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How to handle daily stress and get more z's

What can you do to eliminate the stress, short of giving it all up and running away? Some members have a few ideas.

In a recent column ("Too much work, not enough sleep") I lamented the fact that adults, as well as children, don't get enough sleep. We're pushed to the limits every day, working hard at our jobs then working even harder to care for our children and homes. What can you do to eliminate the stress, short of giving it all up and running away?

Several people said the best thing to do is have one parent stay at home and make ends meet with one income. Others said living a balanced life that includes exercise and a good diet enables you to better cope with daily stress. And other said you simply may need to do less -- stop having your kids participate in every activity they want, let some household chores sit or get your children to help.

Here's what a few of you had to say:

Live simply on one income
Over 10 years ago, when our oldest son turned 13, my wife quit her full-time job. When we had only two children, she worked several part-time jobs where she could bring them. We both share in the chores around the house, and as the children got older, they did also.

Well, the real secret is to live off one income. I know it is hard, but my parents did it with five children and sent them all to parochial schools through high school. No, we didn't go to Disneyland every year. No, we didn't eat steak. If we went out to a restaurant, it was for a birthday or two. (I'm a twin.) Leftovers were eaten every other night. And what was left over of the leftovers was made into goulash.

What are your ideas?
Send us your suggestions for making the daily grind easier.

I don't feel I missed out on a lot, nor do my siblings. If you don't see the ads for all the toys and Disney or Universal trips, you don't think about them -- neither do your children!

When one parent is at home, you don't need to have a babysitter, the laundry gets done during the day, and the garbage, vacuuming and bathroom cleaning are done at night and on Saturdays. Also, nobody has to worry about a late supper because it's ready when you/he gets home.

An added plus: You don't have to worry about projects at work -- just those at home!

Richard Carpenter
Software engineer
Springs Industries Inc.

Healthy living key to being able to handle stress
I certainly can relate to your article on sleep deprivation. An important factor of family life that you did not mention is after-school activities. I feel it is important for my son to participate in sports and activities he loves. I'm lucky in that I have only one child to take to meetings, practices, lessons and competitions. I see the frazzled looks of other parents who have two or more children trying to juggle work, home life and these extra activities. Sometimes these activities, although beneficial in some respects, take their toll on the children, too.

I always find time to exercise in the morning four days a week for at least one hour. Exercise includes cardio, strength and flexibility training. This keeps my energy level up, and I sleep better at night. I also take at least 10 minutes a day to meditate. Often I meditate in the car at my son's practice. I don't miss much of the practice, and it gives me a great way to unwind and change modes from work to home. I don't allow myself to sleep longer than 6 a.m. on weekends or days off. Sleeping later than that makes me more tired throughout the day. I do take short (one hour max) naps on the weekends if I feel I need them. And I stay away from caffeine. Although it gives you an instant bust of energy, it may keep you from getting the full benefit of your nighttime sleep hours.

Deborah Dalton
Senior programmer/analyst
FMC FoodTech - Citrus Systems

Scale back your desires and reap the benefits
I have to admit, I usually get six hours of sleep per night. If I get more, I feel groggy and do not feel fresh. Sometimes, I will go to bed much earlier and get eight hours, but that is very seldom.

You really are really opening a can of worms by asking for advice. Society at large has changed in the past couple of decades. I turned 40 last year and have two teenage children. Things are now different compared with when my wife and I were young. Some of the solutions that will work, many will not want to hear. Therefore, they will continue in the rut and run through the maze like a rat after cheese.

Here are some things my wife and I did to help, and I repeat "help," reduce some of the chaos:

  • Lower your expectations and lessen your desires and wants. It is a shame that the average American family spends around 10% of income on food. We are very wealthy and yet we continue to strive for more and more. That is what often times lends itself to working/playing so hard.
  • We chose to have my wife be a stay-at-home mom. (This was very hard, since my wife also has a degree in computer science.) This allowed our family to enjoy more quality time together. To do this you have to make certain decisions: We have a modest home (well-maintained but not new), we drive older well-maintained vehicles, we do not subscribe to cable, we often use the library and read books instead. We also look for family oriented activities sponsored throughout our community for entertainment, reduced the number of fast food meals (we eat as a family at home most nights), refuse to buy the kids each and every electronic gadget known to mankind (my son had to save and purchase his own play station at a garage sale), and refuse to wear designer clothes. We chose to have a different standard of living than many of our peers.
  • We have chosen to live in a small mid-western town where the cost of living is much less than metropolitan areas. Our insurance is less, our mortgage is cheap for the home we have, and the work commute is almost nonexistent. (I have not lived more than 15 minutes from work in over 11 years).
  • We limited the number of events our children were allowed to be involved. Allowing the kids to have two events per night and all weekends booked took too much out of everyone.
  • In the same way, my wife and I have restricted the number of organizations and events we participate in.
  • We choose activities that all family members can share. My son is in the Boy Scouts, and I am an adult leader. We attend church as a family and do the family activities. The kids are active in the same school music programs, so we reduce the number of different events and yet each can participate in something. There are many low-cost activities that can be found. Also, activities that are done as a family will reduce the taxi runs.
  • I chose to be a senior programmer analyst for over 10 years rather than make the corporate climb. Sometimes you just have to be willing to know that your life is not measured by the titles and salary you can gain. I also give generously to several organizations. Granted some want way more than me, but learning to live within your means and being happy about it is something that has to be done.

Don't get me wrong, I want lots of stuff -- and I have lots of stuff. You have to set expectations and then be patient. You can have all you want, but sometimes you have to be more patient and wait for it awhile longer. Believe me, there is greater satisfaction when you wait longer for "things."

Bill Cressy
Manager of information technology
Prince Agri Products

Consider one-income families
I think your description of the typical working parent's day is probably very accurate. I don't know how they do it. It seems everyone is stressed out these days -- parents and kids. I give them lots of credit for just keeping it together day to day.

My kids are grown, and until my youngest was 10, I stayed home with them. When I did go back to work, my office was 10 minutes from home and the kids were old enough to stay home by themselves until I got home -- 1.5 hours. I would not have gone back to work if they had to go to daycare. I know you are going to say that I was "lucky" to be able to do this. We made a decision that I would stay home. We did not have any money for extras: no big house, no fancy cars, no family vacations to Disneyland. My husband made enough at his job to make it possible for me to stay home. We scrimped and saved and made do. My kids didn't know that we weren't rich. Kids don't care about money.

I am concerned when I see young parents who think they have to work because they have a huge mortgage payment and two new(er) cars and they can't make the payments on one salary. I understand that some parents are going to have to work because they are single parents or because of other financial circumstances, but I really wish young parents would place more priority on staying home with their children and less on having that big home and nice car. It is a sacrifice, but I really believe that everyone is better off. I don't think they give this option the consideration it deserves. Being a stay-at-home parent is the most worthy career you could choose.

Bonnie Williams

Put in the hours or lose your job?
I am sleep deprived and have no life. On top of the schedule you wrote about, add to it a child with special needs. With the extra doctors appointments, the school conferences, and the extra effort it takes to get cooperation, sometimes you feel like giving up. My employers have been understanding to a point, but I have been told that in the IT world making your family a priority is not an option. I adopted my son as a single parent -- there is no one else to help out at home. Shouldn't I be able to use my talents and make enough money to live without having the extra pressure of worrying about keeping my job because I can't go the "extra mile" after hours and on weekends?

Inge Neese

Laughter is a great stress-reliever
Yes, I'm sleep deprived and yes sometimes it affects my work. But no matter what, when I come back home at night, I watch one to two hours of TV -- my favorite comedy (Friends), quiz show or anything that entertains me. Most of the time my wife will join me. I believe the human body needs to laugh and be entertained to compensate. On weekends, I sleep late to recharge.

Richard Magnan
IT manager
Walker Foods

Can meditation work?
Gee whiz, I think you've taken a page out of my book. I'm sure you will be getting quite a few replies to this subject.

I do the dreaded on-call two weeks on, two weeks off, and it has got to such a stage now that both my spouse and I sleep in separate rooms whilst I'm on-call. That's because not only was I experiencing a broken sleep pattern, but she was also being woken when the pager went off. At least one of us now gets a reasonable sleep. I'm looking into any means of meditation/relaxation methods that may assist in getting back to sleep once I've been woken up, as I find that once I'm awake, its very hard to get back to sleep.

David Coady
Systems administrator iSeries
Elders Ltd

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