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10 Stress-busting Tips for Busy Moms

The daily pressures of family life can consume our peace of mind as easily as they consume our energy. How can we find serenity amid the chaos  -- and hold onto it for more than a fleeting moment? Here are 10 strategies from the experts.

1. Rise Early

"It's wonderful for busy moms to wake up 15 minutes before their children and take a little retreat," says Jennifer Louden, author of The Woman's Retreat Book (Harper Collins). "Do a yoga stretch, read something spiritual, and ask yourself, 'How can I have a more balanced day today?' " Or simply lie in bed and breathe deeply for a few minutes.

2. Unplug

The average American home is a noisy place, thanks to the telephone, television, radio, and CD player. When you're feeling overloaded, try turning down the background noise in your life by "unplugging" some of these electronic taskmasters. Or take what New Age guru Dr. Andrew Weil calls a "news fast."

3. Start Small

You're tired and just don't feel like making dinner, but you don't want to serve fish sticks again. So set a new, much smaller goal: "I will go in the kitchen and make a salad," or even, "I will go into the kitchen." Such steps may seem ludicrously small, admits Mary LoVerde, a motivational speaker, but she finds that "microactions" help us approach overwhelming tasks.

4. Be Here Now

Like the sixth-grader worrying about the SATs, our minds constantly bring future worries into the present. Richard Carlson, Ph.D., author of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff (Hyperion), calls this "anticipatory thinking." "The best way to avoid stress is to immerse yourself in the moment," he says. And avoid the trap of comparing notes with other parents about how busy you are.

5. Adapt

Do you fall apart if dinner is not served on bone china at six o'clock sharp? "We get attached to how things are going to be," says Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., coauthor with his wife, Myla, of Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting (Hyperion). "But if your kids are at each other's throats while you're making dinner, maybe the most important thing at that moment is to get down on the floor with them," Myla says.

6. Talk It Out

"Self-talk" can help us control our emotions, says Georgia Witkin, Ph.D., a therapist in New York City. When things go wrong, Witkin tells herself, "It's not a disaster, it's an inconvenience." Louden explains that by developing an inner voice that, for example, encourages you to stay in bed when you're sick and let your husband clean up the kitchen, you become, in a sense, your own best friend.

7. Laugh a Little

"Laughter re-enchants daily living," says Paul Pearsall, Ph.D., author of The Heart's Code (Broadway Books). Healthy laughter comes from Bill Cosby's gentle kind of humor that eases little annoyances. Research shows that we experience about 30 of these "heart hassles" every day, stressing the heart both figuratively and physiologically. On both counts, humor is healing.

8. Take a Break

Let's face it: We're never going to finish everything on our "to do" lists. In fact, as director of the Stress Program at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, Witkin finds that the average mother runs 21 minutes short per day. Usually, the first thing to go is relaxation time. "We'll never have any downtime unless we schedule it," she says. You should be able to complete this sentence: "What I do every day to relax is...."

9. Enjoy Nature

Sun, water, wind  -- the elements feed our senses and lead us toward serenity better than anything. It may mean relaxing in your backyard, drawing a warm bath, or going out for a brisk run. The important thing is to figure out what soothes you and then where to find it.

10. Just Let Go

"We have to recognize that chaos is a part of life," says Carlson. "Then we must recognize our own contribution to it. That's the only part we can control." The irony is that by taking steps that seem to signify giving up control  -- like "outsourcing" certain household jobs  -- you will actually be gaining more freedom to enjoy your family life.

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