Yeah, it's a lot. We tend to put a lot on our plates nowadays, and our health suffers for it. Weight gain, insomnia, anxiety, depression, diabetes, heart disease, stroke. And that doesn't even include the ever-growing list of autoimmune disorders out there. (Have you ever looked at a list of autoimmune diseases? It's CRAZY long!)
My mission to health has included a lot about food, but even more, it's been about reducing stress. So here are some tips we use in our household that help myself, my husband, and my kids live a happier, less anxious life.
9 Ways to Make Your Life Less Stressful
1. Have a Routine.
Yeah, this seems pretty basic, and for those of you who have already accomplished this, kudos to you. But there are a lot of people and families out there who shy away from routine. Maybe they're afraid of being boring and predictable. Or maybe they feel so frazzled that making a routine feels like another insurmountable task to be tackled. But formulating a routine is well worth the effort, trust me. Your kids will love it especially.
To start, think how your average day flows. Make note of what time you wake up, get ready for the day, eat breakfast, etc. If you have school-aged children, have your routine include homework time (ours works best right after school, then it's done and my kids can play the rest of the evening). Try to make dinner around the same time each night. And set a time for the kids to get ready for bed so they know what to expect. Trust me -- your household will flow so much better!
Our basic daily routine looks like this:
5 am -- Husband wakes up and leaves for work at 5:50 am
6:30 am -- Mamma wakes up and gets dressed (and the kids usually wake up on their own and go downstairs to watch TV)
7-7:30 -- I pack lunches and make breakfast
7:30-8:00 -- Eat breakfast
8-8:30 -- Kids get dressed, brush their teeth and comb their hair
8:30-8:45 -- Kids at the bus stop
then fast forward to the afternoon . . .
around 4:00 -- kids get off the bus (one of mine gets off earlier, the other later)
4:20-4:45ish -- homework time
5:30 -- Dinner
7pm -- Bath time
7:30-7:45 -- Mamma reads the kids a story
7:45-8:05 -- kids read in bed silently, then lights out
2. Write up the House Rules and Consequences
This can sound daunting even to an organized parent. But posting house rules sends a clear message to your kids about what you expect from them and takes the stress off of you to constantly remind them. And don't forget to write out clear consequences for breaking the rules. Actually, I feel the consequences are the most important part. Our household has fluctuated with rules over the years -- after all, they do change as the kids get older and mature (I don't have to tell my 9-year-old not to throw food on the floor, for example). There have been times when we've had clear rules typed and posted and other times when we're just winging it. But when we've been flying by the seat of our pants parenting and our kids do something inappropriate, my punishment changed according to how I felt at that time. It was inconsistent. So if I was feeling more fatigued and grumpy one day, the punishment might be more severe than on a day when I felt better. I tried hard not to do that, but hey, I'm human, you know.
Writing out clear consequences took a lot of stress off of me. I'm not forced to think of punishments on the fly (and mood dependent). Plus my kids know what to expect if they break a rule so they're more likely to take the punishment without a fight -- and that's a huge stress relief, too!
3. Make Meal Plans
Okay, so this is the task I like the least. And I'm guilty of not having made a meal plan for the past few months. But hear me out on this one. Making a plan for your meals will release any stress you feel about what to make for dinner tonight. Trust me!
I recently read an article that stated making dinner caused mothers great anxiety and grief. No doubt some of this stress is from the daily task of figuring out what to make for dinner that night. Many factors affect the dinner-making decision -- how much time do you have, any after-school activities, a late spouse, etc. But dinner doesn't have to cause a panic attack.
Grab your calendar, and sit down with a blank monthly meal plan calendar (pick one of these), and look to see which nights you may have something going on. Start at the beginning of the month and write out dinners for each day. If you get to a day that's busy, make sure your meal is quick and easy (or maybe this is a Pizza Night). And that's it! You're done for a whole month and you can relax!
Not only does a monthly meal plan take away the stress of making dinner, it also makes grocery shopping easier and less stressful! You'll go the grocery store less often and save money, too! Bonus!
4. Just Say "No"
"No" isn't just for drugs anymore.
If you want to reduce your stress, keep extra activities to a minimum. Yes, your first grader got invited to two birthday parties in one weekend, but that doesn't mean your kiddo has to go to both. Just say no and have them choose one.
Or your daughter is already taking swim lessons when she tells you her best friend is going to tennis camp, too. Just say no. My motto is: one activity at a time. Pick one. Just one, and that's it. We as parents want our kids to have all sorts of opportunities and experiences so they can find their niche in life and grow up to be well-rounded adults. That's great, but it doesn't mean they need to cram in as many activities as possible into their day. So let your kid pick one activity -- just one. And if they want to change later, then so be it. But limit the amount of time your family rushes around to after-school activities. Your kids will be fine if they don't do synchronized swimming, soccer, piano lessons and art club all in the same year. And your stress levels will be that much lower.
5. Make a House Cleaning Schedule
Yes, I know, another routine. But while the house routine helps the kids, making a cleaning schedule helps you. First, if you clean your house a little each day, you'll avoid spending an entire Saturday dusting, vacuuming, scrubbing bathrooms, doing laundry and putting away clutter. And secondly, when you make a schedule, you know what to expect of yourself! That may sound silly, but it's true. Finally, keeping up on housework avoids the stress-induced, super-rushed, panicked cleaning when company spontaneously shows up at your house.
My cleaning routine looks something like this:
Monday -- Laundry, tidy up after the weekend (somehow my kids know how to clutter a place up)
Tuesday -- Dust and Vacuum
Wednesday -- Grocery shopping and errands (not really cleaning, but a household chore nonetheless)
Thursday -- Free day! (I usually make up extra food for quick breakfasts and complete other projects.)
Friday -- Bathrooms
My schedule allows me to leave the weekends free of chores which has been great for allowing more time for our family to play together. A huge stress relief! Just by doing a little bit each day, my house stays clean and organized PLUS we have all weekend to do what we want.
6. Become a Master of the Slow Cooker
This may tie into #3 Make a Meal Plan, but I felt this needed its own category. Why? Because the slow cooker is my best friend. We don't eat out much, which means I make A LOT of meals. And sometimes I just don't feel like cooking. If you're gone all day and come home too tired to cook, let the slow cooker do it for you! No, it's not cheating. It's called awesome time management skills. So don't feel guilty and revel in your genius idea to have a great dish ready when you walk in the door after a long day. To get yourself started, check out these awesome recipes.
7. Make a Little Food Extra for Later
Okay, this one may sound like more work, but it's really not. So imagine you already have the oven fired up or the skillet hot or the pot boiling. Now all you have to do is cook a little extra to make some left overs. Why? Because left overs give you something quick and easy for lunches to keep your stress low AND left overs can give you a break one night for dinner. If you're baking sweet potatoes, put in a few more for a night when you don't have time to bake. Or throw in some sausage patties so you'll have breakfast for the week. Or cook up an some extra stalks of broccoli to serve with dinner the next day. A little extra planning can give you huge gains in the long run. In fact, you're probably seeing a pattern to this by now: make a plan = less stress.
8. Wake Up On Time
This one may sound ridiculous, but seriously, give yourself enough time to get around in the morning. Be realistic -- if you take an hour to shower, get dressed, blow dry your hair and put on your make-up, then suck it up and get up early enough to accomplish it. There's nothing worse than starting your day out in a rush, and often it can be hard to recover your day after you spent an anxious morning panicking over showers and breakfasts and school bags and bus stops and getting to work on time. If that means you need to start waking up 15 minutes earlier, just do it. Yeah, it'll suck the first few times and you'll want to keep hitting the snooze button. But starting your day with less stress is much better than the extra 15 minutes of sleep. And that is a great segue to my final stress-relieving tip...
9. Make Sleep a Priority
Go to bed!! Seriously, folks, go to bed. Staying up late to watch Jimmy Fallon may seem like a great idea (he's awesome, by the way), but when 6 am rolls around and you've only gotten 6 1/2 hours of sleep, your brain is going to be junk. And when you can't think straight, life -- and stress -- are hard to deal with.
I know, I know, a lot of you will say you do just fine on 6 or 7 hours of sleep. But you're wrong. I'm telling you. You need 8 to 9. No exceptions. Don't believe me? Then watch this TED talk. So turn off the TV and just go to bed. Try it for one week and if your body doesn't feel better equipped to handle stress, then you can tell me. You can write me a nasty comment about how I ruined your life. But until then, forget all the stigmas about going to bed early and get some sleep, people!
I hope these tips can help you and your family lessen your stress. I know they've helped us!