Nature heals, calms, restores, reduces stress. It is a powerful antidote to the barrage of information and busy-ness that make up so much of our lives these days. It is almost always available, and making sure to schedule time in nature is as important as a healthy diet and exercise, for both adults and children. It's more difficult in winter, depending on where you live, but it's still possible to enjoy time outdoors, regardless.
My decision to shift the focus of this new page from just supporting parents to supporting all of us was inspired by this text from my new friend, Dave, a self-described "news junkie":
“I'm not the same person I was before the election. My life has changed, my health has changed. I'm a little bit lost. The worst part about that is that I am a father, and a father of a daughter. I consider it my responsibility to teach my child what is acceptable and what is not. How can I possibly explain how f'd up this to a 14-year-old? I normally have a very focused compass. My compass is going freaking haywire! I want to put my fist through the TV."
Perhaps some of you can relate. Dave and I went out to dinner the other night, and we agreed not to discuss politics, though we usually do a lot of that. During dinner, his I-watch sounded a CNN alert. He automatically moved to check it. I reminded him of our conversation earlier that day about the self-care strategy of not responding to this kind of alert, but rather setting aside a time during the day to catch up on news. It was very hard for Dave not to read the alert. . . And I know that it will be hard for you, too, to make this kind of change, if you decide to do so to reduce your stress.
When I was growing up, my parents watched the 6:00 news and read the newspaper in the morning. These were the designated times for news. The rest of the day was devoted to work, family, etc. The constant availability, and even intrusion, of news was years away. We can’t go back, but we can take some control over how much we allow in, and when we keep it out. If we are parents, this is doubly important, because being distracted by our smartphones, whether for business or pleasure, makes us less available to be fully in relationship with our children. More on that in future posts. For now, I welcome your comments and ideas on strategies you think might be effective for moderating the constant information input that adds to our chronic stress.
will expand on the items on this list in coming days, but here are a number of steps you can take to decrease your stress and take care of your own mental health. If you are a parent, remember the flight attendants’ admonition to “put on your own oxygen mask first.” You must take care of yourself first to make sure you are “in shape” to take care of your children.
1.Reduce your exposure to daily news. These days, it can seem that it is impossible to escape hearing the news. Social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, have become “re-sellers,” in a way, of both news and “fake news,” along with commentary that can often become heated. This step will be the hardest for many of you, but if you are feeling stressed, hopeless, depressed, angry, or any other kind of emotion that drains your energy and well-being, try moderating your intake of social media. Most of our newsfeeds now days are less family and friends posting personal updates and more (often highly charged) political posts. Schedule a time in your day to check in on social media, then leave it alone for the rest of the day. If you are seeking a less biased (and inflammatory) outlet to read the news of the day, try Reuters.com, but only sit down to catch up on the news at the time you have set aside for this.
2.Get outside in nature. Spending time in nature is proven to reduce stress and clear our thinking. It can be more difficult this time of the year in places like where I live, Northern Illinois, but looking for opportunities to be outdoors will definitely help you reduce your stress. If you have access to a wooded area, all the better.
3.Get some rest. For parents, especially, this is a tough one. And many people who are not parents have told me that, especially during this past year, they are having more trouble sleeping and getting enough rest. I will offer some suggestions to help with this later, but for now, just know that this is a crucial step for your self-care and stress reduction.
4.Create and maintain a daily and weekly rhythm. This is one of the areas of simplifying that I work on with parents, but it can also be very helpful to those who are not parents. Chronic stress is exacerbated by the uncertainty of living without a regular rhythm. Spending some time each week planning how your days will unfold and how the week lays out, pinpointing times of activity and times of rest or renewal, is an investment in your family’s health and happiness that you will be grateful for. Think of it as breathing rhythm—in-breaths and out-breaths, in a regular cycle that you can rest in. More on this later.
5.Seek out hope and optimism. Without hope, we have little motivation to move forward. Too much exposure to the news of the day can sap our hope and optimism, since the ratio of bad to good news is 17:1—or 95% bad! Focus on spending time with people and activities that bring you joy. Even in the current polarized political environment, there are opportunities to experience togetherness and optimism. Many of the protests that have arisen in recent weeks have been permeated with an energy of love and kindness and optimism. I have experienced this myself, and I have heard this from many other people who have attended these events. If there is an event near you that speaks to you, try to be a part of it and see if it helps you feel more optimistic.
6.Take some small action. It is easy to feel we have no voice, no power to change these big things that are happening. (If you are a parent, know that this is the way your children can feel much of the time, as so much is out of their control! But that is a topic for another time.) Try setting a goal to do one thing every day---whether it is posting something inspiring on social media, adding your name to a petition that is important to you, making a call, etc. Then, feel good about your contribution and let it be enough. You can’t ever do it all, but if we all do one small thing most days, big things will happen. Really. You will be part of the change you want to see in the world.
7.Breathe. Just that, really. When we are stressed, our breathing becomes more shallow, and this adversely affects our overall mental and physical health. If you are able and willing to carve out even 5 or 10 minutes a day to sit and breathe intentionally, or better yet to meditate for even that short time, the benefits will be great. If you can’t make that work right away, then try being conscious as you go through your day of when you might be holding your breath or not breathing deeply. Take three deep breaths whenever you think of it and sigh them out. This is a very restorative practice that you can do any time.
I originally conceived this blog as a forum to support parents, as an adjunct to my parent coaching practice. However, whenever I speak about the Simplicity Parenting work I do with my parent coaching clients, adults without children ask whether they can benefit from these strategies even if they don’t have children. So, I decided to devote this page initially to supporting all of us in this incredibly stressful and frightening time we are living in. Simplifying is certainly part of what will help, so I will draw from that work. I will also share articles and tips specific to parenting, but I wanted to include support for everyone. I know I have to remind myself to “listen to my own lectures,” as a wise friend always says! Thanks for visiting, and enjoy.