The Calm Killer
Ever hear the old adage: stress kills?
No, I am not here to lecture you on matters of your health and well-being. I presume you are a grown adult and will trust that you know how to keep your body in order.
It is your mind that is of interest to me. Why? Because stress doesn’t just kill you physically. It kills you mentally. It will sap every last bit of your energy and drive. Obviously, that puts a pretty big damper on an undertaking as grand as learning a language.
A few blog posts ago, I talked about my struggles with anxiety, how it affects my focus and how it is important to do something every single day for your language practice regardless of your other obligations or your energy level. I want to piggy-back on that.
I am going to make a confession here that I am not proud of. When I am stressed out, I am a crappy mom. I yell at my son, I let him watch more TV (albeit, en francais) and I make threats to throw all of his Legos away. I sure as Hades don’t try to form sentences in our target language when I am screaming them at the top of my lungs, shaking from extreme irritation or upset. Because of my anxiety disorder, stress tries to sneak in every chance it gets.
Likewise, when mon Loulou gets upset or stressed, he can’t concentrate for beans. He will throw his French book across the room, wail that he is a loser and a failure and couldn’t even tell you the word for toy (which he knows quite well.)
This isn’t just him whining and throwing a fit. While stress does help concentration for a short period of time, after a while, the opposite occurs. This is because the body is dumping chemicals into the brain to help it focus and throwing adrenaline into the bloodstream in order to heighten the senses. This helps the body hone in on its tasks, which is great for last minute studying or finishing up a work project. When the stress continues, the brain will have fired off so many neurons that it cannot replenish its supply of chemicals that help the neurons fire. As well, that boost of adrenaline that helps people focus will start to heighten the senses to the point where the brain notices every little thing around, causing you to be easily distracted. Thus, stress goes from being a useful buddy to a villain.
I would like to say that I have found a way to completely tame the beast and that Bryston and I sit cross-legged on a Yoga mat and giggle over verbs. Nope. Je deteste toujours les verbes. I still lose my mind when we are running ten minutes late and he hasn’t listened the first seventeen times I have told him to put his shoes on. I am human.
However, I have taken several measures to at least lessen our stress both by frequency and duration of individual incidents. In turn, it has improved our ability to form little sentences here and there.
- Scheduling. This has helped in keeping both of us a little saner. It allows him his time to play, me my time to breathe and both of us more quality time together. He also knows what to expect and that if he does not finish his tasks (such as Memrise or practice assignments) that he will be cutting into his play time. I can handle interaction better because I can clearly see that I will soon be having time with something else.
- Mindfulness. I am the grouchiest when I am trying to read or do something and keep getting interrupted. Most of the time, it is nothing of real importance. If it is, I should probably be doing it when he is more distracted or asleep. I committed myself to doing things more mindfully. If I am watching a show with him during breakfast, we do that and nothing else. If we are doing chores, we focus on one at a time. In our day and age, it is easy to sit and scroll through Facebook while out kid is watching a show, then snap their head off when they interrupt us while we are reading a post about a panda. While TV isn’t something you should be doing all day every day, it can be quality time. You can ask questions about the show and try to answer in your target language or maybe try to use a new word that you heard. You can interact with the characters. The bottom line on this one is to put your damn devices away. It has been proven that being attached to social media and smart phones hikes up stress and depression. It is also going to severely diminish quality time with your family and negatively impact your language learning dreams. When I study, I use the Pomodoro Technique of twenty minutes on and a five-minute break. It is far more efficient than doing a Duolingo exercise, checking Facebook, doing a written exercise, playing some game on my phone, listening to a French song then texting a friend all in five minutes. Sure, I did exercises, but I won’t retain any of it.
- Time Outs. They aren’t just for the kids. If your little one is just being utterly defiant, it is far more productive to remove one or both of you from the situation, if possible, and encourage time to reflect and come back when you are both calmer. If not possible, at the very least, don’t further fan the flames. Say that you need quiet time or they need quiet time if you are in the car or on the way out the door. When I say this in the car and Bryston keeps talking, I put on my headphones.
- Self-Care. It is such a millennial cliché, right? It is also something we always think of in a grown-up context. It’s not. Children need to take time to do things they enjoy as well as knowing how to make choices that are best for their health. While I will keep to my promise of not lecturing you about your lifestyle choices, it is worth mentioning that getting quality nutrition, adequate sleep and staying active all help in better coping with stress.
- Envrionment. I am big on ensuring that my surroundings are reasonably free from excessive clutter. It overworks the mind by thinking of all the things that need to be done. I get it, a house with kids will never be as flawless as we would like it to be, but there is no reason that there can’t be a base level of order and cleanliness. I knew a woman with seven kids who kept a better house than I do. Tout est possible.
- Aromatherapy. I know, this one might seem kind of tree-hugger hippie, but I would be lost without my peace and calming oil and my son’s lavender roll-on. When things get heated, I stop, put our oils on, and insist that we both breath for a minute. Sometimes, I ask that we do this while holding hands and I gently massage his little palms with my fingers.
Keeping stress under control is imperative for learning a language in the first place, but even more so when you are trying to do it with a little one. If they see that upsetting you will get them out of their language practice, they will push every button they can find.
What are your biggest weapons in the fight against stress with yourself and your child(ren)?