Kids. Partners. They’re amazing, right? Until they’re not. Which happens regularly and thankfully, only temporarily. Yet sometimes with the stress of adulthood riding on our backs on top of parenthood and relationship demands, keeping our cool with our kids and partners can be hard. Plenty of parents give their kids a time-out for acting up, but do you know when to give yourself a time-out?
The most important thing to know about giving yourself a time-out is there is zero cause for guilt. Do you feel guilty pulling into the gas station and filling up your vehicle? Of course not! Personal time-outs are the same — without them, you’d run out of emotional fuel. They’re necessary, whether you take a quick break or a longer time-out. It defeats the purpose to remove yourself from a stressful situation, only to heap on guilt for doing so. So don’t. Get in the habit of assuring yourself you can’t give to others if you don’t give to yourself first.
Needing a Time-out
It’s critical to see the signs of needing a time-out for yourself. Are your fists and jaw clenched? Is your mouth dropping salty language? Are you shouting at your kids or partner over insignificant stuff? Are you short of breath and feeling your body temperature rising? Can you hear your own heart pounding in your ears? Do you feel like crying? Any of these signals elevated stress and indicators a time-out for yourself is needed.
Getting a Time-Out
So next comes the tricky part — just how exactly do you get that time-out? The most important thing to do right away is BREATHE. It sounds silly because your brain and lungs are supposed to take care of that for you, but in times of stress, your body often goes into a mode where you are only doing very shallow breathing and not getting a full and calming supply of oxygen to your brain. That’s why you have to tell yourself to breathe in and out. Try to count to four as you inhale through your nose (yes, force yourself to do it if you’re a mouth breather), hold the breath for four quick counts, then give a nice long exhale out of your mouth for a count of six and wait two counts to begin again. This is a well-known technique called square breathing, used for relaxation in scenarios such as pain management, anxiety and panic. It’s well-known because it works, so consider it your pathway to a time-out and practice it whenever you feel even slightly stressed.
Next, if you can physically remove yourself from where you are, even for as little as a few minutes, your time-out will be that much more successful. Sometimes that’s not so easy if you’re dealing with a baby who has colic or a toddler who would destroy your home in two seconds, never mind minutes. If all you can manage is to turn away from your kids and close your eyes while continuing to do square breathing, that’s ok. Take what you can get and let it fill you up. Block out your current world for a moment and imagine you are doing something that gives you both great joy and great relaxation, like lying on a warm sunny beach, or having a massage. In fact, give your own neck a little rub. Humans tend to carry a huge amount of stress and tension in their neck area, and even self-massage can release some of that pent-up mad and sad. Roll your shoulders forward a few times and then backwards a few, then switch to rolling your head from side to side and back to front. Don’t forget your breathing!
After a Time-Out
If your kids are old enough to have some time without your supervision or your partner is there to watch over them, go to an area separate from all of them. Lock yourself in the bathroom, if you have to! Sit down and do something to take your mind away from the immediate stresses, like leafing through a magazine or sipping a herbal tea and daydreaming about your next holiday or ladies’ night out with friends. The most important part is to give yourself time “out” of the situation, just like you would with a child. Removed from any immediate sources of stress, you often only need a few minutes to reset your coping mechanisms and regroup enough to go back to being your usual fantastic self.
Stress and conflict are normal parts of life, but that doesn’t mean you have to forget about yourself. Knowing when and how to give yourself a time-out may just be exactly what you need to deal with it all.