How to Keep Cool When Life Heats Up: Part 4 – Reflecting (Summer Series)
Heads Up, Mama!
On May 25, 2021, I explained that for the duration of my kids’ summer break from school, I’ll be releasing a series of posts called, “How to Keep Cool When Life Heats Up.” If you missed that post or just need a refresher on what this series is about, you can read it here.
When my season of life heats up, after giving myself a pep talk to get in the right mindset, I typically start to reflect on my current situation, mentally assessing it to see what should change.
Keeping in mind my self-care needs and how stress affects my mind and body, I first do some reflecting. Then, I come up with a strategy (aka a plan) for how I’ll navigate life until things cool back down.
In today’s post, part 4 of my summer series “How to Keep Cool When Life Heats Up“, I’ll guide you through the things I ask myself when I’m evaluating and preparing for stressful seasons of life.
Then, in part 5, the final post of the series, I’ll share how I pull together everything I’ve shared in this series into coming up with a plan.
For today, I highly recommend grabbing a notebook and a pen so you can reflect as you read through this post or so that you can write down the reflections for you to revisit later when you have a few minutes of quiet time.
Please keep in mind that these steps I’m going to share with you are just how I tend to process my life when a stressful situation happens or is about to happen (ie. the kid’s going on summer break, unemployment, upcoming move, job change, solo-parenting, etc.). I’ve, unfortunately, had to adjust my life circumstances way more than most people my age, so I’ve inadvertently developed this routine of processing and reflecting without even really realizing it.
I hope that sharing my thought process and giving you some questions today help you to reflect and make adjustments whenever life heats up for you in your own life.
Step 1: What’s Working, What’s Not
Take an honest look at this season of life and start your reflection and evaluation process by listing out the things that are currently working and the things that aren’t. You can use a single piece of paper and on one side, list the things that are working. On the back side, list the things that aren’t.
If you are already in the middle of a stressful time, list out what worked and what didn’t before the stressful period began. For instance, think before the kids went on summer break: what about your life at that time worked well for you and your family? What didn’t?
Take several minutes to really think about it by replaying every minute of your day like a movie in your head. Anything that frustrates you and stresses you out (chores), list it under “not working.” Anything that brings you joy or peace (reading), list it under “working.”
The following steps require you to have completed this step first. Be sure you create your lists before moving on.
Step 2: Review What’s Working
Okay, here is when we start actually reflecting. Look at your “working” list. Out of all the things currently working in your life right now, does the stressful situation you face put any of these things at risk of not happening anymore?
For example, if you enjoyed your habit of going to the gym for a yoga class, would your kids being home from school for summer break prevent you from going to those classes? Or if you have a family vacation coming up, will your vacation disrupt any of your habits that are working for you?
I practice yoga daily, and while I don’t have any summer vacation plans, I know that when I do travel again for the holidays, I will need to figure out how I can continue practicing my daily yoga. Otherwise, I need to decide if it is okay for me to eliminate that habit for a temporary period of time.
“How will I feel if I drop what’s working in my life?” is what I’d ask myself.
Step 3: Reflect on What’s Not Working
Now, look at the “not working” list. Out of your list of things not working for you right now, think about if the stressful situation you face makes these issues mute.
For instance, if waking up early isn’t working, the kids being on summer break might mean you get to sleep in longer. This would also be a good time to ask yourself how would you feel if anything on your “not working” list could be eliminated or delegated to someone else. Does that idea bring you overwhelming relief? Make a note of that so you can revisit it later.
Step 4: Identify Non-Negotiables
Okay, here is when we start to look at our list through the lens of our values. Review each list and pick out the things from each that absolutely must remain. These are your non-negotiables – the things that you value most because they fill you up (self-care activities, hobbies, passion projects) or you have committed yourself to them (your family).
Sometimes we still have to do things that would be listed in the “not working” section (the never-ending pile of laundry), but there are things we can do to make them more tolerable (more on that in step 5). After all, we can’t all walk around naked to avoid laundry altogether, although that would save a ton of money on clothes and laundry soap. Just saying.
Keep in mind, however, that when you are picking out your non-negotiables, you are saying to yourself that these things are important for you in order to survive the stressful situation you face. Which leads me to the next step: eliminating.
Step 5: Prune, Eliminate, Delegate
Now that you’ve made your list of things that are working and aren’t, have reflected on how it would feel if things were taken away from you, and have spent time picking out your non-negotiables, it’s time to look at everything you’ve written down and figure out how to prune, eliminate, and delegate so you can survive.
You did see this part coming, right?
One of the key things I’ve learned over the years of dealing with stressful seasons is that one of the best ways to tackle such a season is to cut out, scale back, eliminate, or get help. I’m no super mama, and I’m never been a fan of a busy schedule or doing all the things. But I for sure know that a stressful season is not the time to be trying to do it all.
I understand that this step can be difficult for you especially if you are accustomed to a busy schedule and life always traveling at warp speed. This step can also be challenging depending on what type of stress you’re facing.
For example, if you’re dealing with unemployment, then you’ll be looking at these lists under the lens of how much things cost and if you can continue to afford to pay for them.
If you’re about to move, you’re probably thinking more about the actual physical items you own, how many toys your kids have, and if everything you own has a place and purpose to serve you in your new home. (Do they spark joy?)
If you’re feeling stressed because of a life change that has affected your schedule in a way that you now spend more time than you’re used to with your kids (ie. your spouse took a job that takes him away from home; you just added a new bundle of joy to your home), then you’ll looking at these lists wondering, “how in the H-E-double hockey sticks am I going to survive?”
I’m here to tell you that no matter your life circumstance, you will survive this stressful time by pruning, eliminating, and delegating.
That’s how I’ve always done it and that’s the only way that I know how to do it moving forward.
By reflecting on everything I’ve got going on and thinking about what I’m about to face, I can then decide what really matters right now; what doesn’t and can be eliminated entirely; what can be scaled back or pruned; and what can be reassigned to someone else to take care of for me.
I wish I could tell you exactly what things should stay, what should go, and what should be delegated in your life. Those decisions must be left to you based on your values and preferences. But what I can share is some of the things I’ve done in the past.
For example, when I was pregnant with my third child, I was working full-time and had a few medical scares that kept me alert. At about 6 months along, my husband was offered a job in another state. We needed to move, but I insisted it had to wait until after the baby was born and when my son finished his school year. It meant I would be alone for roughly five months.
I’d done the whole solo-parenting thing before, so I knew raising kids alone would be stressful. On top of that, I was already stressed due to the pregnancy’s medical scares. Ultimately, using my thought process to reflect, I decided that I needed to leave (eliminate) my job.
I’m glad that was the decision I made because eventually, that pregnancy almost ended in pre-term labor and I ended up spending the final weeks on bed rest and needed the help of my mom and sisters. Who knows if my body would have tried to go into labor even sooner had I stayed in my job instead of eliminating that stress? My sanity and family mattered more than the money.
Today, I wanted to help guide you through the thought process I go through whenever I’m facing a stressful period. This entire series has been about offering tips for helping you manage life when it heats up and gets stressful.
I hope that this post helped you see the value of pausing and reflecting on how things are going for you. To recap, here is are the steps again:
- Step 1: Make a list of what’s working and what’s not
- Step 2: Review your working list and how it applies to this stressful season
- Step 3: Review your not working list and how it applies to this stressful season
- Step 4: Identify your non-negotiables (things you value most and need)
- Step 5: Figure out what you can prune, eliminate, and delegate
I know that it can be easy to just reach a stressful season and just power through it without thinking about it, but it really is important to stop and think, “can I continue to go at this pace right now?” “Is it worth it?“
Hopefully, you wrote down some things while you read through this post or at least wrote down the reflection questions and steps so you can go through this exercise later. In the next post, part 5 of this “How to Keep Cool When Life Heats Up” summer series, I’ll share how you can use the insight you found in this exercise to create a plan moving forward.
PS If you haven’t already, and you’ve enjoyed this blog post and this series, consider subscribing to be notified when I publish new posts and to receive my monthly email, “The Calm Download.”