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7 Steps To Increase Your Emotional Margin

By Nikki Spencer LBSW, TBRI® Practitioner

Working Mother. This has taken on an entirely new meaning during the COVID-19 pandemic. My quest for maintaining a proper work/ life balance has been replaced with figuring out how to survive the day while maintaining work, family and children’s education while somehow maintaining my own sanity.  As a mother of two special needs children that thrive on schedule and predictability, this has felt like trying to climb Mount Everest without a harness.

Survival mode is a real thing. During extreme stress, the primitive area of our brain that monitors basic survival instincts takes over and more advanced areas of the brain that handle higher learning and logic shut down.  Science has proven that when are brains are in survival mode, one of the first things to go out the window is our focus on self-care and emotional well-being.

How am I supposed to handle this?  How can I stay sane while still working from home and loving my family? Answer: You need to create margin in your day to help your entire family emotionally and physically. Here are seven practical steps you can take to increase your margin this season:

  1. Take several small breaks throughout the day to maximize focus and energy.. Experts suggest that rather than scheduling just one physical activity into your day, to build small pieces of it into each hour. This allows you to reap the benefits of physical activity all throughout the day instead. This could include doing 3 minutes of yoga, doing jumping jacks with your children, or going outside to enjoy the sunshine.


  1. Create graphic schedules with pictures & signs: For young children, visuals, signs and schedules are a great way to help kids understand when parents are working. Show your children a picture of the schedule explaining what the day will look like. This may need to be done multiple times a day.  Include a picture with a fun family activity like game night or a scavenger hunt that is scheduled after “work time” to give children an activity to look forward to.


  1. Don’t assume that because you’re on the computer your children understand it’s work related. If your children are in the same room and you are not able to be completely present with them, explain why. Children often internalize messages adults may not consider such as thinking what is on your screen is more important than spending time with them.


  1. Create a time for a technology free Zone– With the increase in technology it’s more important than ever to incorporate a time into your schedule where screens of all kinds are not being used. If you work does not allow you to put down your phone, communicate that to your family and keep the phone on silent and out of visual sight during those times.


  1. Know there will inevitably be moments where the stress gets the best of you. I recently had a hard deadline for a work project that was interrupted by my child’s refusal to nap. I caught myself feeling resentful of him for the stress I was feeling. When this happens, apologize to your child and explain your frustration is not really at them.


  1. Lower expectations. I pride myself on standards I hold myself to as an employee, wife and mother. I realized a major source of my anxiety came from not being able to meet my usual standards.  Give yourself permission to be okay with not meeting those standards in the same way.


  1. Reach out. It’s easy to not want to reach out to others for support when everyone is in crisis. I recently asked friends to call and facetime with my kids to read them stories. They were happy to help once I took the time to ask!


Forced into a new pattern of living this season, we are all facing challenges along the way. Through it all, take time to breath, to smile, and to laugh even in the midst of chaos. Create some margin together and you can get through this season even stronger than when you started.


Learn more about Emotional Margin on Coffee with Chosen



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