Question of the Day:
Episode #69 – I can’t stand watching my family relax!
“Help, Torie! I have turned into a mom nobody likes being around, including myself. My husband is furloughed, my kids (11 and 13) are doing some sort of half-assed online learning, and I am going NUTS! I cannot STAND to see them relaxing! They should be exercising in order to stay in shape for their sports. They should use this time to learn, grow, explore interests they don’t have time to explore otherwise. My son should be using this time to study, read and get caught up since he struggles academically. At the VERY LEAST, they should be helping me clean the house, work in the yard, learn to cook and do laundry! Watching my family lay around all day is a huge trigger for me. I can’t help but yell, nag, bark orders, clean frantically around them in hopes they pick up on my not-so-subtle hints. I am constantly fuming at their laziness, either internally or externally.
I do have enough perspective to know that this is MY issue. When I have a moment to step out of my fury and observe them, what I see are three happy individuals. They are LOVING this break and genuinely happy to lay around the house doing very little. Why can’t I let my family relax and enjoy this break from their busy lives?”
First, I want you to notice that your family relaxing has triggered your brain to go into fight or flight. When our nervous system goes into fight, flight, or freeze, it’s because our brains think we are in danger.
I talked in a previous episode about the polyvagal theory and comparing our nervous system to a traffic signal. The red light is the freeze state, saved for when our brains perceive high danger. The yellow light is the fight/flight state, worrying, arguing, frantic cleaning are signs of being in this medium fearful state. The green light is our playful and restful state. This is the most desired state to be in, where we want to engage socially with others and we feel calm and peaceful. It sounds like your family is in the green, relaxed state and you are in the yellow state of fight or flight.
The circuits in your brain, Melanie, have connected idleness with danger. The first step in dealing with this situation is to have compassion for yourself. When your kid is scared of monsters under the bed, you show compassion, it’s the same with yourself.
Somewhere in your past, you had an experience where idleness connected with danger. Or as we life coaches like to say, “What fires together, wires together.” Your past experience could be as simple as…..
- Laying on the couch watching TV as a kid and having your mom walk in and make you get up and do a chore. You learned that every time you relax, something will come along to take it away.
- Babysitting your younger brother was easy until he got his head stuck in the stair railing and you learned bad things happen when you take time to relax.
- Your mom had depression and spent hours everyday in bed. You wished she was like other moms, who took their daughters to extra curricular activities and social events. You learned “relaxation” looks an awful lot like depression.
- You were a mediocre athlete until your coach threatened to kick you off the team. You kicked into the fight/flight response and your performance skyrocketed. You learned to equate relaxation with mediocrity, and anxiety with success.
- You were an “excitement seeking” extrovert growing up in a family of quiet introverts. You learned that staying at home relaxing was more like imprisonment for your free spirit.
It’s not unusual in our culture to equate relaxing with laziness, and laziness with disrespect and/or failure. Many of us who grew up with the “protestant work ethic” learned that we must EARN our value by doing hard work. Many Supermoms hold the belief that it’s not ok to relax when there is work to be done. Our culture puts
high value on hard work as a path to worthiness.
These beliefs are exhausting because, as humans, we are wired to have ample time to rest and play. Thinking, “I can only rest at the end of the day when I have worked hard enough” is like saying “My value as a person is tied to how much effort I put in.”
But every Supermom I’ve coached who has resistance to relaxation, also secretly craves it.
As Glennon Doyle Melton says in her book Untamed:
“Must be nice.”
“Must be nice to rest in the middle of the damn day.”
“Must be nice to feel worthy of the space you take up on the Earth without hustling to earn it every minute.”
“Must be nice to rest and still feel worthy.”
“I want to be able to rest and still feel worthy, too.”
In order to allow your family to relax without it triggering your fight or flight response, we’ve got to convince your brain that relaxing is safe.
Life Coaching Answer:
When a Supermom is afraid of relaxing, we start by connecting with her deepest desire.
There is the anxious part of Melanie’s brain that is saying, “All I want is for them to step up, work harder, move more and do more. I can’t rest until they are stressed like I am.”
But there is another part of her brain, underneath the anxiety that says, “I wish I could relax in the middle of the day and not be afraid. I wish I could be more fun and playful.”
Her deeper desire is to overcome her fear of relaxation. To do this, she needs to find evidence that it’s safe to relax.
If you struggle with permission to relax, try these exercises:
- Think about a time in the past where you relaxed, laid around, and still felt like you were being true to yourself.
- Remember the last time you caught yourself staring into space for a few minutes. Did anything bad happen or did life continue normally?
- Think of a mom you admire and ask her if she ever relaxes in the middle of the day. Ask her if anything bad happened when she did it.
- Think of an accident that happened in the last few years: your child got hurt, the dog got out, you started a grease fire in your kitchen. Were you relaxing at the time? Did your relaxed state CAUSE the accident?
- Write a list of the benefits of relaxation: improved immune system, better sleep, more creative ideas, improved memory, etc.
The brain likes concrete evidence if it’s going to entertain an alternative thought like, “Relaxing is safe and good for me.” Once your logical brain is on board, decide to make learning to relax without stress your “Coronagoal”. Repeat to yourself, “I want to learn how to relax without being afraid.”
Then, try some exposure therapy. When someone is afraid of elevators, spiders, or airplanes, therapists are taught to help clients by using exposure therapy. Exposure therapy slowly and gently exposes a client to the feared object or experience, while keeping the brain in a relaxed state of social engagement.
Imagine sitting in the sun for one minute without guilt or pressure. Then set the timer and do it easily with no pressure. The next day, try watching TV for two minutes. Focusing on your breath will keep your brain calm and relaxed. If you start getting anxious, back WAY up and make the step much smaller.
I know it seems like kids laying around the house being lazy is the bigger problem, but you can’t motivate or inspire positive action from a fearful emotion. It will cloud every interaction you have with them. Focus on yourself first. Learn to shift into playful social engagement any time of day. Then, when your family sees you HAPPILY “shifting from yellow to green,” you will be more likely to inspire them to emulate you.
Supermom Kryptonite – Trying to do exercise you don’t enjoy.
This lockdown is such an excellent time to learn about ourselves. If you ever heard yourself say, “I would exercise more if I had more time,” you may now be realizing that this just isn’t true.
Every BODY likes exercise. If you hear yourself say, “I don’t like exercising”, it may feel true inside your head, but your body will disagree with you. What keeps us exercising on a regular basis is finding the movement that brings the most JOY.
Some people enjoy competition and camaraderie but get bored when they exercise solo.
Some people enjoy gentle stretching, dancing, or gardening.
Some people enjoy repetitive movements like biking, running, walking.
Some people enjoy recreational play like frisbee, spikeball, horseback riding, or flying kites.
Some people love a good sweat and intense workout.
Be sure not to lock yourself into a singular definition of exercise for you or your kids. Let everyone in your family seek out the activities they truly enjoy. When you love what you are doing, it’s easy to build a habit of physical fitness that will last a lifetime.
Supermom Power Boost: Social Distancing Outdoor Games
Many states have opened up restrictions on certain outdoor activities. With beautiful spring weather, it’s a great time to get outdoors. While playgrounds and group sports are still discouraged, here are some games that follow social distancing guidelines. Your kids can get together with their friends, cousins, or neighbors. You can meet up with another family and play them on open fields, neighborhood streets or empty sport courts.
- Speedminton – like badminton, but with a weighted birdie and heavier rackets. The shuttlecock flies farther forcing social distancing.
- Bocce ball or classic corn hole if you make sure to only touch your own balls or beanbags.
- Wear one glove to pick up the shared ball and play tennis or pickleball.
- Ever wanted to pick up golf? Now is the perfect time as golf courses start opening back up.
- Classic frisbee or Kan Jam. Just make sure to wear gloves and/or wash hands after touching the shared frisbee.
Get a boost of energy by enjoying some spring weather and playing outdoor games, with friends and families.
Quote of the Day:
“A woman becomes a responsible parent when she stops being an obedient daughter. When she finally understands that she is creating something different from what her parents created.” Glennon Doyle Melton