Today, I woke up ridiculously early to sneak in a workout before my baby and toddler got up. Then, my husband fed the kids breakfast while I pumped and answered work emails for my third baby (Veracity), all while my son Cooper stared at me. (While Cooper may not understand personal space yet, he has learned the word “boob” and thinks everything having to do with feeding his little sister is pretty amazing. I have to agree!) I took a shower — sadly a new mom’s definition of “me” time — and then I bundled up my three-month-old Astor for a walk downtown to meet some teachers at a prospective preschool for my son. On our way back, I jumped on one call after another with members of my team.
There is only one hat that I wear these days, and that is fighting fires. It’s safe to say that the only gift I want for Mother’s Day this year is the longest nap in the world.
Whether you are getting back to work postpartum, learning how to navigate post-college adulting for the first time, or going through any other really stressful period in your life, figuring out how to navigate new challenges along with everything else you have going on can be overwhelming and exhausting. But it’s important to do because, when they’re not dealt with, stressful times put stress on your hormones and your health, which can manifest in a variety of ways from skin issues and sleepless nights to not being able to perform at your best in the moments that matter most.
I know this feeling well, and not just because of the total chaos that is the postpartum period with two kids and a new company. Anytime I have started something new in my life, especially something big, I've become very familiar with this feeling.
I remember starting my first job out of college. I worked the typical waitressing jobs through school and had summer internships in finance, but this felt different. The expectation to be smart and to perform on a higher level really weighed on me. For the first time, there was no roadmap like a syllabus to guide my work, and I felt like I was constantly being evaluated.
Also, it was a totally new environment for me. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have the structure of school or the financial safety net of my family in case of emergency. I was figuring out how to navigate a new city, trying to make new friends, and learning how to do the routine tasks of adulting that I had never had to do before, like figuring out how to dry clean all my new power suits.
When you’re going through a big life change — whether that’s emerging adulthood, a new job, a personal crisis, a baby, or any other life event that upends your world — your life shifts moment to moment. For me, the key to surviving these stressful times is to try to be fully present in whatever you are doing at any given time and to try not to worry about the million other things that also need to be handled.
In my life right now, if I'm feeding Astor, I try to focus solely on her and ignore any stress about the next work thing on my to-do list. I tell myself that I’ll tackle that when the time comes. Similarly, when I'm doing work, I try to totally zone in to that and not let myself get distracted by what my kids are up to. (Don’t worry, we have very responsible childcare.)
Times like these can be difficult, but over the years I’ve also learned that disruption is not always a bad thing. Is it uncomfortable? Hell, yes! I'm a very routine-oriented person, so I feel extremely discombobulated whenever I know something is happening that is going to trash my schedule.
But I’ve learned that big life changes also bring big life growth – even if those changes don’t turn out to be a huge success. If you can learn to embrace the feeling of being uncomfortable, you can more easily and more often get to the good stuff on the other side.
After two kids, a resume full of career changes, and plenty of life experience that spans the spectrum from devastating to blissful life moments, I’ve picked up a few habits that – at least right now – are working to help me survive this epically stressful time.
Give up the idea of being perfect. I have been a perfectionist since birth. But having kids and living a life that is often pure chaos has forced me to embrace giving things my all and not going completely crazy if my all right now is far from perfect. I recently achieved one of my career dreams: being interviewed by a top editor at Women’s Wear Daily. Right now, I am still healing physically from giving birth, I have a toddler on the move, and a baby who is a bit more temperamental than her brother. Prior to birthing the human equivalent of an emergency siren (that girl can scream!), I would have over-prepared in a borderline unhealthy way for this interview. But right now, I don’t have the time or energy for that. So, I did enough, I gave it my best effort, and I am still riding the high from this very special moment. The interview went great! Was it perfect? Eh – maybe not. But also, can anything ever be perfect? I don’t care, and I am much happier for it.
Find a community going through what you’re going through. Your friends and family love you, but sometimes they don’t totally get what you’re going through, especially if talking about it makes them uncomfortable for longer than a single conversation. But all feelings — anxiety, sadness, pure elation — are healthy and natural and you should allow yourself to work through them at your own pace. One coping mechanism that has helped me during these times is finding a community of people who know exactly what I’m going through. I’ve found I can be real with them and share the truth of what is actually going on in my life without feeling rushed to process my feelings or to make them feel comfortable. The entrepreneurial mom clique may be small, but these are the friends that are saving my sanity these days.
Hex anyone who tells you “not to stress.” Ok, not really, but is there anything worse than someone telling you to “stop stressing so much” when you’re particularly wired? As if it was just that easy to banish those cortisol-spiking feelings. Stress not only manifests in a million different ways for each person, but we also all handle it differently. One of my goals with Veracity’s personalized Hormone Wellness Test results is to give women science-backed suggestions for how to deal with these situations. Meditation may be healthy and en vogue, but if it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work. The key is to find the things that do. I can’t meditate to save my life – believe me, I’ve tried. But what is working to reduce my stress in this moment is music. Science has shown that music can have a huge effect on mood. Plus, it not only gives me a happy boost, but I also feel good knowing I’m exposing my kids to the good stuff early.
Find moments to treat yourself. A Parks & Recreation-style Treat Yo’ Self day may be out of reach for anyone who isn’t on a hit TV series salary, but I like the spirit of the idea. I try to find little moments in my life where I can expend some creative energy and indulge in a little fun just for myself. What I’m loving right now is taking a few minutes everyday to jazz up my leftover lunches. I’ll do something like sauté some spinach, which not only adds a fresh element to a reheated meal, but it also gives me some extra iron, which I definitely need right now. In a world where you often feel like you work like crazy, but accomplish nothing, it’s oddly satisfying to feel like you’ve at least done one thing good for yourself in a day.
The hardest part about going through stressful times in life is that there’s no advice you can take that will speed them up. The only thing you can do is move through them.
My advice whenever I talk to recent grads or new moms may not seem helpful at first, but it’s the only advice you can really give: remember that this moment will pass. Astor won’t always be a fussy infant, my company will grow out of the start-up phase, and eventually I will stop feeling like I’m competing – and usually not coming in first – in the Multitasker of the Year awards.
As Covid has so viscerally taught us, your life is made up of a series of periods, none of which last forever. We all need to find ways to remind ourselves that, whatever we’re going through, it too shall pass. Embracing the most challenging of moments is part of the process and a definite win, screaming baby and all.
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