Finding Serenity in Chaos

Serenity: A state of being calm, peaceful and untroubled. 

That’s what we all dream of, right? Even the word “serenity” sounds divine. Just hearing or reading that word instinctively makes us want to step back, pause, and take a deep breath. You might have even felt your shoulders drop just by reading it, too.

Yet sustaining this feeling of peaceful calm can feel nearly impossible if you’re parenting a child affected by early childhood trauma, drug or alcohol exposure, and/or attachment problems. There is a reason for this. Trauma is the direct opposite of serenity…and it is contagious, too.

Trauma is all about chaos, confusion, contention, revenge, aggression, and a life full of things that can hurt or destroy us. Once a person has been affected by it, the emotional and psychological damage it leaves behind often spread to the rest of the family. Before we know it, our once peaceful and happy home feels like a war zone.

Serenity, on the other hand, is all about peace, resilience, contentment, and joy. It’s the antidote for toxic stress and burnout. It’s also what allows us to keep our wits and sanity about it through those crisis situations and other challenges of life. It’s about who we choose to become in the process of all of this.

Do you believe serenity is possible?

I’ve asked many moms of traumatized kids if they believe it is possible for us to experience serenity in our day to day lives while parenting our hard kids. Most of them laugh in my face and give an emphatic (and often colorful) “NO!” If that was your reaction, that’s okay! I was once there myself.

Now, I just give them a hug, smile sweetly, and tell them I’m living proof that we can.

Serenity doesn’t make the problems disappear

Achieving serenity doesn’t mean our problems go away. Nor does it mean we are living in some imaginary state of zen that is free from conflict or crisis. It simply means we’ve chosen to make peace with our circumstances and we’ve developed the ability to cope and thrive in spite of the challenges.

Like many other things in life, serenity doesn’t just magically happen. It isn’t something that falls from the sky and sprinkles on the lucky ones like unicorn glitter. It is a learned skill that requires effort, consistency, and commitment to the small and simple things of life to make it happen.

Interestingly enough, those small and simple things are often the first things that fly out the window in the face of crisis. They’re the things we put off until tomorrow when we’re tired, and eventually stop doing all together life becomes heavy and overwhelming.

10 Ways to Recapture Serenity

I want to share 10 small and simple actions that can help you recapture and keep a sense of serenity, even if everything around you seems to be falling apart. The more you practice them and consciously make it a priority to start incorporating them back into your life on a regular basis, the less elusive serenity will be and the more capacity you will have to weather the storms and embrace the life you have.

1. Give Thanks

No matter how dark things look in the moment, there is always something to be grateful for. Start and end your day by expressing gratitude for the basic gifts you have, whether it’s food, shelter, clothing, a job, or even an early bedtime for the kids. Continue giving thanks throughout the day as well. If someone lets you into their lane in traffic, give thanks. If your boss recognizes your efforts at work, give thanks. If you have a calm morning or afternoon with your child, give thanks for that, too. Simply look for, acknowledge, and appreciate the good things of life.

2. Practice Acceptance

Acceptance doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to things or rolling over and allowing others to steamroll over us. It means understanding what you can and can’t change. It means accepting things as they are today, rather than getting wrapped up in how you want them to be or how you believe they should be.

Acceptance is also about allowing others to be who and what they are. Their behavior is about them, what they think of you or your family is none of your business, and the choices they make are theirs. You can guide, influence, and impose boundaries, but you can’t change them. The only thing you can control or change are your own responses and how you interact with them. Life is always going to be full of potholes and obstacles. Practicing acceptance is how you learn to avoid them and roll over the bumps.

3. Be Kind

There is no situation or scenario in which being unkind to someone else will benefit you. Nor will it ever turn a tense or bad situation into something good. The ugly things you say and do, especially to your kids or your spouse may get their attention or achieve a temporary level of compliance, but they will poison you and your relationships in the long run.

If you’re unhappy, exhausted, or overwhelmed, I encourage you to look at your own behavior. If you’re spewing mean, hurtful, or hateful things (even if that is what is being hurled at you), you will be miserable. On the other hand, if you find reasons to smile, to help someone else, to brighten their day, or respond with kindness, even if that person doesn’t deserve it, you’ll feel things start to shift in a more positive direction.

4. Feed Your Body What it Needs

Pay attention to what you feed your body. Long story short, if you feed it crap, you’ll feel like crap. It isn’t just food we need to pay attention to, though. What we do and don’t drink matters, too. Caffeine can make people jittery, irritable, and affects sleep patterns. Alcohol can alter or impair emotions and judgment and can leave people feeling depressed, anxious, and trapped. Dehydration can cause headaches, dizziness, and lethargy. If you want to feel better, feed your body not just what tastes or feels good in the moment, but what it needs to actually function properly.

5. Feed Your Soul

Most of us moms of struggling kids become disconnected with our own soul at times. The number and more exhausted we become, the more likely it is that our soul is starving to death.

Intentionally take time each day to do something that feeds your soul. That might be spending time in nature. It might be meditation, prayer, scripture reading, devotionals, or something else. Whatever your thing is, and whatever makes you feel more peaceful and alive, do it!

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6. Take Time to be Still

We live in a noisy and chaotic world. This is true even when our kids aren’t home! We’re constantly bombarded with notifications, noise, and information. Turning off the noise requires effort.

Some people claim they like noise, though. If that is the case for you, ask yourself why. For most people, noise is a distraction. It helps us avoid feeling uncomfortable or facing things we don’t want to deal with. Yet not experiencing those things will only keep us stuck.

Turn off the radio, television, podcasts, social media, or anything else you can whenever you can and learn to embrace the silence. I personally never turn any of these things on when I’m in the car, especially when I’m alone. By shutting off the noise, my ability to listen to my heart and trust my own intuition has significantly increased.

7. Get Enough Sleep

Though we may not throw ourselves onto the floor of the grocery store in a wailing fit if we missed our afternoon nap, most of us adults really don’t behave all that much better when we’re sleep-deprived. Getting the right amount of sleep each night will help you feel better both physically and emotionally and will help you wake up with a clear and relaxed mind.

Don’t stay up doing all those things you couldn’t get done during the day when the kids were around. The price you’ll pay in the end isn’t worth it. Go to bed early, shut off the TV, and do the best you can to unwind and practice good sleep habits.

8. Pay Attention to Your Environment

You can’t relax or find peace in a place that is messy. Keep your environment, especially your bedroom as clean and clutter-free as possible.  Get rid of excess stuff that is no longer serving you well. Repair things if you can, and remember that you can’t organize clutter.

Our outward environment is also often a reflection of our internal state. If our house is a mess, it’s a pretty good indicator that we are, too. On the flip side, keeping the spaces around us tidy will soothe our troubled mind and soul and help open emotional space for healing to happen.

9. Look for the Lessons in Adversity

No, adversity and challenges aren’t fun. However, they always have something to teach us and we can learn something positive from every situation. Look for those lessons. They may teach you who you want to be, what not do to, how to treat others differently, or that you are worth far more than you give yourself credit for.

Even when the lessons are hard or they hurt, they are still of great worth. If we allow them to teach us instead of making us bitter, we will eventually get better.

10. Don’t Try to Do it All at Once

The best way to eat an elephant always has been and ever will be one bite at a time. Elephants don’t usually taste very good, so it might be tempting just to shove the whole thing in at once and get it over with. If you try to do this, though, you’re most likely going to choke.

The best practice is to pick one thing…any one thing…and start there. Take baby steps and work on that one thing until you’re ready to do more. Small steps in the right direction ultimately lead to big changes over time.

You really can do this, my friend. The journey is worth it and so are you!

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