I’ve been blogging for almost a year now and I have a pretty good sense for what posts will do well. Today’s post isn’t necessarily a sexy topic, but it’s been on my heart lately. How often do you feel spread too thin? Are you overcommitted, overstressed, and feel like you never have enough time? I write about health and wellness and research has shown us time and time again that stress has a huge impact on our health.

We think of stress as something that’s emotional or psychological. But stress produces a very real physical response. Stress hormones are released, blood pressure goes up, the heart beats quicker, and inflammatory markers are elevated. Chronic stress is linked to several chronic diseases.

Stress is a frequent topic of conversation in my practice, especially among moms with kids at home. Specifically, the stress associated with time. Or lack thereof I should say. I’m just as guilty as the next mom at overextending myself.

Laundry for 6 – a constant source of stress in my life

If each of our older 3 kids is involved in only one activity, that potentially means six different time commitments a week (a game and practice for each). And that’s only one activity. At any given time we may also have them in piano or swim lessons, which add another 2-3 hours out of the week. We’re committed to our church and several volunteer opportunities which may take one or two days out of the month, aside from Sunday mornings. Then there’s birthday parties, family dinners, and maybe once in a blue moon a date night. I remember one day during a really busy season looking at my calendar and realizing the next free evening we had to be together as a family was almost two weeks away.

Before kids, I remember saying I wasn’t going to be this way. We weren’t going to sign our kids up for everything and spend all our time and money on these things. But it just happened. And I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing.

We’ve developed amazing friendships and a wonderful community in the sports leagues we’ve participated in. My 8-year-old son played on an all-star baseball team the last two years and for about 2 months we were at the ball field 3-4 days out of each week. But, we brought the whole family. My middle two would keep themselves busy playing with other siblings, and we got to hang out with a great group of parents. If we weren’t doing this, we’d be at home staring at the TV and iPads. I know we would. I would’ve loved to sleep in on Saturdays this past winter. Instead, we took 3 kids to 3 basketball games every week, 2 of which I coached. But if we weren’t playing basketball, we’d have major winter cabin fever, I’m sure of it. Being active isn’t a bad thing.

But where’s the balance? I still struggle to find that threshold but in the last year I’ve tried to be more intentional about guarding family time and setting boundaries. For me, it’s made a big difference.

I learned to say “No”

The first thing is, realizing I can’t be 100% involved in every activity. This is difficult because most activities rely heavily on parent volunteers, and there’s a lot of guilt if you don’t help. But I simply can’t say yes to everything. I cannot work full time, volunteer or coach every sport, sit through every lesson, and attend every PTA meeting. I’ve learned to be ok with saying “no” and not feeling guilty about it.

When you say yes to something you can’t commit to, you either don’t put forth your best effort or you start to resent doing it. Neither of these is fair to you or the program you’re trying to help.

If that’s hard for you to do, one phrase that really hit home for me was “As much as I’d love to help, if I say yes to this, I’m saying no to my family.” It’s true and flips the situation back to not being only about you, but your family that needs you.

We prioritized our activities

We decided which activities to be “all-in” on and which ones we just show up for. For example, we’re leaders at our church and for us, that’s a top priority. We agree to help when needed and serve on several committees. This in contrast to when my son asked to do Scouts again this year, and we literally did the bare minimum. I felt a little bad for him at his recent recognition dinner because he was one of 2 kids out of the entire troop that didn’t sell any popcorn. But last fall we didn’t have additional bandwidth to help him with that. He simply attended a meeting every other week an participated in a few of the bigger activities, and we didn’t stress about it. Some families gave 110% to that organization and that’s fantastic. I’m glad it was a priority for them.

We made “plans” for our time at home

If we did have a few free nights during the week, I tried to think of something intentional we could do with the time. Lately we’ve been reading Harry Potter to the kids. Maybe it was a movie we’ve been waiting to come out or a family game night. We still have games and activities the kids received for birthdays and Christmas we’ve never opened. I’m not saying home life has to be structured, but it often felt like our coveted free time was spent wasted on mindless activities and not on truly being together. This is especially important when I start to feel overwhelmed with our schedule.

The most important thing for me is stopping to take a breath and decide if everything we’re doing is worth it, and making changes accordingly.

A major flaw of mine is when I’m overwhelmed, instead of sitting down and making a list or strategizing how to effectively get things done, I shut down. I literally don’t look at my calendar as if not looking at it means it doesn’t exist and I’m not actually overstretched. Obviously, that isn’t a good strategy. These strategies above have really helped me get a grip on our lives in the last year. I hope they’re helpful for you too.