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By the end of a recent day, I realized all verbal conversations with my children had focused on that nasty word, “stress.”
It began with my youngest, who crumbled in tears when she’d forgotten “again” to give a Halloween party invitation to the new girl at school.
“I feel so bad,” was an initial response that snowballed into a meltdown because we might not make it to school early enough to find her on the playground.
I heard myself say, “Don’t let your whole body worry about this,” as I passed her a tissue. “Just tell your brain that this is the most important thing you need to do before the bell rings and get it done.”
With my 15-year-old son, who currently prefers not to speak much, I dropped everything to listen as he described his panic attack before falling asleep the night before.
“For 10 minutes, I couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen if my paper doesn’t print at school,” he said.
His focused anxiety was prophetic as I received a text before lunch that indeed, he couldn’t open the document he’d sent himself in an email. This was not one of those moments to teach tigress tough love. I considered the delivery of that manila envelope with his printed project as my most charitable act of the day.
On his way to bed while I was talking on the phone to another daughter, I got a side-armed hug and a whisper in my available ear, “Thanks for bringing my paper to school, Mom.”
My response as he walked away, “No panic attacks allowed tonight, all right?”
So that initiated a stress-topic conversation with my daughter on the other end of the line who is a freshman at Brigham Young University.
“Everywhere I go — at church, in class, at practice, at family home evening — everyone begins with the words, ‘I know you’re stressed out,’” she ranted. “I came to college to be challenged, not babied. Why does everyone think we can’t do hard things? It’s driving me crazy.”
I responded, “Well, we’re trying to be a sensitive society …”
She then described a new drill they were learning with the BYU rugby team.
“We talked and talked and talked about it and no one was getting it,” she said. “Finally, a player from the men’s team who was there to demonstrate the drill got so frustrated, he grabbed the ball and showed us. And suddenly, we all understood.”
Her example perfectly described my preferred mothering tactics on teaching stress management:
• Put down the list and get something done.
With my old Franklin planners as shelf relics, I’ve stopped making to-do lists. My husband thinks I’m crazy and I admit, the likelihood of forgetting a necessity at the grocery store has increased. But no-list living offers me a direct route to increased productivity. While he fills another sheet on his yellow notepad, I pick something on his list and finish it before he’s done writing.
• Host the party.
I recently read a post on this site about hacks for reducing Halloween stress. I prefer to show my children that making memories is not daunting enough to opt for no effort at all. Yes, we invited 10 9-year-olds to our house last weekend to play pumpkin games and roll in the leaves. No, not every snack was a culinary art project. Planning a party can be perfect practice for a child to work through the process of transforming stress into satisfying productivity.
• Show don’t tell.
Our Relief Society presidency has a goal to do more visiting and less lecturing on visiting teaching. Last month, we sent a heartfelt newsletter and surveys to every sister in our ward, which temporarily spiked our stats from 45 percent to 100 — but more importantly, demonstrated how to reach out and communicate. I shared the story with my three daughters who are new visiting teachers in student wards and trying to do it right.
• Express confidence in others’ abilities.
Our natural man has evolved into a tightly wound donkey on the edge. Satan’s new tactics are obvious, but we might be over-compensating. I spoke privately to a missionary who returned home before ever leaving the Missionary Training Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said, “Well, I told the MTC president I didn’t think this 16-hour routine was for me, and I immediately got an airline ticket home.” Trusting what he said was true, I’d prefer more advice like LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley received from his father while a young missionary, “Forget yourself and go to work.”
• Avoid the empathetic question, “Aren’t you too tired?”
Last Friday morning I took my son to the church before 6 a.m. so he could shoot baskets with friends before seminary at 7 a.m. He’ll go to school and then football practice. The previous night, he raked leaves with the Scouts before coming home to start his homework after 8 p.m. While I worry about his current regimen, I’m certainly not going to question his ability to choose what he can handle. Conversely, I don’t bag on naps — if a teen is tired, let him rejuvenate.
• Don’t nag about chores.
Busy schedules don’t qualify for exemptions from chores at our house. But I’ve learned not to nag about it. After assessing availabilities and realizing downtime is just as vital as eating and breathing in our modern-day rigor, I give 10-minute notice before requiring everyone to, “Stop, drop and clean a toilet.” Temporary grumbling is worth enduring if kids seriously learn to clean up after themselves.
• Stress relievers don’t solve the problem.
Over snacking, compulsive exercising and indulgent complaining don’t solve sources of stress. All of us need a coping skill as long as we realize that it’s a temporary fix of endorphins rather than a root overhaul.
• Enjoy the journey.
I purchased a crafty wood sign with that message after a conversation with my husband about the importance of “results.” Does the journey matter if the destination is/isn’t achieved? Absolutely! And we should expect that journey to be winding and rocky, no matter how long or exhausting. I talked to my oldest about her stellar organizational skills with full-time college, full-time work and newlywed bliss. She paused long enough to ask herself if she was experiencing joy in all of her achievements. It’s not a bad question to delve into with a child of any age, “Are you feeling joy in your journey?” Elder Russell M. Nelson’s words on the topic from the most recent general conference talk titled “Joy and Spiritual Survival” are stellar.
I have found during spurts of stress, if my goals are clear and my “issues” are managed, anxious feelings propel me to action that proves exhilarating. While the schedule may be rigorous, remind yourself — and your children — of the source for load lightening and peace giving. Our mind and body are stronger than the tempter’s snares as long as we learn to channel that awful stress into productivity that includes service, selflessness and Christ-like living.
Stacie Lloyd Duce is a columnist and magazine editor featured regularly in several Montana and Utah publications. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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