I like peace, harmony, and idyllic days as much as the next person. But I also like lots of lively activity. Some people cut down on stress by limiting their activities and responsibilities. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not for me. I get bored easily if I’m not busy. So, busy I stay, and that means that sometimes things get a little crazy. If the stress I encounter is something that I expected, I usually find that I handle it without much trouble. It’s all those little unexpected things that get me.
When I walked into the foamy laundry room, for example, there were a couple of responses that I could have had. I could have looked for someone to blame. (“That Austin! He can’t stay out of anything for two minutes!” or “Who left the grocery bag where Austin could get it?!?”) I could have also berated myself. (“How stupid was that? You’re such an idiot and now look at this mess you've got to clean up.”) I’ll bet most people tend to swing to one extreme or the other. Some of us blame others, some of us blame ourselves. The problem with that is that neither reaction fixes the problem. Both reactions make things worse. We get angry (either at ourselves or someone else) and sulky and self-pitying. And those emotions can easily lead to bigger problems.
Instead, it’s important to first establish in my mind that life isn't perfect. No surprise there, but don’t we sometimes act awfully shocked when things go wrong? “What????? An interruption in my day???? Where did that come from????” Setting reasonable expectations helps my initial response to be less dramatic and far calmer. “Ah, the first crisis of the day…”
Then, and especially if my split-second reaction is one of shock, I pause. I take a mental step back and just observe. “Foam. Lots of bubbles. LOTS of bubbles.” On a good day, the situation might strike me as funny. A good laugh or even a smile dissipates the stress almost instantly. But, even if it’s NOT funny, at least I can think about it a little more rationally.
The next step is to avoid the blaming- either of myself or others- and instead take a “note to self” approach. “Note to self: No soapy towels in the washer. No hammer on the top of the ladder.” This reassures me that I've learned a lesson and helps me move on.
It’s time, now, to fix the problem. The best thing to do is take care of things immediately. Messes, mistakes and mishaps rarely improve with time. Sometimes, though, I am simply too tired and overwhelmed to deal with it. After all, disasters usually strike just before bed at the end of a very long day or just as we’re headed out the door. And since there’s no one else to step in and share the burden, I have found that I sometimes need to just step away. Shut the door, cover it up, whatever. Everything seems better after a good night’s sleep. If that’s not a possibility and I’m really exhausted, I’ll set the timer for fifteen minutes (or two minutes, or whatever I can handle) and just take care of as much as I can. Usually, once I start, I find the strength to finish, and even if I don’t, I've taken care of enough of the problem to set it aside temporarily.
Now that the problem’s taken care of, it’s good to take a few minutes to reflect and see if there’s anything I could have done to avoid having to deal with it in the first place. Some things- like Megan and the Frisbeeor Nathan being sick- I chalk up as unavoidable. I’m not going to send my kids out in helmets (except on bikes!) and safety goggles or raise them in a bubble. But other things might have turned out differently if I had taken preventative measures. I can refer back to my “notes to self” and either plan a better strategy for the future, or I can use it as a learning opportunity with the kids. “I will NEVER put soap in the washer again. And, Austin- never mind, you’re a toddler. Of course you’re going to dump out bottles. Guys, put the groceries on the counter, not on the floor where he can get them.”
Once all that’s done (and it usually takes far less time to do all of that than it does to write all of that), I need to let it go. It’s over. Done. On to the next thing. Think about it: If you lose your keys, your two year old throws a tantrum, you forget a meeting, yell at the kids, and burn dinner, your day is a complete disaster! Each event follows you around and by the end of the day you are so burdened with stress that you can’t function. Instead, deal with each as it comes: Find your spare keys, hug your two year old, reschedule, apologize, and serve PBandJ. It really wasn't that bad. Just some small things, and I'll bet there were a lot of good things in between. Don’t hold onto those events and carry them around with you. Let them go.
Finally, the most important step: Say thank You. Nothing conquers stress like gratitude. “Thank You that my washer didn’t break. Thank You that Megan’s eye will heal. Thank You for health. Thank You that all days end eventually.” Just be thankful.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
Will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”