“Dear Stress, Let’s Break up!”

That’s how I began the presentation I gave at the EPWNG (Exclusive Professional Women’s Networking Group) annual luncheon that featured four presentations on the topic, “Unstress for Success: Tools for Shifting Stress into Power.”  

Think about it: Who among us wouldn’t like to break up with stress once and for all? Certainly nobody – and for sure no parent – I know.

But given what a pipe dream that is, I quickly followed up my opening line with the reality:“Stress is Here to Stay.” 

But don’t despair. In my view, stress often results from good intentions. Here’s what I told my audience:

So, if stress is here to stay…what tools can we parents use to manage the inevitable and be more successful and happy in our lives?  I’ve got four such tools I’d like to share with you. Here they are:


De-Stress Tool #1 – Make choices to avoid stressful situations.

There is a certain amount of what I call “optional” stress in everyone’s life. In these situations, we have the opportunity to be thoughtful about the decisions we’re making.

I can tell you first-hand that volunteering to give a presentation at a professional meeting definitely qualifies as “optional” stress! Clearly, I could have completely avoided the angst of preparing for and delivering the presentation at EPWNG, but obviously I believed the benefits of doing so far outweighed the stress it caused. (p.s. It totally did!)

I often help parents see how they usher optional stress into their lives with open arms. The classic example, of course, is bringing young children to a nice restaurant.

Granted, the $$ you save on babysitting by bringing your child to your neighborhood’s newest farm-to-table spot virtually covers the cost of at least one fabulously prepared meal. But it’s a Faustian bargain at best. Eliminate such unnecessary stress by not putting young children in environments where they can’t possibly perform well. Sadly, there’s no guarantee your toddler won’t have a meltdown in a family-friendly restaurant, but you’re much more likely to garner empathy from co-diners versus the death stares you’ll likely get in a 5-star establishment.

Parents can also eliminate a good measure of weekday morning stress by differentiating decision-making and execution from time of departure. By making decisions – what you’ll pack for lunch; what you and the kids will wear in the morning; confirming everything that needs to go in the backpack or briefcase in advance – then executing those tasks each evening, you’ll eliminate morning stress for you and your kids. As you well know, they don’t like starting their day with yelling anymore than you do!


De-Stress Tool #2 – Acknowledge when you’re in a stressful situation.

Traffic jams.

Performance reviews.

A sick child.


Public speaking. :) 

Who among us has ever had a day go precisely as planned?  No one. That’s why before I dig in to help clients unpack a stressful situation and plan how to deal with it, I make sure they vent – and I acknowledge – the stress that is happening in their lives.

Just as important as not denying our stress?  Not adding guilt to the mix. This, sadly, seems to be a super power we women have. Men? Not so much.


De-Stress Tool #3 – Don’t own anyone else’s stress.

Kids are master stress dumpers, given their exaggerated sense of urgency and their lack of perspective about what is and is not your responsibility. Frankly, it’s not always up to us to solve their problems – as much as they may want us to!  Our job is to teach our children the same de-stressing tools we’re trying to implement. Here’s how I put it in my talk: 


Secondhand stress just doesn’t come from our kids, of course. Co-workers, bosses, family and friends can all be instigators, intentionally or not. While our instinct may be to intervene or rescue, let’s all vow to consciously remind ourselves that someone else’s bad planning is their emergency, not mine.


De-Stress Tool #4 – Use stress to motivate change.

Once we recognize and acknowledge stress, we begin to see what an amazing opportunity we have to control what we can control – and that’s our own reaction to stressful situations.

I remember early on when my ex-husband would bring his girlfriend to kids or family events, I let their presence contaminate my experience. But after realizing that if I were to feel 100% of the joy I wanted to feel at my child’s graduation or piano recital, it was up to me to find a way to manage my reaction. Once I did, those experiences were better for all of us.

Stress can also function as a positive motivator, such as when we take on a challenging work assignment. Or when we work with a therapist or support group to learn how to better regulate our emotions and reactivity.

The more we practice these four tools to de-stress, the more effective we will be at handling the inevitable stressed faced by humans around the globe.

I’d like to end this post with a final positive reminder…