Dealing with Summertime Stress

Dealing with Summertime Stress

Summertime means long, sunny days, no school, lazy weekends, family vacations – and lot’s more time with the kids.

Most parents LOVE having their children around more. But it’s a mixed blessing since it also means that we’re dealing more with day to day child management (if kids are spending less time in school or daycare), and with hassles and sibling quarrels and schlepping kids to and fro. Plus long car rides and standing in lines at amusement parks and taking care of sunburns and . . . and . . . Plus arguing more with our mate, maybe, about how to deal with all of this. Yikes!

So summertime – “. . . . when the living is easy” . . . . yeah, right! – is also a time when it behooves parents to be really on top of their game in terms of keeping the needle on their personal stress meter out of the red zone.

That’s good for us personally: we stay happier and more centered in our loving heart, plus it helps boost our immune system and keep our hormones balanced. It’s good for our relationship, since everyone is easier to get along with when they’re not frazzled out of their gourd (plus we all know what getting stressed does to any inclination toward affection or lovemaking . . . ). And it’s especially good for parenting. Our kids need us to stay patient, hold our temper, and remain able to think clearly when they start squirting sunscreen at each other.

Sure, it’s relaxing to go to a spa or sit on a mountain-top for a weekend, but what do you do when you come back down? You need ways to prevent stress right from the start or release it once it happens, that you can do right on the spot. And you need something deeper than the usual advice along the lines of “visualize fluffy white clouds.”

Here are ten great ways to weave stress relief into the fabric of your everyday life. They are fundamental principles, with one or more examples for each one

  1. Remember That You Matter

Throughout the day, remember that you are entitled to stress relief for two important reasons: your inner experience matters in its own right, plus nurturing yourself is the absolute foundation of caring for your children. For example:

  • Carry a picture of yourself as a child next to your driver’s license, so that you’ll see that precious child is just as deserving of love and care as your own children.
  1. Let Go Of Stress Lots Of Times A Day

Since little moments of stress add up to wear and tear on your body, mind, and relationships, do small things every day to prevent or lower stress, like:

  • Taking a big breath each time the phone rings
  • Washing your hands or face lovingly in warm water whenever you use the restroom
  • Staying mindful of the tension in your shoulders and letting them relax if they start climbing up toward your ears
  1. Deeply Relax At Least Once A Day
  • Going to sleep is a great time for this, since it’s the body and brain’s way of wiping the slate clean of stress and getting ready for the next day, so:
  • When you’re lying in bed, imagine that your body is very heavy, and sinking down into the welcoming earth
  • Try to get a sense that your hands are warm (a particularly good trick if you have insomnia)
  1. Have Realistic Expectations For Yourself

Much stress comes from pressuring ourselves to live up to unrealistic or impossible standards, like comparing ourselves to mothers in advertisements who never have a hair out of place. Instead:

  • Notice it when you’re getting hard on yourself, when “judging mind” is in full swing.
  • Remember that you can’t compare yourself to your own mother since she lived in a very different time, plus your memories are distorted by the rose-colored glasses through which a child views her mother.
  • Focus on all of the positive things you are already doing.
  1. Deal With The Childhood “Turbocharger”

Thoughts and feelings carried over from everyone’s childhood increase stress today. They lead us to misinterpret events or fasten on just one part of the total picture, get unmet (and today, unmeet-able, alas) childhood needs mixed in with realistic, adult, and meet-able needs, and amplify our emotional reactions.

  • Bring compassion to the young parts of yourself.
  • Sort apart the intensified “young” reactions from the more moderate, here-and-now ones.
  • Try to let go of the deepest, youngest level of your distress, like making sure you pull out the tip of the dandelion’s root to prevent it from growing back.
  1. Accept Yourself As You Are

Easier said than done, of course, but if we take on self-acceptance as an ongoing practice, rather than seek it as some sort of done deal, then that’s something we can actually succeed at.

  • Remember that there is nothing shameful about whatever arises unbidden in your mind: accepting it is not the same as acting on it.
  • Tell yourself several times a day: “I accept myself just the way I am.” Or: “May I accept myself as I am.”
  1. Build Up Positive Emotional Memories

We’ve evolved with a brain that instantly registers negative experiences – because that’s how to survive in the wild – but hardly notes positive moments; for instance, one scary experience with a dog is more memorable than a thousand good ones. Unfortunately, the result is a growing residue of negative experiences in our emotional memory banks that shade and tinge our sense of who we are. Therefore, we have to be active in recording positive feelings so they become a lasting resource inside and increase our sense of well-being. Here’s how:

  • Look for things to feel good about throughout the day.
  • Let the positive event register as a positive experience (not just seen merely intellectually as a nice thing).
  • Take a few extra seconds or even minutes to savor the experience, feeling it fill your awareness and your body.
  • Imagine/sense that this rich experience is sinking deeply into your being, becoming a part of you, lodging deeply in emotional memory.
  • For a bonus, you can imagine/sense that the positive experience is sinking down into the places inside where you have felt hurt or let down as a child, and dislodging and replacing those old and painful experiences; simply have the new, positive experience be in the foreground of your awareness and the old, negative one be softer and in the background – fading away . . .
  1. Be Proactive

Overall, be active in your own mind, ultimately in charge of it, like the skillful rider of a high-spirited horse.

  • Adopt the attitude that stress is your adversary – a pernicious influence that is bad for your health, your mood, your children, and your marriage – and that you are not going to let it get the best of you!
  • Identify the stress factors in your life that happen again and again – like trying to get too much done in the morning so you’re always rushing – and make a plan with your partner or a friend to really change those factors that you can, one by one over time.
  • Actively argue against the thoughts and beliefs that make you more stressed, such as “I’ve got to make sure that this trip to the lake goes really well.”
  1. Commit To Some Daily Practice

Many parents once had some sort of daily activity that calmed and uplifted them, but which fell by the wayside after having children. Either return to or start afresh something – even for just one minute a day – that feeds your soul and deepens your capacity to stand apart from the inevitable, endless ups and downs of your inner and outer worlds. Examples include:

  • Journaling, creative writing
  • Meditation, prayer, inspirational reading
  • Time in nature (perhaps simply walking the dog)
  • Playing or listening to music
  • Doing arts or crafts
  • Dance, yoga, tai chi
  1. Consider A Personally Meaningful Spirituality

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention what is for many the ultimate form of stress relief: a personally meaningful form of religious, spiritual, or philosophical awareness. Whether it’s cultivating a peaceful sense of the interconnectedness of all things, attending church or temple, or taking on a serious discipline of self-transcendence, you probably know in your heart what would be good for and your family in this regard. Trust that quiet inner voice, and let it carry you down the path that will quiet your mind and help your heart sing.

This is an article adapted from the book Mother Nurture (2002) by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Jan Hanson, M.S. and Ricki Pollycove, M.D.


Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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