6 ways to cope with stress

Y'all, it's hard to keep your cool in the parenting arena. And yes, I MEAN to use the word arena because sometimes it legit feels like an ancient Roman fight-the-lions-for-your-life kind of situation. If you haven't experienced parenting stress before, let me paint this vignette for you:The alarm goes off, and before you can open your eyes, you become aware of something wet on your face. It's drool, and that discovery feels like you won the lottery, because you KNOW it could have been so. much. worse. The Drool Bandit is a bad-breathed four year old who is currently snoring on your actual face, arms and legs flung out in an impossible array. This child has taken your entire sleeping space; you realize this as you try to move and discover aches and pains from the ridiculous sleeping posture into which you've been forced. Somehow you manage to wriggle out of bed without waking the beast precious child you bore from your own womb. But the first sensation your foot finds when it hits the floor is warm and definitely splashy. Apparently the dog couldn't wait til morning. You stumble down the stairs to find that despite setting your alarm before daylight, your two older kids have STILL outsmarted you and awakened early. There's an epic cereal spill across the kitchen floor, and questionable puddles of milk all over the table. Squeals from the living room tell you that the gigantic Lego box has already been upended all over the carpet. A glance at the clock tells you it's only 6:45am. Sigh. For the love of all that's holy, sometimes you can only survive. And - repeat after me - that's O-K-A-Y. There's so much pressure on parents to "enjoy every moment," "seize the day," "make it epic," "treasure the time," because it all goes so fast. It DOES go fast (my baby is in middle school and I have no idea how that happened), but friends! It is just Not Possible to treasure every moment. You will wear yourself out with the stress of trying. And it will never be enough.So while you can't possibly enjoy every second, you can survive the chaos with grace. Here are my very best tips for getting through (and even enjoying) the real chaos. Ready?

1. Lower your standards.

This one is shocking and uncomfortable to most of us; we're raised to believe that high standards are the goal, in all aspects of life, and never to "settle." But I'm here to tell you that at best, this is detrimental to your mental health. Your house may be clean enough - but not all the time. Your dinners may be healthy enough - but not every night. Your hair may be Instagrammable - but certainly not 24 hours a day, or without significant effort. Your kids may behave in Target, but, let's face it, it will probably never happen again. And you can DEFINITELY not expect all of those things to be true at the same time. Parenting is chaos. It just is. For me, for you, for BEYONCE, for everyone. So throw out the impossible standards you pinned on Pinterest and liked on Instagram, and get real about it.

2. Take a tiny step back.

Once you've lowered your standards and embraced the chaos, you will magically be supplied with a bottomless well of patience and contentment.WAIT, hang on, sorry. That's not true AT ALL. It's still a struggle not to lose your mind when you just cleaned the kitchen and then find your two year old has emptied all the cabinets and is serving the dogs a five course meal from your Tupperware collection (that you just organized). But the key here is to hit the pause button right before you lose it, then step back and grab a camera. Or a pen, and right it down. Whatever your jam is.For me, in the most intense trenches of new motherhood, picking up a camera was a lifesaver. I found that in the moments when everything inside me said, "time to give up and go hide under the covers," that if I picked up a camera (or a camera phone) and documented the chaos and mess, my attitude shifted. Suddenly it was a memory in the making instead of a disaster. It was a moment in the mosaic of my life instead of a personal insult meant to wreck my day. 

3. Breathe.

The first time someone told me to practice breathing, I thought it was the dumbest thing I'd heard since forever. Breathing is pretty much the one thing we can count on ourselves to do, no matter how distracted we are. But really focusing on your breathing is something else entirely. Several deep, cleansing breaths, several times a day, can release tension and toxins, and ease stress. KEEP BREATHING, friends.

4. Unleash (controlled) chaos.

Kids (especially toddlers) looooooove making messes - so get one step ahead and PLAN a mess that you're comfortable with. Take a large cardboard box and dump a bag of dry rice inside, then let the kids go nuts digging in it. You may need a lot of rice for this, depending on how chaotic you want to go. This also works with dry beans. You can also give them all your pots/pans/lids to play with. In my house, pot lids are the very best shields for battle. Also popular with the toddler crowd: Tupperware/Rubbermaid/whatever you want to call your plastic containers. It's hard to get hurt on them, almost all of us have them in our kitchens already, and they clean up easily. 

5. Change your plans.

Accept that you may not be everywhere (or anywhere) on time. Ever again. Life is different now. Your priorities used to say "keep house clean," but suddenly there are little people foiling your plans. So.....change your plans. Get down on the floor with the kids; dig in the dirt; make some mess. Make some memories.

6. Celebrate the victories.

Cleanliness and plans and priorities are not the only things that change with parenthood - your definition of "victories" changes as well. Did you make it to the end of the day without losing your mind? Is everyone in your care accounted for? Then you have WON THE DAY. Celebrate it.And if you'd LOVE to photograph your particular brand of chaos, but don't know much about your camera, then come take my upcoming classes! I'll be teaching a full day of camera knowledge to get you comfortable with your camera and able to take your vision from your imagination into life. You can take 101 in the morning, or 201 in the afternoon, or bundle them together and hang out with me all day. More information to follow! Sign up here to get the full class schedule and information. ________________   Emily Lapish is a documentary-style family and birth photographer in Chattanooga, TN. She spends her time herding cats raising boys with her husband/partner in crime. She likes champagne and long walks on the beach, but frequently settles for store-brand La Croix and long walks through Target. To book a session, or just say hi, click here.