If you know me, you know I’m not a shopper. Shopping stresses me out. I wish I had a uniform to put on for work so that I didn’t have to think about it, because life is stressful enough without adding stress. What I need to do is eliminate the stress I can in order to find some margin. For me, that might look like creating a Monday-Friday five-outfit work wardrobe to wear based on the season. That little bit of margin could give me the emotional energy to invest in self-care or be more available to my spouse/family.
Dr. Lisa Damour provides a similar suggestion in her latest book, Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls, as she encourages parents to find ways to withstand the psychological stress of every day life. This fits under the category of “securing your own oxygen mask first” instruction when you are flying with a child. She calls it putting slack in the system.
Research shows that the stress of minor hassles can be as significant—if not more significant—as the stress of true calamities. According to Damour, it’s best to set your family’s baseline activity levels at about 75% of what we can actually accomplish. “When we’re not operating at maximum capacity,” says Damour, “everyone in the family feels less stressed and anxious. Chronic frenzy is replaced by relative calm, and, when things go wrong, we’re dealing with a frustration, not a crisis.” (p. 61)
DAMOUR’S BOTTOM LINE: Our time with our kids is short, and we feel the need to make the most of it. This can lead us to think that we make the most of time by filling it (especially with structured activities with clear goals). But, in reality, we make the most of time just by having it. Deliberately under-scheduling the family continues to prove itself a reliable strategy for reducing the strain in our lives and possibly increasing the joy.
Are there things you have done as a family to put more margin in your lives? What ideas can you share that has lowered your family’s baseline activity level so that you have some slack in the system which allows you to weather a few, inevitable bumps along the way (e.g., an unexpected car repair, a call from the school nurse about a sick child, etc.)?