of endless” and a husband whose idea of child care was to tell his wife the baby’s diaper needed to be changed. Michelle, 37, would work all day, get home, nurse the baby, make dinner for their 2-year-old, throw in a load of laundry and read Goodnight Moon until both her children fell asleep. By contrast, her husband took up competitive canoeing two nights a week and during game season was away all day on weekends. The division of labor was, as she puts it, “I’m on duty 24/7. He’s on duty when I tell him.”
While having an unsupportive spouse doesn’t necessarily trigger depression, it certainly doesn’t help. Spousal support is so vital to a mother’s emotional well-being that many psychologists insist on husbands being part of any treatment plan. Not being able to share responsibility—to offload tasks when you’ve hit your limit—can put moms at a higher risk for depression, say experts. Depression can also affect the immune system, making someone more vulnerable to other illnesses. Indeed, Michelle’s body began to break down. She developed an ulcer, tendinitis and insomnia. She was neglecting herself and failing to tend to her own needs. Yet as she grew more and more exhausted, she still encouraged her husband to pursue all of his activities. She went to visit a friend in the hospital who was on bed rest with a ruptured intestine and recalls feeling envious that her friend “could just lie there, with no pressures and demands.”
At the time, Michelle didn’t recognize that she was suffering from depression, but reflecting back, she realizes that she knew something was wrong. In an attempt to make things right, Michelle took a two-month leave from work to bond with her baby under California’s Family Rights Act. She spent the first three weeks of it in bed, sleeping. Then, slowly, she began to make changes. “When you’re in this state, it’s not one thing that brings you out of it,” Michelle says now. “It’s a number of things, and it’s time.” She called her ob-gyn and asked to be put on antidepressants. She went to counseling. She started to take charge of her schedule, making time to exercise. She stopped canceling her own doctor, dentist and hair appointments. Instead of waiting for her husband to say, “Oh, honey, go play tennis,” she’d grab her racket and go: “I stopped asking for permission because I wasn’t going to get it.”
Michelle also drew more boundaries at work. She volunteered for fewer projects and stopped trying to be the go-to person. Her counselor advised her, “You need to either be okay with being a B student, or be an A student but take fewer courses.” It was good advice.
Am I Depressed? We all have our mopey moments. So how do you know whether you’re just having bad days or suffering from depression? This checklist will tell you if you should seek professional help. More than five checks might mean you need help
Source: Women and Depression booklet, National Institute of Mental Health.
Help, I Need Somebody What to do if you think a coworker or loved one is depressed
1) Educate yourself about depression and its symptoms.
2) Speak softly. Start by saying how much you care about her. Make it clear that you’re not trying to judge her but that you can see she’s struggling and you want to help.
3) Reach out, whether it’s offering to watch her child while she sees a doctor or just listening to her concerns. Sometimes it’s best to simply ask, “What can I do for you?”
4) Remind her to say no if she’s feeling overwhelmed or inundated. If she realizes she has options, she will feel more in control. 5) Allow her to vent, and let her know you understand. But don’t offer advice or solutions unless she specifically asks you to.
Source: Cara Gardenswartz, PhD, psychologist, Beverly Hills, CA.
The Work Lifeline
Having a job—whether you love it or hate it—is not in itself a risk factor for depression. But the office culture can make a critical difference. Is it supportive or survivalist? Flexible or rigid? Does it offer opportunities for evaluation and treatment through an employee assistance program? Or is it a company that says “You’re fired” at the first sign of diminished performance? Sometimes the workplace functions as both obstacle and lifeline to recovery: an additional weight on the teetering scale but also a structure and community, a reason to get out of bed and a way to access treatment. More than half of U.S. companies now offer employee assistance programs that help staffers cope with personal problems, according to the Families and Work Institute.
This is smart economics. Untreated depression costs businesses $44 billion a year in lost productivity, medical expenses and more. A flexible work environment allowed Melissa Mackey of Lansing, MI, to recover from a serious bout of depression. At 30, the upbeat and athletic marketing manager for a media company endured a difficult pregnancy with twins that put her on bed rest for almost two months. At 37 weeks, she developed a devastating form of preeclampsia called HELLP syndrome. Her liver and kidneys were failing. Melissa almost died in the delivery room. Her doctor later told her that it was the first time he’d had to transfuse someone during a C-section. Despite the traumatic labor, Melissa had no choice but to return to work after two months. The Mackeys were broke: Their health insurance had only covered 80 percent of their bills. Her husband, an investment advisor at a bank, took a promotion that involved a longer commute, resulting in a 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. workday. As Melissa grappled to cope with a life she now barely even recognized, she felt like “a mess, physically, mentally, emotionally.” But she soldiered on. Then one morning, she snapped. The twins were in the house buckled into their car-seat carriers, but instead of loading them into the car, Melissa got in and turned the ignition key. “I wasn’t even really conscious of starting the car,” she said. “I was in such a fog, ready to drive away and leave them.” She didn’t. Instead, she slumped over in the driver’s seat and bawled. She felt like “one of those people you see on television news shows who abandon their children.”
Like so many women, she blamed herself. “I thought, I am the worst mother in the world. What’s the matter with me? Most moms would be so thrilled to have two healthy babies. Everyone else can do this, why can’t I?” That day she called her doctor. He referred her to a therapist, who diagnosed her with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder from the near-death experience of her delivery and subsequent stress. “PTSD,” Melissa asked, “isn’t that what soldiers on the battlefield get?” Work played a vital part in Melissa’s recovery. A supportive management team and a flexible schedule allowed her to pursue therapy, and after three months she started to feel like herself again. At the office, “I didn’t share a lot of details like, ‘Gee, I’m in therapy, I’m a basket case,’” she says, but adds that “without flextime, I could have lost my job.”
What About the Kids? Children of depressed moms may suffer also. Plus, depression can be hereditary. William Beardslee, MD, professor of child psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, recommends these preventive steps. 1. Help your children get where they need to be—school, music lessons, sports practice—to accomplish what they need to do. 2. Praise them when they do well. 3. Encourage and facilitate their friendships. 4. Make sure your kids realize that your depression isn’t their fault; help them understand what you’re doing to overcome it. Answer all their questions.
Single Supermoms While most working mothers are all too familiar with stress, exhaustion and financial anxiety, the difficulties are exponential for single working moms. Despite the unique joys of raising a child on one’s own, many single moms battle depression. Lutishia Hawkins, now an executive administrative assistant at a luxury retailer in the Southwest, had a fast-track career as a telemarketing trainer but decided to take a demotion at age 30 before her daughter was born. “You experience lots of loneliness, doubt and isolation,” she says. Lutishia managed to get through the boot camp that is that first year of motherhood. But as her daughter reached 2, she was overcome with a feeling of hopelessness and a belief that she would never again find love. At the time, she was suing her daughter’s father for child support, and the court case brought back the painful feelings of failure. She was walking through life “like a mummy,” she says, in wrinkled clothes and without makeup, in a state of constant sleep deprivation. She sought counseling and recalls the decision as “a fight for life. There was a lot hidden within the heart that needed to come out,” she now says, from feelings of rejection to worries that her daughter was being rejected as well. “Can you think of any more stressful situation than being a single mother?” asks Dr. Clayton. “Women need to take care of themselves in order to take care of their families.” And being a single mother makes that necessity a lofty goal. Lutishia would love to buy herself a new pair of hot shoes or go on dates. But with the strained resources of a single income and concern for her daughter’s well-being, even small indulgences are out of reach. She feels she must put her daughter first. “I want to be able to exceed my daughter’s expectations, but it puts pressure on you when you’re not able to do that.” She feels happier and more hopeful these days, thanks in part to sympathetic bosses, one of whom allowed her to stay home when her daughter was ill. And Lutishia is learning to take better care of herself, staying committed to therapy and growing stronger against the demons of depression.
Getting Better Lots of circumstances can lead working mothers into depression, but a basic principle of self-care can lead them out. First and foremost is treatment, which can mean talk therapy, medication or both. Exercise and adequate sleep are also crucial, say experts. “Often it’s the self-care things that go by the wayside when you’re dealing with work and trying to keep a household running,” Dr. Dobie notes. Patience, self-forgiveness and understanding are also important. “Women still believe it’s their character flaw,” says Margaret Rukstalis, MD, a clinician and investigator at the Geisinger Health System in Danville, PA. “They take it so personally, as though they could will their brains to be undepressed.” Recovery for depressed working moms often boils down to recognizing that they need help, then being able to ask for it—and workplaces making it possible for them to get it. Often, the employee assistance programs that more and more companies have today provide self-diagnosis screening tools that can help employees figure out whether they might be depressed and in need of professional care. Many of the Working Mother 100 Best Companies offer everything from counseling on depression and anxiety to health insurance plans that cover mental health as fully as other medical conditions. The women who seek help usually have only one regret: that they didn’t do it sooner. And many are surprised to find sympathy where they least expected it—from a compassionate boss or colleague, or a spouse they may have been too worried to tell. Finding the courage to ask for help is what rescued Teresa Bagan. “I logged quite a few hours on my therapist’s couch before I understood why I didn’t reach out sooner,” she says. Depression distorts your thinking; medicine and therapy enable you to see things for what they really are. “Still, as disoriented as I was,” Teresa says, “I knew my son was suffering. I was backing away from all the tickling, snuggling, intimate moments that I usually craved. My two-year-old’s mommy was MIA. Ultimately, I didn’t find the strength to save myself. I found it to save my son.”
Katherine Eban, a contributing editor at Portfolio Magazine, writes about health care and other issues for national magazines. Sidebars by Laura Flynn McCarthy.
Anger is actually a USEFUL emotion if it spurs us toward something that really needs to change. And our solutions will be better and longer lasting if we choose them while you’re calm and accepting rather than when we are angry or exhausted.
Bridget Melson knows a thing or two about helping other moms calm down. Part of the Temecula, CA, family therapist’s work involves counseling angry parents so that they can find kinder, gentler coping tactics for manic mornings, deranged dinner hours and the cranky kids who exacerbate them. So she was surprised when she recently reached her own boiling point at home. Bridget was cleaning up after making dinner for her children, Lucas, 8, Landon, 6, and Allie, 1, when she noticed that the back door was wide open—again—and the family cat had gone AWOL. This was a big deal, as their last cat was eaten by coyotes that had infiltrated the neighborhood.
“I yelled at the kids for leaving the door open, and things spiraled downward from there,” Bridget says. Her 6-year-old flung himself to the ground in a crying tantrum over math homework; her eldest shrieked from his shower, in need of a bar of soap; and baby Allie toddled down the stairs with a mouthful of tiny red Legos—which her brothers had supplied to her.
“That’s when I lost it,” Bridget admits. After failing at every calming technique she’d ever taught her clients, Bridget called her husband, who was working late. As soon as he arrived, he escorted his red-faced wife upstairs, ran her a bath and told her she had the rest of the night off.
Hell hath no fury like an overtired, overstressed, overworked mom. Hard as it is to admit, we’re perfectly capable of freaking out and screaming at our kids—then beating ourselves up for it afterward. A full 93 percent of moms with 4-year-olds yell at their little ones at least once or twice a week, according to University of Texas research. In another survey, two thirds of moms say yelling is a primary guilt inducer.
Lots of times, we don’t even see the “big blow” coming, says Cheryl Rampage, PhD, a psychologist with the Family Institute at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. “The pressure builds, and before you realize it, you’re over the edge—yelling at your kids, your spouse, maybe even your colleagues at work.” When you finally calm down, you may feel embarrassed or ashamed. “You may try to ‘stuff’ the pressure and anger for a while, but unless something changes, that cycle will probably come around again,” Dr. Rampage explains.
Ranting and raging rarely solves anything or gets children to listen and learn. instead, it often makes everyone feel worse. But it’s truly not the end of the world, says Dr. Rampage: “Yelling at your kids doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or parent, or even that you lack selfcontrol.” But it can be a wake-up call that you want to do things differently.
Ready for a cooldown? Follow our six-step madness makeover.
1) Your anger is talking to you, so listen.
“Anger is actually a useful emotion if it spurs us toward something that really needs to change,” says marriage and family therapist Hal Runkel, author of ScreamFree Parenting and ScreamFree Marriage. If you can start to identify what’s underneath that mad-mom exterior—schlepping your kids to too many evening activities, doing 95 percent of the household chores—you’re less likely to yell or threaten to put your kids in time-out for life. Pay attention to what makes you mad, and work to change the situation.
After one of many mad-mommy mornings, Sheryl Bone did just that. “my seventh grader is pretty good about making the school bus,” says the Rochester, MI, online professor, “but no matter what I say or do, my eight- and ten-year-olds dawdle like there’s no schedule, deliberating on everything from school snacks to hairstyles. This particular day, I watched the bus pull away with one kid while the other two were still in the kitchen debating. I had a conference call in ten minutes, but I had to drive them to school. Smoke came out of my ears as I ranted and raged and pointed fingers all the way. It was a no good, very bad morning.”
Sheryl, whose blowup left her feeling mean and out of control all day, realized that her anger was telling her to do something different. “I had let the morning’s mad dash escalate too far,” she says. But her anger helped her focus on this recurring problem and take steps to put a more effective morning schedule in place. A better approach can include clear directives rather than blaming. “You two need to get your backpacks and lunch bags right now” is far more proactive than “You two always make us late!”
2) Review your “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.”
“People scream when the reality they’re experiencing is in direct contrast to the one they think they should be experiencing,” says Runkel. You may be thinking: “Parenting shouldn’t be this hard.” “My house should be as clean as my neighbor’s.” “My boss shouldn’t expect me to work late.” Expectations like these can lead to resentment and anger.
First, says Runkel, it helps to accept that sometimes parenting is hard. You don’t have time to match your friend’s squeaky-clean housekeeping. Your boss does expect you to put in long hours. You don’t have to like these things, but they may be the truth.
Next, allow yourself to cool off and accept what is. Then you can work to make adjustments. Instead of yelling at your chronically back-talking teen, calmly assert that you’re her mom, you love her and you deserve to be spoken to with the same courtesy she usually reserves for her friends. Figure out what part of your home must be neater (perhaps your living room) and what can stand a bit of sloppiness (the bedrooms—they have doors). Talk to your boss about covering some of your work at home after hours. “Your solutions will be better and longer lasting if you choose them while you’re calm and accepting rather than when you’re angry,” Runkel adds.
3) Catch yourself before you blow.
Get to know the warning signs that tell you you’re about to lose it, says Judith Siegel, PhD, author of Stop Overreacting: Effective Strategies for Calming Your Emotions. Your goal is to take evasive action before you say or do something you’ll regret.
“Start by asking yourself: ‘What do I feel in my body when I start to get angry?’ ” Siegel says. If you’re not sure, pay attention the next time anger starts to bubble. “You might notice knots in your stomach, a vacant, floaty mind or a tingling or flushing in your face,” she explains. Focusing on your bodily reactions rather than your angry thoughts can actually help you cool down more quickly.
Once you know your about-to-blow alerts, you can try some calming techniques before you start yelling or stomping around. You can also use these methods to head off meltdowns at trigger times—like right after work, or when you’re rushing to get your kids to sports practice.
Tamika Hammond’s trigger for losing it with her 3-year-old son is when he cries for seemingly no reason. the scenario: he cries—she yells—he whines and cries harder. Recently he shouted, “I want my daddy,” which was a wake-up call for the often exhausted mom, a correctional officer in Milwaukee. “I felt so bad about yelling at him out of frustration, which only made both of us feel worse,” she says. “I know I should try to breathe calmly and talk in a soft voice when I don’t want to yell. Next time I’ll give myself a time-out before I deal with the situation. I think time-outs were originally established for adults anyway.”
Tamika has the right idea. Dr. Siegel suggests a plan like this for heading off mad-mommy moments:
Escape to the bathroom. Take a few minutes to breathe deeply and slowly, paying attention to your breath and what it feels like going in and out of your nasal passages.
Identify your feelings. Say aloud or in your mind,“I’m really frustrated about my kid’s constant crying.” Siegel says acknowledging what ticks you off can shortcut the overreaction.
Recall a good memory. Remember that trip to Italy? Focus on what you saw, heard and smelled. Pulling that experience out of your mental filing cabinet can help you calm down so your brain doesn’t flood with emotion.
4) Step up your self-care.
This strategy is crucial, says Dr. Rampage, since moms who blow their tops are almost always running on empty—taking care of everyone and everything except themselves.
When Molly Lee Craig’s 10-year-old twin boys were babies, she felt that energy spent on anything other than working and caring for the children was utterly wasted. “I went for more than a year without getting my hair cut,” reveals the Portland, OR, trucking company communications coordinator, who describes herself at that time as “a harried mom who was fraying around the edges.”
Little by little, Molly wised up. “I realized the kids, and my husband, would prefer a happy, well-rounded woman to an angry one.” She now makes it a point to give herself spa pampering sessions, go out with girlfriends and take crafts classes—and her whole family benefits.
Dinnertime used to be meltdown time for Sherrie Wagoner, a university research and grants program officer in Los Angeles and mom of two, until she realized something had to give. She started taking after-work yoga classes and now comes home “transformed after even the worst workdays.” To make this happen, she had to put other adjustments in place, so she taught her daughters at ages 14 and 10 to make their own simple dinners when her husband worked late. A bonus beyond Sherrie’s anger management: “The girls are proud that they can take care of themselves when needed, so it boosted their self-esteem.”
To figure out what might refuel you, take a look at what you did for fun and relaxation before you had kids, says Runkel. Reading best-sellers? Running? Theater? “It’s time to remember how to push your own pause button,” he advises.
5) Get creative about work.
Anger can take a toll not only at home but also on the job. Your boss isn’t married to you. if you rail at co-workers or walk angrily out of meetings, you may eventually find yourself on the chopping block, says Dr. Rampage. What you can do if your job is really getting you worked up is try to make changes. “Consider negotiating for extra help or more time on a project, adjusting your hours so you can pick up the kids earlier from child care or even shifting to a lower-stress position in another department, if that’s what you need,” she suggests.
Many working moms are reluctant to ask for accommodations for fear of seeming “not committed enough.” But if job issues are spilling into your family life and causing you to lash out at loved ones, or leading to chronic conflict with colleagues, it’s worth exploring options.
6) Fess up to other moms.
You probably dish with friends and co-workers about toddler meltdowns and potty-training travails. But talking about our own tantrums? well, that’s embarrassing—even shameful—so we’re mum. The reality: “Most working moms lose their grip from time to time,” says Dr. Rampage. “If you can talk to trusted friends about it, you’ll find out how normal you are.”
That’s exactly what now works for Bridget Melson. when she’s at the end of her rope with her kids, she calls, texts or Skypes one of two good friends (neither lives close by) who have slightly older children. “We have a pact that we’ll call back as soon as possible if one of us has a parenting emergency. They’ll even text me from a work meeting, if need be,” she says.
After her volcanic night of the escaped cat, math meltdown and Lego munching, Bridget’s friends Elayne and Julie helped her brainstorm some new parenting strategies—particularly for dealing with her younger son’s temper tantrums. Within three days, her family life was back on a more even keel. “Do we still have issues and crazy times? Of course!” she says. “But they’re quickly reduced due to the support I get from my mom friends.”
As for the cat? Oblivious to the family explosion he ignited, he strolled back home later that night—not a scratch on him