Working-parent life is pretty much the definition of “hectic” in the dictionary, but recently I had a crazier-than-usual week that turned my dunking booth into a drowning pool. It started when my kiddo got sick with strep throat, resulting in two days of missed work. A few extra balls were thrown at me in the dunking booth, but no problem; typically when I have to stay home I get a lot of work done while she rests. Day three crept up and the kiddo was still sick (asthmatics with strep are no joke!) which led me to cancel several school visits. Ball, ball, ball!! My calendar got completely full for the end of the week and crept into next week, and I started to feel very behind. Day three nighttime: my body started to ache and my throat hurt so badly I thought I swallowed a sandpaper ball…..ball, ball, ball! More rescheduled school visits and cancelled appointments started making me visualize that ball being thrown at my dunking booth as just one big snowball, getting bigger and bigger and keeping me down just enough that I didn’t have time to climb back onto my bench. It was a snowball gaining momentum, and I wasn’t keeping up. How in the world would I make everything up? There was no TIME. Five days of Streptococcus bacteria put me 3 weeks behind in my consulting business. As an albeit-proud self-employed consultant, when I don’t work, I don’t get paid. I worried about clients getting upset about having to wait for me, feeling guilty about rescheduling, and most of all just wishing my kiddo and I would both feel better and want to eat more than soup.
Guilty Until Feeling Innocent
Why do we feel so guilty as adults when one commitment takes priority over another? Aren’t we supposed to prioritize when the balls start flying faster at us, or worse, start growing like a snowball? I’ll tell you why: it’s because we try to handle everything that’s thrown at us regardless of the velocity and speed. Sometimes we have no control over the ball-throwers yet we still think we can say “Wait, hold on, don’t throw that one yet! I’m not quite ready! Give me a week.” The 2015 Stress in America survey reported that money and work were the top two sources of stress for adults in the United States, and these two stressors had been the “winners” for 8 years in a row. The most recent Stress in America survey (2018) reported that healthcare costs and mental health support were the top stressors for Americans. And guess what? We tend to worry more about our healthcare costs while we are waiting hours in doctor’s offices…..which takes us from work, and costs us more money (looping back to our 2007-2015 stressors!) It’s a vicious cycle.
You’re Not Going to Drown…..You’re Going to Time-Out
Whether our situation is incredibly stressful or situationally stressful, we have no control over every facet in our lives; we either try to handle it all until we’re burnt out, handle certain things and feel guilty for not handling others (until the guilt passes), or we drown in our own dunking booth. I may not have answers to America’s healthcare issues or be able to relate to every reader’s life challenges, but I am here to tell you that you’re not going to drown. Ain’t happenin’, not on my watch. Dunking Boothers, I want you to close your eyes (after you read this paragraph!) and picture yourself falling into the water in your dunking booth. What happens when you fall? Do you feel like you’re drowning? Hopefully not, because quickly you will find your footing and realize you can stand up in your dunking booth with your head above water. For those of you that can’t visualize this, I’ll include a link so you can see an example (and on a side note, as a breast cancer survivor myself, I love this example as a dunk-for-a-cause!)
Portia de Rossi gets dunked for breast cancer research funding on the Ellen show
You're going to get wet, but you won't drown
Now, those days…weeks….months, even…..that the balls are coming at you so fast you feel like you can’t keep up and you’re losing your footing, make a decision to get out of the dunking booth for a break. That’s right: take an adult time-out. You’re already behind, so what’s a few minutes or an hour to recharge? Think about “littles” that are sent to time-out; if the strategy is used effectively (a.k.a. the RIGHT way), it provides the “little” with a few minutes to self-cope; to regain control over his hands, body, and mind before coming back to play.
I am telling you to do this, too. I am telling you it’s OK. It’s better than OK; it may be necessary so you can get back into the game. I have rules, though, so here are the adult time-out rules:
- · Sit in a quiet, non-stimulating, non-technology spot (this could be a spot on your bed at home, pulling your desk chair away from your desk and toward the window, outside your office on a bench or on your porch, or even a locked bathroom stall if all other locations fail!)
- · Turn your phones/iPads/smartwatches/tablets, etc. to “silent” mode and try to leave them in another spot out of eyesight
- · Choose 3-4 self-coping strategies and write them down on index cards or sticky notes. Choose one of them each time you go to time-out. Some examples may be:
o “Rainbow” breathing (put both your arms up straight and then breathe in and out deeply as you bring your arms down to your sides, making arches with your arms in the form of a rainbow)
o Drawing pictures or words that make you happy (ex. fantasy vacation, funny child’s face, poems)
o Putting on a “calm music” playlist (note: this is the only time I’ll allow technology during time-out!) My personal favorites are piano instrumentals by John Tesh or Jim Brickman.
o Shoulder self-massage (cross your right hand over to your left shoulder and massage while counting to 10; cross your left hand over to your right shoulder and repeat)
- · Do a quick self-check after your strategy: are you feeling calmer than you were before you went to time-out? If not, repeat your coping strategy a second time.
· Then when you’re ready to return to reality (a.k.a. your dunking booth), try using a sentence extension for that stressor to help you get back in the game. This may look like “I’m missing so much work…but I’m taking care of myself so I can continue to work for years to come” or “I’m worried about money issues….but I know I can talk to friends and family about my worries instead of trying to take it all on myself.” (see my blog post Perception Changes Attitude)
In affectionately keeping with our dunking booth analogy, adult time-outs can be taken whenever you feel like you’re getting in over your head. An adult time-out may be a few minutes every day, or a much-needed hour or two alone each week. You CAN figure it out if you look at your schedule, and you owe it to yourself, your family, and your career to recharge. Leave your guilt at the door and take a deep breath….you’re gonna be in this game for a long, long time.