“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes… including you.” ~ Anne Lamott
We all have seasons in life when we are called upon to do challenging things. One of my dear girlfriends, who is a single working mom, faithfully visits her mother every Sunday–even though her mama no longer recognizes her. Another friend is launching a new business and caring for her toddler, all while recovering from breast cancer treatments and surgery.
My challenges feel decidedly puny by comparison: Caring for our beloved, aging dog who frequently needs to go outside in the middle of the night. Parenting a wonderful teenager, who lost his dad earlier this year. Maintaining a great 1970’s house, where something breaks down weekly (this week: busted washing machine). Homework. E-mail. Deadlines. Long days. Embracing life with my ex’s large, lively Chocolate Lab, who likes to grunt nocturnally. (Note: I’ve been waiting my whole life to gracefully weave the phrase “grunt nocturnally” in a sentence.) (P.S. Don’t you think The Nocturnal Grunters would be an excellent name for a rock band?)
The effects of a little too much on my plate and not quite enough sleep caught up with me this summer, and I could see it in my face, too — the weary smile, and dark circles under my eyes. I finally had to admit that I couldn’t just take my good health for granted during a demanding season of life. I realized I had to actively seek more peace and take care of my own health if I wanted to be strong and rise to these challenges.
These are some of the things I’ve tried that seem to help:
1. Begin and end the day quietly and unplugged. In the morning I wake up an hour before my son, pour a cup of coffee and head for my favorite easy chair. I read a devotional, think and pray. Sometimes I meditate. Sometimes I write in my journal. Sometimes I just sit and watch the sun rise. It’s all good. At the end of the day, I love to read a book until I fall asleep. Nothing positive ever comes from being online first thing in the morning or last thing at night, so I don’t go there.
2. Speak and think words of peace. Wayne Dyer suggested saying these words every day: “I am well. I am content. I am at peace. I am at ease.” I wrote them on a card that I attached to my computer monitor so I see and repeat them daily. I also have favorite scriptures and quotes that I like to say aloud.
3. Batch e-mails, and write shorter replies. Probably just like you, I receive a lot of e-mails. I could spend a good part of every day answering e-mails, without accomplishing much of anything. Now I’m trying to take just two or three breaks a day when I answer e-mails, and not constantly click on the InBox throughout the day. Brevity is a good thing, so I’m trying to be more concise. I also like the old-school approach of picking up the phone and talking in person, instead of sending one more e-mail. I’ve even been known to send my clients hand-written postcards.
4. Accept some limitations. This is tough, because I don’t want to miss important events, especially gatherings for people I deeply care about. I frequently wish I could be two places at once, and I ask God often for help with priorities. All working parents know something about juggling and trying to balance everything, and sometimes we simply can’t do everything or be everywhere we wish we could.
5. Hire and ask for help. We could not live in this house without our lawn guy Kevin Lombardi, who cuts the grass so beautifully and cleans up the leaves in the autumn. Paying someone to help is easier for me than asking other people for help, but I’m trying to get braver.
6. Swish and swipe. The Flylady coined this term, which means simply to give a quick polish to a room each time you’re in there. I always feel more peaceful in a clean, tidy space — which is not to say that our house is always clean and tidy. But swishing and swiping helps.
7. Declutter and clear space. The less stuff we have, the less overwhelmed we feel, and the less time we have to spend cleaning and maintaining things. Minimizing means we have more open space and serenity in our homes. William Morris said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” We’re not there yet, but this is my ongoing goal and I give things away almost every week.
8. Write in a gratitude journal. Saying thanks changes my heart. Being glad for what we have and focusing on good things helps me stay centered. I love reading back over the entries I’ve jotted down over the years, too.
9. Do your own thing. When you have multiple responsibilities to many other people, I think it’s especially important to have something you do just for you. This might seem like an odd example, but I joined Toastmasters this year to practice public speaking and it’s been so much fun. I just finished my fourth speech, and I love the Zen element of forgetting about everything else that happens when we attempt something new. Plus I adore the people in our group, who are each working so hard to improve their skills.
10. Talk to someone. When I feel stuck, I love going and talking with our wonderful family counselor. She always helps me sort things out, and it’s like a spa day for my soul. My mom is the wisest woman I know, and I often turn to her when I need help. (Thank you, Mom. I love you.) My sweet sister and several dear friends are great at nonjudgmental listening, which is such a gift.
11. Write a Victory List. If you sometimes feel like you’re not doing enough, perhaps writing down your accomplishments throughout the month will be an encouragement. Here’s why and how I started a Victory List.
12. Do something good for your body and soul. Just for fun, I stopped at one of those chair massage stations the last time I was at the store and had a 15-minute massage. It was heavenly! Whether it’s a steam shave at the barber or a pedicure, do something nice for yourself occasionally and reap the benefits.
13. Take a walk. A middle-of-the-day walk is so therapeutic. It’s good exercise, the fresh air clears my head, and I often come back with a new idea or a solution to a problem.
How About You?
What do you do to maintain balance in your day and stay centered? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.
Here’s to more peace — in ourselves, in our families, and in our world.