The Overwhelmed Family

The photo above was on a train ride from Vicenza to Roma. I’d like to say how lovely the trip was, but it wasn’t, we were way overwhelmed and under prepared.

 

Life isn’t so simple, I’m not sure it’s been simple since the industrial revolution, and today’s technologies make it increasingly more difficult to reconnect and slow down within our family.

Signs Your Family is Overwhelmed:

  1. Mom, Dad, and kids are easy to snap during the simplest tasks.
  2. Kids come home and immediately start a fight with you or each other.
  3. The look of disgust or anguish can be seen on their little faces the moment they get into the car.
  4. Tears come quickly at the slightest hint of the word ‘no’ or ‘time to go home’.

For some of these, we think that this is always normal, or this is just how kids are and how we are. However, this really can’t be the norm. Living this way every day or even weekly isn’t healthy and doesn’t need to be the case.

I’ve recommended it before, but I seriously can’t recommend it enough: Simplicity Parenting by Kim Payne. The signs above are what he calls a Soul Fever, and it can be reduced or eliminated if we take steps to slow down our family.

Recognizing these Soul Fevers is the most important step. My husband and I recently came home one night with our two daughters, completely melting down from leaving an art show. They had school all day, a playdate after school, a quick dinner then an art show, until 8 p.m. Although this doesn’t seem so bad, our girls just couldn’t handle it. The amount of attitude and tears was unbearable leaving the show. After some embarrassing yelling and prompting, my hubby and I took a seat on the couch (with kids still breaking down in the background) and recalled that this was our fault. We know their limits, we’ve done this before and recognized that they can’t handle long days and nights, especially on school nights. If we knew they would have to go to the art show we should have said no to the afterschool playdate and left the show earlier than we did. A small failure that we paid dearly for.

In the past we’ve implemented the one activity per day rule; we don’t plan more than one big activity per day, even on weekends. This worked out fabulously for us in the past, when they were really little, and we thought since they were getting older they could handle a bit more now. Well, we were wrong! We are back to our standard one activity a day and life is much easier. We say no to a lot of invitations since we know they just will not end well. Truthfully, it makes us more relaxed parents. We aren’t carting them all over God’s Creation, trying to fill every last second with something fun. There are times when we feel guilty that they will miss out on a rewarding and exciting experience, but nothing is rewarding if it calls for a tantrum at the end.

Tantrums do not have to be normal.

Every child is different, get to know yours really well and you’ll be able to tell why they tantrum. My oldest tantrums when she hasn’t had enough downtime and sleep. My youngest tantrums when she hasn’t had enough one-on-one attention (and sleep). We all ‘tantrum’ we don’t get enough sleep, Amen!

What does your family do to avoid the Soul Fever? Do you have family rules to help keep a calm and relaxed household?

Some of our rules:

  1. One activity/sport per season, per kid.
  2. One activity per day.
  3. One down day every weekend, almost like a Sabbath.
  4. Reward chart for good behavior during required activities (teeth brushing, bedtime, getting ready for school).
  5. Checking with our spouse before we say ‘yes’ to anything.
  6. No friend sleepovers (again the sleep factor)!
  7. No playdates on school nights (this one I’ve tried over and over again, but sadly she just can’t handle it).

Good Change, Bad Change, It’s All the Same

Photo Credit: Joe Leap

Have you ever wondered why you felt so drained even though you’ve accomplished something amazing? Maybe you’re supposed to feel elated about a career move but then suddenly you’re exhausted just thinking about it. If you express those feelings you’ll be seen as unhappy and ungrateful. It’s okay, there is nothing wrong with you, your body is just responding to stress, it’s just good stress. However, your body responds to those changes, roughly, in the same way as negative change. We go through similar hormonal responses.

Change can be good, in moderation, at the right time in your life.

If you’ve never heard of the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale Test, I recommend you take it. You should retake this test anytime you feel unexplainably stressed, you don’t know why you keep getting sick or have some unexplained health issues. Don’t forget to add things that you can recognize as stress that may not be listed or may not be as straight forward. For instance, if you’ve just graduated college make sure to add ‘end of college‘ and ‘outstanding personal achievement‘. If you’re moving back in with your parents add ‘moving‘ and ‘change in family obligations‘ as well. Thus graduating from college is incredibly stressful, even though it’s an entirely wonderful achievement.

All change is stress to your mind and body!

If you’d like to do some further research head on over to the CDC website to do an experiment on how you personally cope with stress: (https://www.cdc.gov/bam/teachers/documents/stress_body_mind.pdf).

Just know that all change is stress to your mind and body. Just got a promotion? Great, check the stress box. Just had a big disagreement with your in-laws? Sorry about that, but again, check the stress box.

So what do we do about about all this stress? Since it’s inevitable and life happens after all. Learn to recognize the things you can control and things you can’t. If you’ve just lost an important family member, now is not the time to take on optional work. MindTools states, “While this is clearly easier said than done, you can usually avoid moving house, for example, close to when you retire, or when one of your children goes off to college; you can learn conflict resolution skills to minimize conflict with other people; you can avoid taking on new obligations or engaging with new programs of study; and you can take things easy, and look after yourself.” 

Looking after yourself receives a post all on it’s own, but for now find one thing you do just for yourself (that doesn’t include internet surfing or television watching). Schedule time for this, by writing it on the calendar. Do this regularly and more often during noticeably high stress times. It’s okay not to do it all now. That’s the whole point of slowing down. There is a time in life for everything, but the time for everything is not right now.

Meditation also deserves a note here. I am in no way affiliated with 10% Happier but I’ve used their first seven guided meditations and I can happily recommend it.

I’m going to coin the term, Change Seeker, a person constantly in need of change to feel fulfilled.

Personal aside: the military has made me a Change Seeker. I look for change everywhere, I constantly rearrange my furniture, I’m always looking forward to the next place to move or new things to get involved in (or new degrees to get). But I can recognize that I’m, pretty much, chronically stressed (in both good and bad ways). I made a list of ongoing projects and I’m a little embarrassed to share it, so let’s just say it’s over 50 items long. I’m looking to slow my change seeking behaviors and hope to report to you a healthier update in the future.

 

 

Are you Healthy? Check your Poop!

Checking your daily poop for optimized health.

Poop Pageant Image: From Practical Paleo

What’s the best way to determine if you’re currently healthy? Take a look at your daily poop, AND you should be having a DAILY poop.

Finding a healthy balance is extremely difficult for all of us in the Western world. There are so many demands pulling us in so many directions that our health takes a back seat to work, home demands, kids, you name it. But your health (mental and physical) is incredibly important to those around you. When you are miserable, so is your spouse, kids, and co-workers, and that’s partially your fault for not taking care of yourself in the first place.

Take care of yourself, in order to not drag others down!

Now, I’m no guru on the body. I’ve taken my fair share of classes in anatomy and nutrition but I’m not a doctor, holistic or otherwise. I do care about my body though and I know when it feels good and I know when it feels pretty shitty.

In order to feel my best, I need to:

  • Eat Clean, this means eating real food, not something from a bag, can or tub. It usually requires a good amount of prep work but it’s worth every second. I’m planning on doing the Whole30 soon and will post results. Eating clean requires me to Plan, Plan, Plan! I hate this actually, I’m usually the more spontaneous type but if I don’t plan, then I eat junk and I feel terrible!

 

  • I take my supplements! In today’s food market we cannot get what we need from the foods that are being grown and produced. The soil is laden with pesticides and run-off. It’s not worth losing sleep over but it’s worth knowing that you’re going to need to supplement. I take a multivitamin and pre and probiotics. There is a lot that has come out recently about gut health. Want to know if your gut is healthy? Check out this poop pageant, hang it in your bathroom even (no shame in the game!).

 

  • Keep your house clean with the most eco-friendly products you can find. You can make your own cleaning products or find a good company you trust (right now I’m stuck on Mrs. Meyers). I use a few basics products and try to keep it simple with four bottles for everything!

 

  • Create a healthy mind. I’ve just started the 10% happier meditations. I feel a little silly meditating, but so did Dan Harris when he first started. It’s cooler to be calm than be a lunatic all the time. Yoga is also my go to mind and body workout. I currently practice Yoga with Adriene on youtube. She has so many videos, for every type of yoga imaginable.

 

  • Finally, exercise. The concept of exercise is by far the most difficult lifestyle factor for me to achieve. I need accountability, every single day, or I need a calendar reminder to get outside and move. Exercise doesn’t need to be gym worthy; you can walk/jog around your neighborhood, ride your bike, go swimming, or do a workout video at home (there are so many free ones on youtube).

Do you have any other strategies that keep you at your best?

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with any of these companies. They are purely my chosen methods of research and products. 

How Living in Italy Changed my Idea of Minimalism

I’ve always been a minimalist per se. I’ve enjoyed scaling down to exactly what I need to make my life calmer and more aesthetically pleasing. Then we lived in Vicenza for three years and even had a baby there! Living in Italy was a perfect chance to observe how the quintessential Europeans live versus consumerist Americans. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. Europeans don’t know they are minimalists.

Europeans don’t really know that they are, what American’s consider, minimalist. They have lived this way their entire lives, making it much easier to continue on the same path of simplicity. Even the gear happy, Germans don’t purchase half the amount of stuff that we, middle-class, Americans do. Their homes are simple and they buy the highest quality items of what they use every day.

They also don’t have a problem living in closer proximity to each other. Even single family homes are much closer together than our ever-sprawling lawns that separate homes in the American suburbs. In Italy, we lived in a townhouse and almost everyone I knew also lived in a townhome, apartment or home that was less than 20 feet from the home next to it.

Household items are also limited, compared to American standards. Good friends of ours, in Germany, have a very fancy espresso/coffee maker. I know this to be a prized possession because it is literally the only thing on their kitchen counter – except for fresh fruit. It is used every day to make high-quality coffee at home, arguably better than any Starbucks I’ve ever had.

There are NO closets!

You read that right…there. are. no. closets. The government actually supplied us with wardrobes when we moved in. Think IKEA wardrobes that you build yourself. If you need a way to downsize your clothes, this will do it. We also each had a dresser but it was still very limiting and I learned to dress with less pretty quickly.

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2. There are fewer advertisements and options.

Billboards stamped over every last square inch of the highway just isn’t seen in Italy, or Germany or Europe for that matter. There are small ads here and there, but the majority of them I saw in cities. However, even the cities have about half as many adverts as we have in the U.S. I’m not sure if there are laws about billboards (like in Vermont) or if it’s just not culturally acceptable to have flashing lights in your face, everywhere you turn? I’d prefer if it was the latter.

Options are far, far less! There are a limited amount of stores that are selling what you want. In Italy, the largest number of stores I saw were bicycle shops, I kid you not. There are about two-three bicycle shops for every small town. Suffice it to say, Italians are big into biking, as are most Euro countries. But options are limited, only two types of children’s fever medications at the pharmacy, only seasonal fruits and veggies in the markets, and only two stores that carried clothing I would actually wear (although that may have been a personal problem).

Lake Garda, 2014

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3. Everything is not open, all the time.

The most difficult adjustment to shopping habits: stores not being open all of the time. Most stores are closed on Sundays in Italy and this includes many stores in the mall. Malls are not everywhere in Italy and you usually have to drive a good distance to find one, when you do finally arrive, you learn that they are closed on Sundays. It brings a whole new meaning to the Sabbath if you know what I mean. When you are forced into a day of rest you take it.

Photo by Narumi Nuber

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4. Their culture is not built on speed (except the Autostrada!)

There is a well-known fact about Italians if you live in Italy; Italians do nothing fast except drive. They do just about everything slow, it took me over a month to order a baby bike seat from one of the many bike shops in my town (this was a normal time frame apparently). Furthermore, it can take over 30 minutes from the time you order your meal until you actually start eating – they are probably cooking it from scratch so it’s usually worth the wait and you can drink plenty of wine during this time.

Italians are built to be slow.  They practice ‘reposo’ – afternoon time to relax or take a nap – the equivalent of siesta. Espresso, although sometimes drank quickly, is never taken ‘to-go’. I tried for months to figure out the word ‘to-go’, in Italian and it never seemed to work. I’m not sure if the Italians didn’t understand me or they just refused to allow me to take my coffee out the door. Even McDonald’s does not have to-go coffee cups in Italy, you can have your Big Mac in a bag to go but definitely not your cafe.

Agriturismo near Lake Garda: Please research agriturismos before visiting Italy, your trip won’t be complete without one.

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Basically, Europeans are forced into a life of simplicity and slowness. Europe is not perfect, they have their own political issues and economic problems, but I don’t think most would argue that their lifestyle is better for the soul. Italians live some of the longest and healthiest lives on the planet (see Blue Zones and Mediterranean Diet) and other European countries live some of the happiest lives on the planet (see Denmark).

Maybe you’ll see another post on how to apply these principles while living in America – but I’ll have to figure that out for myself first!