A few weeks ago, I was walking home from elementary school drop off, and I felt like the air was so heavy I couldn’t quite breathe. I felt like I was being pressed on from above, being smushed into a pancake right there on the walking trail by my house.
Spoiler alert: there was nothing actually smushing me down. It was my overwhelm. It was my thoughts. It was my reaction to what was going on in my life.
My husband had just had knee surgery (thank you so much for that, soccer league for 40 year olds) and, it was the first week of school. My normally very equal parenting partner wasn’t able to be super helpful. We usually share morning responsibilities to get the kids out the door on time- he can’t do that for a bit. No big deal. This is not that big of a deal.
My kids were in the thick of the back-to-school transition. I don’t know what that looks like at your house but at mine, you can expect to see exhaustion and overwhelm for them come out in all kinds of behaviors like crying, talking back, arguing with each other, arguing with parents- all kinds of things that aren’t directly related to back to school worries, but they are related to back to school worries. This is normal. This is not that big of a deal.
For some crazy reason, I decided the first week of school was a great time to be launching one of my online programs – i.e. a super stressful work time for me. Thankfully, I went forward with it because the Bx Bosses Mastermind Cohort 3 is going really well, and these people are doing great things! Anyway, I put too much on my work plate at the same time as well as the other events going on in my life. I often do that and am pretty good at managing my time. This is not that big of a deal.
Independently, all these things are not that big of a deal.
Back to the walk home. It’s 7:45 a.m. My chest feels heavy. My breathing isn’t normal and smooth. I know it’s anxiety and overwhelm; I’m not having a heart attack or anything. But what exactly am I feeling? What exactly am I feeling? I feel like someone is smushing me. I tried to slow my thoughts down and notice the main one.
What was my brain telling me in that moment?
“I feel like I’m being crushed by everything that’s going on in my life right now.”
Woah. That’s extreme, brain. Chill out. People deal with much harder and bigger things every day. Slow your roll.
“I feel like I’m being crushed by all of this.”
Enter some Acceptance and Commitment Training tools. Also known as ACT (pronounced like you are acting in a play), these tools are all about increasing psychological flexibility, living your values, finding meaning in the every day, and staying present in your own life instead of getting caught up in your mind.
One pillar of ACT that I tried in this moment is unhooking from my unhelpful thought of feeling crushed (fancy word is cognitive defusion but you don’t have to worry about the scientific jargon right now). I knew that sticking to this thought of feeling crushed wasn’t getting me anywhere. So how could I unhook from it?
I tried to sing those words to the tune of the happy birthday song: “I feel like I’m being crushed. I feel like I’m being crushed. I feel like I’m being crushed… I feel like I’m crushed.”
Nope. Didn’t help in that moment. I was now annoyed that my song didn’t really work. Annoyed and feeling crushed. Cool.
I opted to try another tactic of cognitive defusion or unhooking from my thoughts.
I tried the movie poster tactic. I pictured my thought as a movie poster. I went with a cartoonish image of me with a big boulder coming at me- like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. That made me smile!
My mind came up with this image: Me less than 1/3 of the poster size and a big round boulder taking up most of the imaginary movie poster.
I could picture it hanging outside our local movie theatre where I take my kids to summer discount movies. I could picture it alongside an actual Indiana Jones movie poster.
My smile turned into a deep breath.
There is no boulder crushing me. But when my brain tells me there is one, I can imagine this kind of silly movie poster and smile. I can pause. I can breathe. I can reconnect to where I am right now… it’s not the Temple of Doom (or the Disneyland ride, booooo).
I can connect to my values of being helpful and dependable and do my best to find meaning and maybe even in joy in serving my family in this not easy week.
That simple imaginary movie poster made a HUGE difference for me that day. I walked home without feeling smushed.
And guess what? When those same type of thoughts kept coming as the days continued to have the same pressures, I could quickly go to my imaginary movie poster and unhook from those unhelpful thoughts. That movie poster got me through several difficult weeks.
It took no time. No money. No anything special to find a tool to help me manage a hard situation.
It’s not about managing your thoughts, pushing away the negatives, or even just surviving this behavior analyst motherhood journey.
Parenting with Acceptance and Commitment Training is about being present.
It is about choosing what matters and then taking action towards your values.
Does this sound like something you are interested in? Are you ready for some self-compassion for YOU and some support from other moms?
Are you ready to lean into your values and learn how to use simple unhooking tools like me?
Stay tuned for our newest cohort of the Mom Squad group coaching program!
News on that is coming October 16th!