Stress Less This Year: Focus on What’s Important to Find More Time and Energy

Close your eyes and consider how many times you have said or thought, “I’m so stressed.” How many times has a friend or family member complained to you about stress during the last week? The last month?

If you are like many parents, stress is part of almost every day. But what if you focused on ways to reduce stress so it became an exception rather than the rule? We asked local parents and Triangle resident how they reduce stress.

Reduce Commitments
According to many parents, stress often comes from not having enough time. One way to ease the time crunch is to commit to only one activity per family member per season and let everything else go.

According to Morrisville father of two Carey Parker, “Kids are overcommitted and overstimulated these days. It’s not only stressful for the entire family, but we’re not teaching our kids how to entertain themselves.” He lets his daughters schedule only one activity at a time and also encourages self-directed play.

Jennifer Tavares of Cary, mother of two, discovered the stress relief of fewer activities during a brief period when her husband was unemployed. “We had to take the kids out of all of their activities because we couldn’t afford them. Initially, I felt bad about this, but it ended up being the best thing we could have done,” she says. “We had time to relax, eat dinner together and hang out as a family.”

When her husband found a new job, each kid was allowed to choose one activity. “What seemed like a stressful problem ended up simplifying our lives in the long run,” Tavares says.

For some families, reigning in the commitments of extended family members is important to controlling stress. A Clayton mother of 10-month-old twins, Dawn Prince-Cohee doesn’t travel with her kids and requests that family members who drop by come on weekends and at certain times. “All we had to do was ask,” she reports. “The result has been that we are much more centered as a family, and our focus is truly on our kids’ needs, not everyone else’s expectations.”

Work Less
Other families find that having one parent work from home or one or more parents work part-time is an effective way to manage the stress of a busy household. Jennifer McIntyre, mother of two, says, “It’s helpful not to have an additional full-time job. This is an automatic reduction of stress in our family life. … When I’m stressed, I look at the kids and wonder what they will remember most about their mom and the home where they grew up.”

McIntyre acknowledges that having only one income means that her family has less financially, but she feels good about the focused time she devotes to her children.

Maryanne Perrin, mother of three and a partner at Balancing Professionals, which matches professionals with part-time positions, says, “Most American households face a serious time crisis. We have added more hours to the average workweek; there are fewer households with an adult home during the day, creating a need for the infamous ‘second shift’; and ‘intensive parenting’ is on the rise with many families juggling complex schedules of after-school activities for their children.”

Perrin believes in looking for strategies to scale back at work to create more time for the family. This may mean learning how to walk away from work intrusions into family time such as e-mail and cell phone calls.

Exercise is a great way to relieve stress. According to Sherri Deimler, owner of Ladies Fitness and Wellness in Chapel Hill, “Studies show that exercise has tremendous psychological benefits, including decreases in depression and anxiety. When parents feel more content, less stressed and more balanced, the entire family benefits.”

Durham photographer and mother Tamara Lackey agrees and even involves her kids in her workouts. “Running a full-tilt photography studio and raising two kids, life can definitely get pretty stressful,” she admits. “For me, I find that exercise is a huge mood-booster, energy-giver and stress-reliever all in one.”

Lackey finds ways to include her kids in her workouts, including using a jogging stroller and creating races for her children around her cul-de-sac. “It’s surprising how much stress you can burn off while maximizing time with your kids at play ? and all the while hopefully building in them a great association between fun and fitness,” she says.

Not only does exercise help busy parents de-stress, it also provides energy to get them through their days. Deimler adds, “Our bodies are like cars. … They need regular maintenance. We have to take care of our bodies so we can keep going.”

Bored by exercise? Find what interests you, and you’re more likely to stick with it. Carson Efird, a certified yoga teacher at YogAsana South in Raleigh, finds that yoga not only provides a stress-relief outlet, it also helps parents focus. She explains, “Through strengthening and stretching exercises, breath work, and sustained concentration or meditation, yoga teaches you how to quiet the relentless chatter that occupies the mind and distracts you from the important things in life.”

Take a Class
Hillsborough mother of two Laura Branan tried a class to help her de-stress. “Last fall, I signed up for a clay bead-making workshop all day. It’s relaxing because your mind is focusing on ‘creating’ most of the day, and the environment itself is relaxing with a wood-burning stove keeping you warm, hot herb tea and easy conversation with fellow artists,” she explains.

Branan was able to explore something that she was interested in, make presents for friends, and unwind from her life as the mother of two, including a child with special needs. Sometimes the best way to reduce stress is to add an activity that rejuvenates you.

Outsource Tasks
Rae Sullivan, a Durham single mother, finds that taking ironing to the dry cleaners and eating out are strategies to not get overwhelmed. She says, “[I] cut myself some slack on anything I don’t get around to — the dishes will be there tomorrow if I am too tired to do them.” This allows her to focus her happy energy around her son. “The biggest and most important pro of being less stressed out is I get to enjoy being a mum.”

Focus on the Family
Sometimes stress is created by cramming too many jobs into a single period of time. For example, while overseeing our kids’ homework, we cook dinner, talk on the phone and empty the dishwasher. Ditching parenting multi-tasking is a great stress reliever.

Kristi Turner of Cary, the mother of a 4-year-old and 19-month-old twins, moved from task to task while playing with her kids. Then she took a parenting course.

“What I learned during class was that the time we spend with our children needs to be dedicated time where we are emotionally available to them. By spending more [focused] quality time, I find that I am much less stressed,” Turner says. Now she concentrates on each child. The answering machine picks up her calls, and she completes household chores when the kids are sleeping.

To re-focus her family, Apex mother of two Cat Lewis created family night: one night a week of not going anywhere; they just have fun with each other. “It doesn’t matter what we do,” she says, “just that we do it together and don’t plan it out.”

Many parents suggest this singular focus should be applied to marriages, also. Says mother of three Beckie Weadon, “What my husband and I have found is the necessity of date night. … Having children is a 24/7 on-call job, so you must demand your own time back or you will never get it.” And that time should be uninterrupted by work, family and the other demands of parenting.

Reframe Your Relationship with Stress
Catherine Williamson-Hardy, a Durham mother of two, has made peace with the stress in her life. “My friends often tell me that my schedule makes them tired. My mom is constantly saying ‘slow down.’ Then one day I realized that I thrive off of a certain amount of stress. This realization reduced my stress level and allowed me to only focus on that stress that was taking me over the edge versus this busy life that fuels me.” She found that embracing the chaos in her life made her feel more energized.

So here’s a challenge: Choose a strategy or two to lower stress and make them your New Year’s resolution. You may find you have energy to burn!

Robin Whitsell is a Chapel Hill writer and mother of three. She can be reached through her Web site