I talk a lot about the messiness of life and learning how to handle the stress and mess a bit more effectively (for me and my kids!). Today I’m sharing why.
Short version: Me and feelings of stress and “oh shit!” overwhelm are good friends, from my experiences with the ups and downs of life (and wondering if I was failing more times than I can count). I share to help others feel a little less like they are failing, plus find a useful tool or two to help them get off the hamster wheel of stress and model thriving for their kids. Because that’s one of the best and most useful things we can do for our kids and families.
Longer version: Growing up, “try harder!” was my unofficial motto — I tried hard to be a good friend, I did what had to be done to get As in school (no matter how much sleep I lost), and worked until I was exhausted to succeed in athletics (gymnastics was my world). I tried hard (and then harder and harder) to do everything “right” — and found myself floundering: stressed out and anxious, falling into depression, and struggling with eating disorders by college. I secretly wondered if I was failing because everyone else seemed to have it together.
After four miserable years at Stanford, I graduated with a degree in psychology, hoping my life would finally start coming together and I’d ditch the depression, anxiety, and stress and figure out how to handle life. But things went from bad to worse over the next few years out in the adulting world. If it was even possible, I felt like an even bigger failure, on a hamster wheel I wondered if I’d ever get off. I dreaded each morning and just hoped to make it to the end of the day in one piece (and hate to say it but wine became a go-to to help me forget the stress, at least for a little while, each evening). I couldn’t stop wondering: What’d I do wrong?
Fast forward another five years: I’d now become a stepmom and mom. I led HR teams in the tech world. From my Facebook feed, things looked good. But inside? Nothing had changed — and I felt wound so tightly that I wondered if I was going to snap. Yet now it was worse, way worse, because there were kids in the picture. I hated the idea that my stress, anxiety, and unhappiness might impact them. And I could see that it was starting to.
I’ll never forget the evening I sat down to work yet again (after working a full day at the office). In a daze, I thought about the future — and I couldn’t even picture a future, just a gaping black hole of nothingness. That was scarier than anything I’d encountered before (including deep depression and an attempted suicide in college). I knew something had to change because it couldn’t not, if I wanted something different for myself and my kids, though I had no idea what to do, how to do it, or what it’d take (or look like) to get off the hamster wheel of stress.
I wish I could say that that evening was the aha! moment and I woke up the next morning feeling different, ready to try something different, but that wasn’t the case. The next morning, I woke up the same as always: dreading the to do list for the day — work, home, childcare responsibilities, general existence — and feeling like I was already back on the hamster wheel. However, a crack had been made in my “must try harder!!” approach to life, though I couldn’t yet see a difference.
Around this time I came across the work of Glennon Doyle. As I read her words, I began to feel like maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t quite the failure I’d become convinced I was. That maybe, just maybe, life WAS messy — for everyone — and that I was doing okay in the biggest scheme of things. And that maybe, just maybe, the way to get off the hamster wheel of stress wasn’t some class I’d missed in school or some “there” I needed to work even harder to get to in life. Rather, there were tools (starting with how I was handling the thoughts swirling in my head) that I could learn. No, it might not be easy, but getting off the wheel was doable, learnable, possible.
These ideas, especially that life was messy for everyone, became my go to reminders. I started to feel a little space and hopefulness inside — and things began to (slowly!!) change.
Getting Off the Wheel
As I began to consider that life was messy and I wasn’t a failure, I began to get clear that HR wasn’t what I wanted to do. While I wasn’t totally sure what I did want to do, I could feel the courage to try something different emerge. So, I made the change to quit HR and start my own business.
I started off in the food world: During recovery from my eating disorders, my prior love of making and sharing food (and my closet dream of becoming a chef) had come back into focus. After three years as a personal chef, I transitioned into health coaching. From finding new recipes to make for my clients and trying a ton of new things myself, to discovering one of my kids had severe food allergies and the intense-label reading that followed to ensure his safety, to my own disordered experiences with food and subsequent healing and learning, I’d begun to wonder about food, how we approach it, and how our life choices can hurt OR heal. I learned a lot and realized how much I enjoyed supporting others.
In the meantime, I was learning A TON about myself through parenthood. Because good grief — children were turning out to be the most exacting (and yet useful) teachers I’d ever had. It was like I had these little mirrors following me around, reflecting all of the good — and not so good. When I’d get stressed out? I began to notice how their behavior changed: crying or whining or tantruming. When I’d pick apart how I looked (because part of me still thought I was never good enough) or get into a failure spiral? I couldn’t help but wonder if they’d noticed — and how incredibly sad I’d be if they did the same thing to themselves.
I knew I knew that life was messy — and I hoped they’d never forget this. I also hoped they’d always give themselves a bit of grace and cut themselves some slack. And in this hope, I realized a huge way to help them learn to do so — was to do so myself. So I started trying (in a different way!) to create a more solid and calm foundation for myself. And I began to realize that I no longer dreaded waking up each morning — and hadn’t for a while. Whoa.
A few years later, I took the parental learnings and everything I’d been learning about stress, calm, and health — physical, mental, and emotional — and began to incorporate these ideas into talks, books, and workshops for parents and teens. I hoped to share the useful pieces I’d learned and tools that actually worked.
As I shared more, I began to hear that the stories, ideas, and tools were helping these parents and teens start getting off (or consider the possibility of getting off!) the hamster wheel of stress. I was so happy to hear this. Because I know what it’s like to live on that wheel. And I know the relief that comes in getting off.
Which leads us to…
Today, I get to help parents figure out how to head into their day feeling solid and in control of their cool. And when stress comes up (because life is messy and stress happens)? They are confident about what to do to come back from the ledge of “oh shit!” overwhelm and regain their calm. Even better, their kids are learning how to manage their own stress more effectively and healthfully. And that feels good.
Could you use less stress hamster wheel and more calm and cool?
I’d love that, too. More calm and cool definitely feels better (for everyone!) than more of the stress wheel. If it’s not yet in your in-box, please join us in the weekly calm and cool building love by subscribing to the free weekly newsletter. Go here to subscribe.