If there’s one word that best describes the new normal of pandemic life, it’s “overwhelmed.” While we can’t change our overwhelming circumstances and make COVID-19 disappear overnight, we can choose how to respond. Doing so can make a tremendous difference for our mental health and well-being, both now and after the pandemic is over.
In attempting to navigate these unique times, all of us — but especially parents— are confronted with expectations that simply are not sustainable. How do you work from home effectively, help your children with virtual learning, keep up with the demands of a household, and still look after your own mental health? It’s nearly impossible.
In most cases, parents feel like they must rise to the occasion and meet every expectation that has been heaped upon them. But what if instead we reevaluated the expectations themselves? In a culture like ours that reveres achievement and busyness, we’ve become accustomed to functioning in an automatic, unconscious way — often not even remembering how we got through our day.
By aligning our actions with our priorities, however, we can gain clarity about what we really can let go of. We shed undue stress and we optimize our time in a way that better serves us — and ultimately, those we love as well. Yet letting go can be challenging. Here are a few tips to help you master the art of easing up:
Clarify your priorities
Fast forward and imagine looking back at this time through a rearview mirror. Author and motivational speaker Light Watkins calls this the 10-year test. What will you want to remember? That every dish was washed, and every bed was made? Or that you found joy in life’s simple moments? Will you dwell on the fact that you ordered carryout more than you’d like to admit? Or that your dinner conversations were meaningful and memorable? When we imagine ourselves looking back, we gain clarity, and it will become abundantly clear to us how we want to invest our time and energy.
Practice letting go
Every day identify three priorities. Consider what matters to you today. Wrapping up an important project at work? Getting your children settled into their day of online learning? Implementing a home-schooling program? Or, maybe you decide a reset is needed and your priority becomes rest and recovery. Once you’ve identified your three priorities, let go of whatever doesn’t directly contribute to those three things.
Bend the rules
When we insist on sticking to the same rules we observed pre-pandemic, we’re setting ourselves up to fail. Children have spent more time on screens than anyone would like to admit. And that’s fine. We’re surviving our way through this. How can our kids not be overdoing it with screen time? It’s how they’re learning and socializing, and it’s taking the place of canceled activities. For most parents, granting additional screen time — even if that means another episode of Peppa Pig — makes managing the workday possible. The bending of this rule is necessary in this moment.
When we give ourselves permission to bend the rules, what we’re really doing is remaining flexible. Every situation and circumstance is different. Flexibility is a life skill that allows us to adapt and decide how we want to proceed. When we remain rigid, we invite stress in — self-constructed stress — out of an unwillingness to permit ourselves to bend the rules.
Gaining clarity, letting go, and remaining flexible are not just tools for the pandemic — they’re a good way to manage stressful periods of life in general. Anytime you feel overwhelmed, walk through these three steps and give yourself permission to let go. Humans are resilient, and if we allow this moment to teach us, we can enter the post-pandemic era with a renewed sense of what really matters.
Albiona Rakipi is the founder of metro Detroit-based Kiddos + Insights, a parenting consultant, and a pediatric speech and language pathologist with over 20 years of experience working with children and families.