In my coaching and classes, I always highlight the importance of a 'little and often' approach: just like maintaining physical fitness, keeping on top of your mental and emotional wellbeing takes regular practice and patience. Those small steps really do add up to make a big difference, and it's worth the investment of your time and energy.
I can give you loads of ideas for mini top-ups of self-care and relaxation, for both you and the kids. And I can help you to prioritise and schedule them, so that you can bring some calm to the chaos, and generally keep family stress levels down.
But of course as parents, we all still face regular moments of utter madness. So lots of mums ask me "what can I actually do when the shit is hitting the fan?". Because even 60 seconds of time for yourself can feel really hard to prioritise regularly. We forget, or we put it off until we have more time/energy/headspace (which never happens), or we put everything else first, or we don't think we've worked hard enough yet to deserve a break... And the result is that 1) more shit ends up hitting the fan more regularly because we're so exhausted and overwhelmed, and 2) we have no idea how to find our calm anyway because we haven't been topping it up along the way. And then we feel guilty and a failure. And then more shit hits the fan. And so it goes on.
So I decided to call time on this by coming up with an easy way to remember what we CAN do to regain our composure, and/or help the kids to calm down, in the inevitable moments of madness. I give you ABCDE-HELP!
Acknowledging your feelings, naming them, giving them a location in your body and a sensory description, helps to calm the mind, ground you in your body, and demystify big, overwhelming emotions. Rather than trying to push them away or suppress them, accepting your emotions is key. You can know that the feeling is happening right now and, from experience, you can also know that it will pass. And by giving big emotions a label such as "I'm feeling angry" or "I'm really scared", you can very quickly and effectively calm the stress response in the brain.
Deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system for calming the body and mind. It's quick, effective and free. There are so many different breathing exercises you can try - have a look at my #justbreathe series to get you started. Or you can start right now by trying three cycles of breathing in for a count of 4, and out for a count of 6.
Counting gives the mind a job to do, which can help to distract it from the current stressful focus. You can count your breaths, count how many red/blue/square/round things you can see around you, or simply count to ten before making a choice about how to respond to the situation. Get creative and give it a try.
Sometimes physically moving away from the trigger of stress, the fearful stimulus or the person you're feeling angry with or hurt by, is the safe and healthy choice for everyone. Moving to a new position also offers a fresh perspective, new information, and a bit of space from the problem, so that you can more easily figure out a way forward.
Emotions can really build up physically in the body, so it's important to find healthy, safe ways for you and the kids to offload your physical stress. A few laps around the park, a good kickaround, a set of 'squeeze and release' muscle exercises, a lovely stretch out, a (friendly!) pillow fight or game of tag, or an impromptu kitchen disco, can all help to quickly shift the mood and burn off excess energy.
It's ok to ask for help. Sometimes we can't get out of scary places on our own. So if you've tried all of the above and it still feels overwhelming, that's ok. Ask for help. Kids can find a trusted grown up and tell them how they're feeling. And parents can reach out to loved ones or to other parents to share the load - they will understand and support you more often and more deeply than you think.
So whilst the 'little and often' approach is still the most effective long term, sometimes we all need a quick fix. When your brain is in freak-out mode, it cannot also come up with a lovely long list of creative and healthy solutions to the current problem.
So stick this on your fridge and give it a go... and let me know how you get on!