If you fall under the perfectionist umbrella-things need to be a certain way for you to feel comfortable and you're never able to destress because there's always something that needs to be done-it's probably a result of our culture. "There is an unspoken expectation that women should be able to do it all-have a job,be a wife and a mother-and do it well," says Dr.Gore-Felton.
Learning to relax your standards or relinquish some control is key to moving past this block. Try this to start: practice doing one thing differently than usual, no matter how small. Ask your husband to make the bed or forcr yourself to leave a few dishes in the sink overnight, says Dr. Gore-Felton. Since perfectionism is basically about not being flexible, changing the way you do one thing a few times a week will help you get to he point where you are able to let go and dial down your stress levels.
Another point to consider: "Data show that as our anxiety level goes up, our performance only increases to a certain point," says Dr. Domar. "After that, your
ability to juggle everything and get it done the way you want decreases." In other words, being under constant stress and not managing it will eventually backfire, no matter how brilliant a multitasker you are.
STEP 2: Make your (small) plan of attack - Think of one thing you can do each day that would be a source of joy or rejuvenation. Here's the kicker: It can't take more than five to 10 minutes. "The smaller you start, the easier it is to make a permanent habit of it," says Dr. Campis.
Ask yourself what's doable and feels special. Get up before your kids and drink coffee in silence or add a few minutes onto your shower to do some deep breathing and think about anything but your to-do list. "For me, it's carving out the time to read The New York Times and The Boston Globe every night," says Dr. Domar. She also suggests the "One thing" rule. "When you wake up, your first thought should be about one little good thing you can do for yourself that day," she says. Buy some fresh flowers or call a friend. Place a sticky note on your nightstand that reads "one little thing" as a reminder to think about it among the influx of other obligations.
STEP 3: Think outside the box - If you're having a hard time figuring out what might work for you, consider some unconventional techniques. Remember, as long as it destresses you, that's all that matters.
One example: scream therapy. (Seriously.) "Studies show that the simple act of screaming may help ease stress," says Dr. Wider. Even some colleges apply this idea. At Northwestern University, a tradition called the "primal scream" takes place at 9P.M. on the Sunday before finals week. Students open their windows and simply yell for a few minutes. Take a cue from the coeds and let out a wail in the confines of your car or in an open field (if you live in a rural area).
Two more things you may not think of as stress busters: folding laundry (some people find this relaxing because it's a mindless activity that also completes a task, says Dr. Wider) and having a get-together with friends and family. "Surrounding yourself with loved ones is a natural reaction to stress-the 'tend and befriend' response-and can help you relax," says Dr. Girdler. (Of course, if you stress about the details, that one's not for you.)
Another tactic is to think about the everyday moments when you feel most relaxed. It could be baking, watching a favorite TV shown or even vacuuming. "I conside walking my daughter to school every day part of my downtime," says Dr. Domar.
STEP 4: Make it happen - Sticking with a new habit depends on two things: planning ahead and anticipating barriers. First, figure out what changes you need to make for a daily habit to happen. Is it a matter of waking up a few minutes earlier? Asking your husband or a friend to help out? Then, predict any roadblocks and make a contingency plan. One of the biggest reasons women forgo stress management is that they quit at the first hiccup. "Finding a place in our schedules that won't be subjected to interference like a family emergency or unexpected travel is really tough, so we need to plan for those times," says Dr.Gore-Felton. Think (and write down): If I'm ot able to do X, then I'll do Y. Whatever the disruption is, by planning for it, you maintain a sense of control.
STEP 5: Stay on course - So, you've made your own detress plan and figured out how to squeeze it into your schedule. Now comes the tough part: maintenance. As corny as it may sound, putting yourself on your to-do list can help. In between "Pick up dry cleaning" and "Grocery-shop," jot down your destress activity. "Busy women are very task-oriented, and writing it down means we can't cross it off until we've completed it," says Dr. Domar. Making something you want to so a must helps give you permission to do it, and the more you do the activity and see the benefits, the more you'll want to fit it in.
Gathering support also helps change habits long-term. Reach out to a friend or neighbor and see if she might agree to a tradeoff: she watches both sets of kids while you take your walk and vice versa. or incorporate that friend into your activity. "For many of us, our friendships are often a source of tremendous support and stress relief," says Dr. Gore-Felton. Not only does having a buddy join you for a park stroll make it more fun, it also helps keep you accontable because there's someone relying on you to show up.
STEP 6: Keep this last resort in mind - No matter how well you prepare, ther are some days that won't go according to plan, and that's OK. For these situations, use this mini-relaxation technique that combats stress anytime, says Dr. Domar. When you feel your heart beating faster or when you start to get anxious, take slow, deep breaths, allowing your chest and abdomen to rise and fall with each one, and count down from 10 (one number per breath). You can also use this exercise in anticipation of a stressful event (like a call with your child's teacher or your annual review at work).