As a busy mom, trying to manage stress sometimes isn't among my top priorities. There are mouths to feed, children's lives to enrich, a household to manage and 7,403 others things competing for my attention at any given time.
At one pivotal moment as a young mom, I remember one of those days when we didn't have anything on the calendar. So what did I do? Whipped out the to-do list, of course! I was on a roll all day long and got a ton done ... until about 7 p.m. and then I pretty much became a vegetable.
I'm pretty sure I'm not the only woman in the world who works herself into complete exhaustion trying to get it all done. But if I'm not in tune with my own needs, I just don't know when to stop until I practically pass out. I get stressed to the max because the work is never really all done. I feel completely exhausted and inadequate, unable to give an ounce more of my energy.
I felt especially bad on this particular day because I could barely peel myself out of my chair to put the kids to bed, let alone give attention to my husband, whom I'd effectively ignored most of the day. Oops.
So he and I talked about it. Fortunately, it wasn't a despairing conversation. The problem was not how to work harder and get more done, but rather how to find a place where I could feel good about what I had already accomplished. Then I would still have time and energy left over to give more to my relationships. It was a mental adjustment, and I knew what I needed in order to make it: to chill out. Rest. As we like to say, have some "Sabbath time."
Stress management is a topic I know a lot of women need help with, but taking caring of ourselves is usually the last thing on our list. It just comes with the mom hat: others first. Me last. But truth be told? When we better manage stress for ourselves, we become much better moms and wives. And people, generally.
Since this incident, I've pondered what it looks like to incorporate adequate rest into my daily and weekly schedule. And I've come to the radical conclusion:
In order to manage stress and feel better about my time management, I need to be productively lazy.
For as hard as I work, I have no problem being lazy once my energy level is zapped. But what do I do during my lazy time? Do I surf the web, watch TV or just zone out? Nothing is inherently wrong with those things, but if I don't use my down time to recharge my own batteries and get refreshed, then I'm setting myself up for failure later. Here's what I mean:
I'm decompressing after a long day by scrolling through Facebook on my phone, taking those worthless personality quizzes or reading dumb articles. So I stay up half an later than I intend, sleep in the next day and start the morning grumpy because I didn't get up before the kids.
For an evening together after the kids are asleep, my husband and I binge watch our favorite shows on Netflix. We have no meaningful conversation, stay up too late and feel distant from each other the next day.
I get up early to work out, read the Bible and have some time to myself. Instead of meditating or praying I start thinking of all I have to get done ... and I begin the day feeling stressed.
I'm doing dishes so it's technically not "down time," but the kids are occupied elsewhere so I at least have my thoughts to myself. I start thinking about how hard my day has been or how lonely I feel being home all day or how I'm missing old friends and family and I start down the road of negativity, which deflates my spirits for the rest of the day.
Since my lazy time is limited, I want to be sure that I'm making the most of it in order to manage my stress.
Productive laziness can include mindless activity like TV and social media and random thoughts, but it cannot consist entirely of these things. I do much better when I limit myself. When I'm doing well, I'm not watching an hour or more of TV every night. I'm limiting social media to no more than five to ten minutes at a time. I'm taking control of my negative thoughts and finding more positive things to think about. I'm putting the to-do list away temporarily (even the mental one).
What productive rest looks like
Productive laziness often includes conversation with my family, friends or God
It doesn't have to be deep conversation, but it has to be something besides (or at least in addition to) staring at a screen together.
Productive laziness involves taking care of myself
That means I allow myself to sleep if needed, I enjoy good food, have a long shower, exercise in ways that I like and just sit and be quiet and peaceful.
Productive laziness is positive and refreshing
I like to read and write. Occasionally I play the piano, go for a walk or grab a latte. Some people like to do art, garden, work out, do puzzles or work on a hobby. Negativity is not allowed!
Productive laziness takes discipline
I know. I contradict myself. But it's true. You have to at least think about it a little bit. And even plan it. And ask your friends and family to watch the kids.
Productive laziness takes priority
Perhaps the dishes need to go undone or the laundry needs to wait. They'll be there for you later!
When I'm productively lazy, I don't feel guilty about "me time." What's more, I don't need a whole lot of it! Once I've been refreshed, I'll be more motivated and energized to get back to my tasks - and be more productive. I'll also be a better mom, better wife, better daughter/sister/friend. And while there might be toys scattered around the room or dishes in the sink, I'll generally not care so much.
How's your stress management going these days, mama friend?
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Gina M. Poirier's website. It has been republished here with permission.