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Let’s Stop Pressuring Each Other (And Our Kids) to Perform

As I’ve been adjusting to new routines for my work, a digital-only social life, and the joys and, let’s be honest, challenges of everyone being home all the time, I’ve been thinking of a piece of advice a family friend is fond of giving: “Always do your best, but remember that your best changes every day.”

That advice has never felt more relevant than it does now. Our lives are radically different than they were months, weeks, or days ago, yet we’re still expected to do many of the things we did before. We’re supposed to work productive 40-hour weeks—at home. We’re supposed to ensure that our children are learning and challenged—at home. We’re supposed to stay fit and active—at home.

The weight of those expectations can be crushing, compounding situational anxiety we’re already feeling. Anxiety is natural, especially in the midst of a crisis—as a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education put it eloquently, “No sane person feels good during a global disaster, so be grateful for the discomfort of your sanity.”

But too much anxiety is harmful to our mental and physical health. Releasing ourselves and our loved ones from the pressure to perform during this extraordinary time is a key way we can reduce our anxiety and learn to weather the storm with more grace. Here are some things I’ve been reminding myself of over the last few weeks that I hope will help you also shed this pressure to perform:

1. It’s OK to Cope Imperfectly

All my training in trauma-informed counseling has given me an acute understanding of the toxic effect stress has on our bodies, as well as what we can do to reduce our stress levels—sleep and eat well, exercise, be mindful, connect with others. But I’ve also learned that it’s not always possible to do all of those things. Sometimes it’s not even possible to do any of them. That is OK. Be gentle with yourself, your spouse, or your children when a to-do list is half finished, when the exercise equipment gathers dust, when a weekend of Netflix replaces things that seem more important.

→ Try This: Without judgment, make a list of things that help you feel good, and then try one the next time you’re feeling difficult emotions.

2. Productivity Includes Rest

Things that are beneficial for us, like rest, are often sold as ways of making us more efficient and productive. I’d argue that rest isn’t just a means to more productivity, it is productivity. When we’re resting—whether that’s a good night’s sleep, an afternoon nap, or just quiet time on the couch—we’re giving our bodies time to heal and our minds and hearts time to process. We need a lot of that right now. Listen to your body and take breaks as needed without guilt or shame.

→ Try This: Wake up without an alarm this week or weekend.

3. I’m Not the Cruise Director

As a counselor, I often work with parents who struggle with a sense that they have to be martyrs and do everything for their children. They exhaust themselves making sure that every wrong is righted and every moment of the day is filled with joy and opportunity. Now that we’re home together all the time, it’s easy to feel like we have to do this even more. The truth is, although it’s still our duty to keep our children safe and healthy, we are not the director of this bizarre cruise we’re on; they can thrive with unstructured time. With younger children, you might have to put up with “I’m so boooooored” for a bit, but once they adjust to free play their imaginations and creativity will bloom. With teenagers, unstructured time is an opportunity for them to challenge themselves and take on some of the “adult” responsibilities they crave, which will help them build their self-worth.

→ Try This: With little ones, ask them to come up with a list of activities they enjoy that they can do independently. With older kids, ask them what new responsibilities they’d like to have.

4. My Best Changes

We often use the word “best” like a double-edged sword. We say “personal best” to describe marathon records, and we say “that was the best you could do?” when we’re disappointed with someone’s effort. Recognizing that the best we can do changes every day—sometimes every hour—helps us learn to embrace “best” as a solely positive term, something we can always be proud of. For instance, when I’m distracted or short-tempered and let emails pile up, I try not to berate myself. I recognize that I was challenged by anxiety or sitting with grief, and that whatever I did was the best I could do. In giving ourselves and others the grace to have “unproductive” hours, days, or weeks, we’re making space for life’s fullness and recognizing that facing, living with, and overcoming difficult emotions is work, too.

→ Try This: If you or your child are struggling to keep up with work or at-home school, take time to celebrate what is getting done, rather than focusing on what isn’t.

Please share this with anyone you think might appreciate it, and I hope you’ll join me in removing the pressure to perform and learning to be flexible and graceful with yourself.

~ Brooke

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