Living a life we love, managing stress and coping with anxiety

So, my first 30 years were the years I didn’t know how to manage my stress. I often felt overwhelmed, suffered from chronic headaches as well as feelings of depression and anxiety. Everything from relationships to money to work to any sort of responsibility would be stressful for me.

Today, I rarely get a headache and now instead of having them caused by emotional stress they are usually brought on by forgetting to eat, too much sun and not enough water or on occasion cheap wine or one too many drinks!

I have recently been really wondering what was so stressful before that isn’t so stressful now? Like seriously I am now responsible for three tiny humans, I should be more stressed. I am realizing though, with life experience you gain confidence, hopefully some coping mechanisms for anxiety and stress and of course the ability to recognize and ask for help.

I think there are a few things for me that lead to stress and the feeling of being out of control.

  • Overwhelm. Always saying yes to everything. With the best intentions but I struggled to set realistic goals.
  • Avoidance. Ignoring issues past or present. Not communicating and afraid to make changes. Avoiding confrontation or difficult conversations.
  • Caring too much about appearances and what others think, instead of prioritizing myself. Doing things to make others happy instead of being true to myself.

I think often people see my blog or even a picture I post or an instagram story and are happy to believe that my life is pretty good and I have it really easy. I agree my life is really good, but a really good life still takes hard work and compromise and everything comes with a price tag. As for having it easy, I think grass is always greener on the other side. We have chosen to try and see the bright side and the best in our situation. It doesn’t always work, but for the most part I think we have created a life we are happy with and really are living our best life.

I have been told “you make it look all sunshine and butterflies”. It has really got me thinking, and it has reminded me that I shouldn’t care what other people think. This is so much easier said then done. It is far from sunshine and butterflies we have lots of challenging moments. However it also has got me thinking about what has changed in my life that I feel less stress than I ever did. The truth is I don’t believe anyone lives a stress free life however I do believe that it is all in how we deal with our stress and choose to live our lives that impact our quality of life.

For me personally a lot of my typical stresses are gone but a lot are gone because of choices and actions I took.

Schedule. First I make a big effort at using our calendar and scheduling in everyone’s stuff (Fraser’s ball, Rowens ABA, kids activities, parties, family social stuff, work, etc). Then when things come up we can check the calendar and try to avoid over scheduling. This sometimes means saying no or prioritizing. It has taken us a while to get to this point but I found we were so busy some days or weeks running from thing to thing that no one was having any fun and I was super stressed. We like to be flexible and plan as we go but having a bit of a schedule to work from has really helped to alleviate stress. This has also helped us to see improvements in the kids behaviour. When they are over scheduled we see more behaviours that we don’t love, which is a good sign to slow things down or take a day off. I also have realized that although I use a calendar and plan ahead, on a busy week it is best to take one day at a time. That has been a huge stress reliever.

Rituals. These are hard to think of but they are things we do to keep peace and order. They feel good to everyone because we know what to expect and they are calming. I have worked really hard at trying to not only have rituals with the kids but for myself. Prior to kids Fraser and I loved being sporadic but now with three kids we see the benefits to having some routine and rituals in our life. For me these rituals include things like journaling, moon circles, using oils, meditation, taking time to work on the farm once a week and girls nights. For the kids some things are our bedtime rituals (bath, reading, talking about our day and what is happening tomorrow, etc), baking with the kids and even our dance parties (which weren’t always popular with Rowen but we found a way to include him). I think these help to feel safe, in control and just regroup without surprises or unknown.

***Side Bar on rituals is that I have just established a plan with the help of my naturopath of a few things to do to try and get back on track and one of her suggestions was setting an hour, 10pm-11pm, where I do the same things every night to prepare for bed. Similar to how we do for our kids bedtime. I love this reminder of how important these rituals are!

Setting Boundaries. This has been something that has been difficult and caused some upset amongst some family but we are learning to set our boundaries. What I am learning about boundaries is that even workplaces and friendships can benefit from boundaries. I love knowing what other people expect and want and when things are clear it eliminates a lot of stress. Setting boundaries often can avoid feeling like you are being taken advantage of or even getting into awkward or difficult situations. Some examples for us of boundaries that were difficult to set but helped eliminate stress were things like limiting our visitors every time we had a new baby, declining some Christmas family activities because it was overwhelming (limiting how much we do right around the holiday), trying to leave Sunday as a family day, and really being clear about how we like the kids being treated and raised.

Practice Self Care. I am really proud of how well Fraser respects this and is really good at acknowledging when I need some me time. He will often notice if I am nearing a breaking point and suggest I go out for some solo time. He also is good at taking time to go work on a project solo or go to ball, just be on his own. I wouldn’t have ever believed this would take persuasion as I have always been great at self care. However once you have kids things change it is almost like I feel guilty sometimes taking time for me. I do think the more you practice self care the easier it gets because you realize you come back refreshed and ready to take more on!

Self care for me is often taking time away from the family and doing some of my rituals. Self care is even something as simple as working outside of the house, its funny to say that but having three young kiddos has meant we made the choice to have me at home. It was a team decision and a lot of it was it just made financial sense but it was also logistically for the lifestyle we wanted (kids activities, Fraser and I being able to see each other, parent participation in things, etc) that it made sense for us. As nice as it is that I am able to stay at home we both know it would be nice if I could work a little, unfortunately working a little means hiring some more help, having Fraser help out a bit and just more scheduling… I realize that self care is a priority and we make it work but it is a bit of work to take the time for me.

I think that you do not have to eat the same meals every Monday night, do the same thing every Tuesday morning, etc to create routines in your life. I know my resistance to creating these healthy habits was loosing spontaneity but that isn’t true at all. These are just ways to help manage stress and anxiety. Everyone is different and sometimes it takes a bit to figure out what will work for you but I encourage you to try. Often we know what we need to do but we just need a push to get there so whatever that push looks like for you… maybe it’s having an accountability partner, hiring a coach, seeing your naturopath or maybe its as simple as a checklist. Whatever it looks like take the time to do it! Living with less stress and anxiety usually means you get to live with a whole lot more of other stuff!

Start of School Reflections

With a new school year, and a fresh start for Rowen because we started a different preschool, I have been doing a lot of reflecting at the difference a year can make. I mean I know what a difference a year can make. I have had years of huge loss with family and friends passing away, I have had a year of divorce and going from married to single, and I have had years of going from single to in a relationship and becoming a mom. SO many changes, in sometimes what seems like short time frames, but when I look at Rowen and the progress he has made in the last year I am wowed and inspired by my son and his amazing attitude and hard work.

Sometimes we are so close to things that we don’t always notice changes or gradual progress but in the case of this year I can’t help but notice the changes.

Last year I had a very frustrated, slow to speak, emotional boy who was upset almost every drop off at school. He was not potty trained and to be honest it was on the bottom of a very long list of goals, he had not participated in a circle time, was an independent player and didn’t seem excited or happy about school. He was also prone to have meltdowns and was difficult to settle, plus snack time was challenging.

Fast forward to this years first month of preschool and we have a verbal potty trained boy who asks to go to school on Saturday because he loves it so much. The teachers mentioned he spent 15 minutes participating in circle time and made a friend with a boy from the older class. When I went to pick him up he was playing with two other kids and he is loving his therapies and has made a friend there as well who he asked to have come over and play. His meltdowns have changed and are more like age appropriate tantrums that are very infrequent. After his first week he is not only enjoying snack time at school but also stays for lunch!

Sometimes I look at these things and think that they are not really a big deal, kids grow and learn and develop. This is how they are suppose to act. But then I think back to all the research I did, learning our whole family did, the appointments we went to, money we spent, referrals we needed and think this is not just your average kids learning and growing in a year.

This is a result of lots of hard work from Rowen, a team of people who have supported not only Rowen but our whole family and a group of friends and family who have been amazing! It has meant getting help sometimes for the girls to have child care and leaning on others.

We have truly learnt what they mean by “it takes a village” and about who is in our village and how well they showed up (or in some cases didn’t). It has been amazing, eye opening and in sometimes disappointing. We had hoped for more involvement and support by some, but it is others who’s support surprised us that really sticks out in my mind.

My grandparents went above and beyond to research and learn about Autism and where and what Rowen is doing for therapy as well as adapting things they do or give him with his best interest in mind. Not only did they learn but they shared about Rowen and even a friend they volunteer at the Thrift Store with emailed with an amazing therapy idea (which my grandparents offered to pay for). It isn’t so much about the money but when you realize how much effort and time someone has put in to learning about something important to us it really makes you feel loved and supported. Plus Autism is hard for younger generations to grasp, it is often super hard for older so to know it was my grandparents making such an effort is really cool.

My Uncle who is also one of Fraser’s good friends often asks how he can best support Rowen and always makes an effort to connect and play with him whenever he sees him, which has helped make him one of Rowens favourite people (the boat and the motorcycle help too).

The list and examples are endless but sometimes when I am frustrated that other people have grandparents that do childcare weekly, or have family who does weekends or even weeks so the parents can go on vacation or when I hear about family members paying for kids activities, etc it is easy to feel envious. However, in a moment of reflection, sanity and clarity I realize how meaningful and plentiful the support is that we get from our family and our friends. Support shows up in so many ways too… my mom often takes our laundry and returns it clean and folded, drops off home cooked meals ready to go, takes time off work to babysit and even went to tour Rowens centre for therapy and meet some of his therapists.

It’s funny how amazing and important Rowens team has become to us. These are paid professionals who really are above and beyond what we could have imagined for him. We see Keith from Little Buddies for OT and Megan, Rebecca, Declan, Erik and Natasha from Bounding Higher for SLP, BC and BI. This team has been a dream team from Day 1 and I truly believe without them we would not see as much progress as we have. If you would have told me a year ago this list of names it would have meant nothing to me and I certainly would not have believed they would all play such an important role in my sons life. They are so much more than paid professionals to Rowen and to us. I mean even our extended family speaks as if these people are a part of our family! They will never know how much they meant to us all.

I know this year has been one of big learning for our whole family and I am proud of all of them. I hope that whatever your September this far has looked like you are able to read this and feel some hope. Hope for possibilities of what your next year could look like or even a reminder to see how far you have come this last year. My biggest fear for myself or my family would be to stay the same so to look back and know lots has changed means I am living the life I want to live. With growth and change comes amazing things. Obviously there will always be growing pains but I like to believe the end result is worth a little pain.

As I look through pictures from the last year I am reminded, first how quickly we forget the hard stuff and second how far we have come. I could have never imagined taking my kids camping on a week long vacation with 8 other families. Last year I reached a point where I just avoided being around other families all together, we had to decline Birthday parties because it was hard to know how Rowen would behave and it was difficult on us. Just remembering the embarrassment or frustration we would have in certain social situations and thinking to where we are now and the confidence I have as a mother, but mainly because I have more trust and faith in Rowen and his abilities. This is just one example but there are many changes I know in our family that if you had asked us a year ago we would have never believed possible.

I am proud of the work Fraser and I have done to get here as well and the sacrifices we have made. Honestly I am tired, emotional and feeling a little of the September overwhelm but more than that I am smiling because I can see our hard work paying off in so many beautiful ways. I can also see my expectations and mindset changing about what’s important and what’s not and I like the “new” mindset.

Breaking a sweat!

It’s funny how you can appear and how you actually feel.  I used to think I appeared confident and together, even more than that I felt confident and outgoing.  I worked in women’s fashion retail and loved the interaction with customers and helping them find clothes that made them feel good.  I thought I understood and empathized with all types of people and that even though at the time I wasn’t a mom I knew how it felt to be tired, have your body change and to not have enough hours in the day (I didn’t have a clue).  I loved my job and was confident with any new hobby I took up (hell I bought myself a Harley, took lessons and then rode with Fraser to Bella Coola on my first big bike trip).

Fast forward to present day, 3 kids later and 3 C-sections in the last 3 years and my confidence is a little rocked.  Parenting is tough and new. As for put together, I am lucky if I am clean… which seriously is my goal each day.  Shower, wear clean clothes and stay clean. Somehow I have become a human towel for all bodily fluids from all three kids as well any food they eat and anything else they find or use (like toothpaste, play doh, dirt, etc).  Gone are the days of beautiful fabrics and expensive clothes, hand washing or hanging to dry everything (and I literally mean everything!  Who puts Hanky Pankys in the dryer, those panties are $25 a pair and require delicate laundering ), or even blow drying my hair and wearing long necklaces and fun earrings.  I have started to do all sorts of things I swore I would never do when I had kids, and I’m fine with it. However, my standards have changed and so has my confidence.

In an effort to embrace a healthier lifestyle, get active and maybe even drop a few LBS and fit back into my beautiful clothes I have joined a gym.  Just joining and having to step into a class was challenging.  Making the choice to get up and out of the house on time is tough, then throw in the fact that it’s to go do intentional exercise (I would much rather be going to the spa or taking an extra hour of uninterrupted sleep), sweat in front of people, and do things that I feel completely out of place doing.  I can’t say I love it but I do think the workouts are amazing, I love the feeling I get after a workout and I love the attitude and energy that both myself and my partner have experienced since we have joined.  He has definitely lost weight and gained confidence, energy and positive attitude. I love what it has done for him and am so proud of his commitment.  I on the other hand have had a different reaction.

I have not yet experienced these benefits. To start I struggle with what to wear to the gym (like is my outfit too tight? will I get too hot? does my top match my runners? why are all runners so colourful now? should I buy runners for practicality or looks?  Will everything stay in place when I’m working out, or will my top flip up, shorts ride up, hair come undone, boobs flop around….) as you can see I probably over analyze a bit, but in the moment these seem like reasonable concerns. Then once I am there it is the issue of where do I stand?  And do I know anyone?  I mean I could go on forever but you definitely get the idea.

Today I had a realization and it was only because an old customer was in my class and she didn’t recognize me at first. I immediately said to her “Oh its because I don’t belong and I am out of place”.  It was a terrible and wrong thing to say but at that moment it was true  Everyone belongs at the gym, it is such an inclusive place.  Plus I am going there to get fit, so the excuse I’m not in good enough shape to go the gym really is like when I say I need to clean before the housecleaners come (defeats the purpose).  After some reflection I realized I need to change my attitude and embrace the gym the way Fraser has.  It is such a welcoming space and the only person that is holding me back is me. I am not myself when I am there and it because I am lacking confidence and so nervous.  It got me thinking about people and their reactions and attitudes depending on surroundings. I definitely consider myself genuine and the same no matter where I am. But since becoming a parent I do notice I am “off” or not myself sometimes depending on what my kids are acting like, who’s watching and how I feel that day.  Its often the same at the gym, because I am stepping outside my comfort zone I am so busy thinking things in my head that I forget to be present and be me.

I had thought if I went to a couple of classes and made it a regular routine I would become more relaxed and comfortable.  But each class is different and I don’t feel like its routine, in fact I love that it’s always dynamic.  I think if I change my attitude about it and embrace that it is a challenge and things that are hard are often the most rewarding I will start to see the benefits that Fraser is experiencing.

The funny thing is it reminds me a lot of being a parent, because in many ways being a parent is a big blow to the confidence.  In the almost 3 years I have been at this parenting gig I have been humbled by my children and learnt selflessness that I never knew possible.  I have also experienced a new level of  self doubt and concern. When I am most true to myself we are all most happy and it is usually in a familiar place (most often at home), with just the five of us (safe, no judgements) and we are just playing and having fun.  As soon as we leave and there are expectations, whether it is my own expectations or expectations from society or peers or family, I start to loose my confidence and my true self.  Reality is we have to leave our comfort bubble and challenge ourselves, so best to figure out the easiest way for you to do that and embrace it.

I am going to try to remember to stay true to me and be myself, even when I am feeling self conscious or like I don’t belong or fit in.   I won’t let my negative thoughts stop me from getting my ass to the gym, because it makes me feel good, gives me energy and shows my kids that fitness is important.  I am really going to work on trying to keep perspective and a sense of humor about things.

How do you overcome fear or self doubt?  Do you stay true to yourself and your character in moments of doubt?  Would love to hear what works for you.