I’ve known that for a long time, but it really hit home for me more than nine years ago, when my son was born three months premature. After he spent more than two months in a neonatal intensive care unit, we learned that he has global developmental delays, and, years later, he was diagnosed with autism and apraxia of speech. He didn’t walk until he was three years old and didn’t talk until he was six years old. Early on, my husband and I decided one of us would stay home to take care of him and bring him to his many therapy appointments, which he still needs to this day.


So, for more than nine years, I’ve been working full-time while having a special needs son at home. And, more recently, I’ve been faced with the challenges of having aging parents who have developed medical conditions themselves and who also need my help and attention. It’s a lot to deal with and makes taking care of my many responsibilities seem unbearable at times.


Most days, I feel like I’m being pulled in every direction possible. Between work and family, life is hard, and sometimes we all have trouble handling it. Here are some tips that I use to cope with the stresses of everyday life.


1. Take it day by day. My primary coping mechanism for stress is to take things day by day or even hour by hour. This helps me to not get too overwhelmed. If I have a busy day or week ahead, it’s easy for me to start to panic, which is often my first reaction to anything stressful, concerning, or upsetting. If I’m looking at the week ahead and see a few things scheduled that are out of the ordinary, I get anxious. If I plan something well in advance and it’s coming up, most of the time I don’t want to go. When it comes to work, if I get multiple projects in at once, I immediately say to myself that I won’t be able to do it. So, I have to tell myself to stop, take a breath, take a step back, and do one thing at a time. Don’t look at the big picture—look at what you need to do in bite-size pieces. Focus on one thing at a time and get it done, then your to-do list will be less intimidating. The same goes for work. When I stop, look at the work itself, and start to do it, I realize that it isn’t so bad and, in fact, that I actually really enjoy it. Then I get it done and wonder why I was ever worried in the first place.


2. Make a list. Lists enable me to write down all the random thoughts in my head related to what I have to do so I have less anxiety about doing them. This goes hand in hand with taking it day by day since making lists breaks things down into manageable tasks and enables me to feel less overwhelmed. Lists give me a plan on which to focus, something with structure that calms my overwhelming thoughts and feelings that too much needs to be done all at once. Checking something off a list is the greatest feeling, since it feels like I’ve accomplished something, no matter how small or minor.


3. Focus on things you can control. So many things are out of our control, so I try to focus on things I can control. When my son was born prematurely, I came home from the hospital and immediately filled out the forms required for my maternity leave. At the time, my husband questioned why I was rushing to file paperwork when I had 30 days and this was day three. I realized that it was the only thing I had any control over at the time. My baby was born early; he was in the hospital while I was released, and I had to leave him there. Paperwork, as boring as it sounds, was something to focus on, something for me to do so that I wouldn’t fall apart. The same goes for minor everyday chores, such as paying bills or grocery shopping. Doing these small tasks gives me a sense of control and, like crossing something off a list, makes me feel accomplished.


Working, especially when I actually go into the office, is an escape from the challenges of everyday life. Yet I try to focus on more than just going through the motions of doing my job. Setting new personal goals, trying to solve problems, looking for ways to be more productive, becoming more involved in the company, and taking on new responsibilities in my job give me something to aspire to achieve. Accomplishing such goals also gives me a sense of achievement and pride in my work.


Another thing I have control over is taking care of myself. Whether it’s taking a walk or doing an exercise program, I’m doing it for me, to better myself and get myself in better shape, and gives me something to aspire to. This also serves as a sort of escape by taking my mind off my responsibilities for a short amount of time. It’s also good for my mental health. Sometimes taking a half hour or so to work out or simply move around leads me to calm down if I’m upset or agitated, and sometimes it allows me to think things through and come up with solutions.


4. Don’t worry until you have to. It’s easy to worry about everything—your job security, what you’ll do as your parents age, and so on—but you can’t let those worries run your life. I decided a long time ago not to worry about the future because no matter what happens, that premature worrying won’t change it or make it better. You can prepare for the future, but don’t put energy into things you have no control over unless the situation changes or until it’s time to take action.


We all have moments when we’re overwhelmed or feel anxious. And we all have methods of coping with stress, anxiety, and worry. Hopefully my ways of dealing with such emotions can help you to succeed personally and professionally regardless of whatever life throws your way.

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