Re-filling the piggy bank

My emotional piggy bank has been middling for the past 3 years.  When I teach emotion regulation skills, I talk about a specific set of skills that’s designed to help us reduce our vulnerability to negative emotions.  These skills include taking care of our bodies by addressing physical illness, balanced eating and sleep, avoiding mood altering substances, and regularly exercising (PLEASE skills); engaging in daily pleasurable activities (Accumulating positive experiences); doing something every day that makes us feel accomplished (Building mastery); and planning for events that we anticipate may be emotionally challenging (Coping ahead).  Using the ABC PLEASE skills daily can help us keep our emotional piggy banks full enough so that when stressful situations or challenging life events happen, we’re not entirely spent.  This helps us cope during those times and potentially recover a little faster when things settle down.

Before I got pregnant with my daughter, I had made an intentional decision to take care of myself in a way that I hadn’t been able to while in graduate school.  I was working out 3 to 4 times a week alternating cardio activity (Zumba!) with yoga and boot camp.  I noticed a dramatic improvement in my sleep once I started exercising, even on non-workout days.  My husband and I started cooking more at home and eating out less.  I started taking lunch to work and was making effective choices food wise, including eating an avocado a day (because it’s a superfood, and because, yum).  I found a primary care physician, and went to my annual appointments.  I even got myself off of caffeine, which was no small feat, since during grad school, there were days when I would consume almost a full pot singlehandedly.  I also did small things regularly that I enjoyed, and did bigger things less frequently that were fun.  I spent time with friends regularly.  I worked on improving my knitting techniques, trying increasingly complicated projects.  I read books.  Lots of books.  My husband and I played board games, went out on dates, and planned vacations.  And I was feeling emotionally better than I had in a long time.  The ABC PLEASE skills – they worked!

When I became a mom 3 years ago, my ability to use the ABC PLEASE skills daily dramatically changed.  Some things became easier: my kiddos provide lots of daily opportunities for accumulating positive experiences.  Watching them learn new things and explore their worlds is such a joyful activity.  Case in point, my 1-year-old just started walking, and it has made me so proud to watch him master this skill, experience pride in himself, and observe the ways in which his big sister is also incredibly proud of him.  And watching my kids’ sibling relationship develop is also incredibly rewarding.  They are each other’s biggest fans, and it’s so cute to watch.  So essentially, small kids = increase in positive experiences.  This is really good for my emotional piggy bank.

Other aspects of my ABC PLEASE skills became more difficult to maintain.  This is particularly true of the PLEASE skills part.  Working motherhood provides some real challenges to taking care of my body.  Zumba, yoga, and boot camp classes were all after work, and after being away from my kids all day (and continuing to work through some major mom guilt about that), I really wanted to be there for bedtime.  Yes, I could have chosen to go to those classes anyway, and sometimes, I did, and it wasn’t as enjoyable for me.  Eating in a balanced way also became more difficult.  Our collection of take-out menus grew.  Additionally, pregnancy had taken its toll on my system, and foods I used to love, my body could no longer tolerate, including those delicious and healthy avocados.  My caffeine intake increased after my daughter was born, and I haven’t really been off of it since minus my first trimester of pregnancy with my son.  And most significantly, I was so. incredibly. exhausted.  I have always been a light sleeper, and motherhood seems to have exacerbated that.  My husband and I are incredibly lucky that our kids are generally really good sleepers.  And I still wake up every time they cough or groan or talk in their sleep.

Accumulating positive experiences that weren’t all about the kids was also difficult.  I hadn’t been able to read a book in a while.  I started knitting projects, and didn’t finish them.  It became increasingly difficult to spend time with friends.  Date nights became few and far between.  I was coping ahead for difficult events as much as I could, and as my emotional piggy bank became less full, more events required coping ahead for.  Like many working parents, I was stretched thin and emotionally vulnerable.

I’m still emotionally vulnerable in comparison to where I was before having kids, and I’ve been working on re-filling the piggy bank.  I’ve had to use a lot of radical acceptance around knowing that the ways in which I used to be able to use the ABC PLEASE skills are not going to work for my life right now.  A fact is that I cannot eat avocados, so I have to find a different way to get some healthy foods in.  And regular Zumba and yoga classes are also not going to happen.  But I have been able to take walks in my neighborhood to get outside and get moving.  I found a couple of fantastic high schoolers to babysit my kids every now and then, so my husband and I can reinstate a semi-regular date night.  I’ve actively looked for one-pot or slow-cooker recipes that take less effort than the meals I used to make.  I read a couple of books in the past month, too.  I’m continuing to cope ahead for foreseeable challenges.  And I know that the whole sleep thing probably won’t get better for a while.

One skill at a time, the contents of that piggy bank will increase.  It will take some time and creativity.  And eventually, I’ll start to feel more emotionally strong.  I know this because I’ve done it before.  And now, I have the added benefit of living with cute toddlers who giggle at each other.  Yay for positive experiences!

**Lokah samastha sukhino bhavantu.  May all the beings in all the world be well.**

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