Last week was hard. Three kids back to school and a new puppy. But I got through it and lived to share with you what helped. I am so grateful for all that I have and very aware that we live a privileged life, this is not a complaint. Just sharing my short-term coping methods in the hope that they may help others find calm in chaos.
First: the kids
The girls went back to the same school, class and teachers they knew from last year. Many of whom they hadn’t seen since March but it was mostly familiar. Our son started 5th grade at a new school: new classmates, new teachers, new routines, new books, new rules,… after a very difficult last year he is off to a good start though and is pretty happy.
In addition to new school schedules (the kids come home at a different time every day) I had to sort out the after school activity planning, this includes: piano lessons (x2), trombone, recorder, trumpet, drama classes (x3), ballet, soccer, table tennis, swimming, band and speech therapy. All in different locations and coordinated with school schedules. OMG ! writing it down makes it sound really crazy.
Then there was the shopping for school supplies, which dribbles in as they meet each new teacher, and all the new books to be bound and labeled. Needless to say, the system is not optimized with parents in mind.
On Friday our youngest came home with a runny nose and sore throat. Feeling kind of miserable she took to bed and I knew that I’d have her home at least until Monday. Covid-19 regulations mean she has to stay home until she is completely well again, plus an extra day.
We also got the news on Friday that two classes and four teachers at her school have been put in quarantine due to a Covid-19 case in class. Anxiety inducing.
Then: the puppy
We have been waiting for our fur baby for a few months and finally picked 9-week-old Skye up the Friday before school started. Have you had a puppy? Then you know what I’m going through. Have you had a baby? Same thing, but without the hormones to get you through the sleepless nights and tired days.
This little girl needs to be taken out every few hours and even then we don’t always make it in time. She chews, jumps, bites, and plays on and with everything but makes us laugh a lot. Lots of endorphins flowing. In the week since we got her she has learned a lot and is doing well – even sleeping 6 hours at a time now. But it’s a 24/7 job. Keep reading…
Two days after we came home we got the call that two of her sisters were very sick. A few days later, a brother fell ill. The little girls died at the beginning of the week and the lab results finally came through on Wednesday: Leptospirosis. This is a very serious bacterial infection that the puppies had been vaccinated for, but immunization takes three weeks to provide immunity. Really horrible bad luck.
On Thursday we got Skye tested. Results expected by Tuesday. Long time to wait and watch her for symptoms and another layer of worry.
But it doesn’t end there. On Friday after our morning walk during a moment of inattention she ate a branch of a yew tree. One of the most deadly plants for dogs. Off to the vet we rushed. They induced vomiting which took care of the poison but made her (and me) feel miserable for the rest of the day. Super stressful.
I was looking forward to a week of productive work after months and months of schooling from home and summer vacation. My expectations were throughly and completely dashed.
But I managed to remember – and be reminded – that I am resilient and that I have a toolbox full of ways to manage stress. These don’t fix the current issue but they do significantly help me focus and feel in control in small ways so I can face whatever muddled up mess needs my attention.
Five ways I manage stress and create a mini oasis of calm
Crawling back into bed rarely makes a situation better (see the Resilient Expats post on this here). Actively managing our stress usually produces a more beneficial result. These are my go-to mini-stress reducers. I used all of them at some point this past week, sometimes a few sequentially. Building resilience and managing stress are skills that we can learn. Talk to me if you would like to learn more about this.
Pick one of these interventions and focus your attention on its execution to calm your mind before you move on. I promise you will feel better.
Our breath calms and centers us. Taking three slow, deep breaths, stopping briefly after each inhale will immediately lower your heart rate and calm you. Try it now.
Check in with all your senses
We have five physical senses. By focusing on each one separately we can slow down the sensation that everything is spinning out of control and give ourself a moment of quiet. I do this on our walks and sometimes at home. I notice what I’m hearing (birds, leaves rustling), seeing (my puppy chasing the leaves), smelling (the first apples rotting on the ground), tasting (fresh air – I’m so grateful for this) and feeling (the sun on my back). It’s wonderful to be aware of all the physical signals our body is receiving and processing. It gives the mind a rest.
Focus on one important thing
Your to-do list is long. I won’t get into time management theories but my suggestion is to focus on the one thing that is all important right now, today. Maybe it’s grocery shopping, cooking lunch, sending an email, making a doctor’s appointment. One thing you must do to make the day a success. Identify it and then do it. Enjoy the feeling of accomplishment.
Complete one small physical task
This tip recently came from The Menopausal Expat. Pick one small action you can complete and focus on it. Make the bed, mop the floor, straighten the shoes, wipe the counters, take a shower, clean out your junk drawer (join The Repat Journey Community for more on organizing your home). By creating order in your physical environment you will also calm your mind and regain focus.
Physical exertion clears the mind. The benefits of exercise are many and well documented. I needn’t elaborate. Sadly, this form of stress release has been difficult for me to achieve recently. I injured my arm in April. Since then running has been hard as it jars my elbow and makes it worse. After ignoring this and running for 30 days in June I decided that I should take care of myself. I stopped running. I can’t ride a bike because it puts too much pressure on the arm. Same for swimming and any type of floor work or weight training.
But this week I couldn’t take the inaction. I ran. I felt better. And I’m seeing another doctor this week.
Life doesn’t always go as planned. I hope these small actions can help you feel more in control when things are whirling around you. Lean in to your life. It’s all yours and there is much to be grateful for.
P.S. Skye’s negative test results came in last night. I burst into tears at the vet as a huge weight was lifted.