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Feeling irritable? Here’s how to re-set your reactions to life’s little stressors

SERENITY
Zai Aragon - Shutterstock
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This simple two-step process really helps lower daily stress — and improve family relationships.

During the school year, I thought I spent a lot of time in the car every day. Between three different morning drop-offs and three different afternoon car-line pick-ups, it seemed like I was in the car for hours. On the last day of school, I remember thinking, “Thank goodness I get a break from car line for a few months!”

Foolish, naïve end-of-May Calah. I had no idea what was coming for me.

Between various camps, sports, friends, and Vacation Bible School, I’ve spent twice as much time in the car since school ended. The first two weeks of summer, this drove me insane. I was frustrated all the time, both by how many different trips I was making each day and by how long these trips took. That irritation boiled over into my conversations with my children while we were getting ready to go, while we were in the car, and when I picked them up. It got worse and worse until one day, my 6-year-old Lincoln said in a small voice, “Mommy, it’s okay if you don’t take me to VBS today. I can stay home so you can work.”

The selflessness of my little boy was a stark contrast to my own consuming selfishness. I was instantly ashamed of myself, struck with how much more mature and compassionate my son was being in the moment than I was.

“Buddy, no,” I said to Linc, catching his eye in the rearview mirror. “I’m sorry for being grumpy. VBS is important to you, and that means it’s important to me. I apologize for being selfish — I want to take you to VBS.” His little face lit up in a smile when I said this, and he forgave me swiftly and simply. For the rest of the drive, we talked about his favorite part of VBS — memorizing the Scripture verse of the day.

I drove home pensively, thinking about how much I had learned about my son in that 7-minute conversation, after he pulled me out of my own stress-induced selfishness. I realized that I had two choices: I could continue to see these trips as an inconvenience, an interruption to my day and a detraction from my work, or I could look at them as opportunities — to connect with my children, to pray, or to simply drive and enjoy the rare peace and quiet.

Flipping my perspective helped, but it wasn’t foolproof. There were still moments when I felt the stress rise up and begin to overwhelm me — and in those moments, I had to rely on a technique my dad has used my whole life. I call it the “reality snap.” When one of us would get overwhelmed with stress, he asked two questions: Is there anything you can do to change this situation right now? And if no, is stressing out and worrying making the situation better or worse?

They’re simple questions, but they always help bring me back to reality. It’s easy to snap out of stress-mode when you realize that it’s doing nothing but making things worse, and once you snap out of it, your mind is free to choose a better path — whether that’s a conversation with your kids or a quiet time of prayer. Either way, finding peace will better prepare you to tackle those stressors when you’re free to do so.

Read more: 5 Ways to lower stress when traveling with kids this summer

Read more: Stressed and overwhelmed? Try this instead of making a to-do list

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