Keeping Our Kids Calm and Centered Through COVID-19

I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a trained health practitioner. I’m also not a teacher with a Degree in Education. But I am a parent, and like many of you, right now I am simultaneously wearing many hats I don’t normally wear at the same time.

In the past ten days, I have been tending to sick children (not with coronavirus), trying to keep my oldest child stimulated with school-like activities and expending extra energy to deal with the emotional onslaught that has overflowed amidst all the changes due to this pandemic. All while running my businesses and putting three meals (and many, many snacks) on the table throughout the day. Tending to my own needs has been an afterthought.

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Travel Memoir to be Released Fall 2022

Six years ago, I made a commitment to myself to one day write a book that would chronicle my adventures and transition to parenthood. Fast-forward and life got busy, I had another kid, started a few businesses, put together four photo travel books with Paul and, voilà, the project was perpetually put on hold. But the dream never faded and in the fall of 2018, I connected with my publisher and finally got the wheels in motion.

Hiking on Rapa Nui. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

With that, I’m excited to announce that I signed a book contract for a travel memoir to be published by Rocky Mountain Books in Fall 2022!

“Travel memoir” is the best I can do to distill the book down to its essence, but it spans the past 15 years, and tracks my journey West and then off the beaten track. It spans oceans and continents, from peaks to valleys, as I learn to navigate an adventure-filled life, unlike anything I was raised with, and guide my young kids down the same bumpy path. It’s not a book about parenting, so much as about adventure amplified with children added to the mix, and what it means to choose adventure as a way of life in all its many facets.

Top to Bottom, Left to Right: New Zealand, Lake O’Hara, Auyuittuq National Park, Bermuda, Rapa Nui/Easter Island. All photos by Paul Zizka Photography.

As of today, I’m 33,792 words in and I can tell I have plenty of work ahead. But I’m in love with the process and the opportunity to relive my memories as I shape them into this book.

You can keep up-to-date with developments on this by signing up for my email newsletter.

On Firing All Cylinders and Burning Out

About the photo: Hiking in Connemara National Park, Ireland, with my family back in November 2019. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

I’m a writer by trade and, like everyone, my life is more than my profession. But what’s unique about my arrangement is that I can weave my passions, interests and daily existence into my writing. If you follow my social media feeds, you’ll notice some emerging themes that don’t always have a clear connection apart from them coming from me: the mountain life, travel and adventure, writing, entrepreneurship, publishing, the work/life balance and parenting.

My usual approach is to compartmentalize parts of my private life and keep them offline. There’s a lot that transpires that doesn’t need to reach the virtual space. I’ll hint at things at times, but not fully divulge. But this month, I’ve been through a period of burnout that I recognize has the potential to affect other creative people and fellow parent-entrepreneurs who are firing all cylinders all the time. Heck, anyone can fall into the trap because we’re all juggling a lot, right?

So, I wanted to write about it with hopes that I can start a conversation with other creatives, business owners and go-getters so that perhaps I can help others avoid a similar scenario.

The Backstory

“Lucky” for me, I have an auto-immune disease I’ve never spoken about publicly, and not because I am ashamed of it but because I’ve never acknowledged for myself the real role it plays in my life. I say “lucky” because what this provides me is a barometer for my stress and my neglect of self-care. That disease is eczema, and it’s a difficult one to talk about because it manifests itself differently in every person it affects. It varies widely in severity and also in what causes it to flare. I’ve been dealing with it since high school, but it has gotten worse in my thirties, and went from “a patch here or there” to a full-body screaming machine. By definition, mine is of moderate severity, but the consequences of a bad flare-up are enough to make me want to crawl in my bed in a dark room and never come out.

This week I had a bad flare-up. Hindsight is 20/20 and I really should have seen it coming. All the signs were there: lack of sleep while we were travelling (immune system is shot); 45 hours of transit home from Malta (sitting in airplane air that sucked all the moisture out of me); jetlag (now we’re really not sleeping); a toddler with chickenpox (that was like having a newborn all over again); me getting hit with a flu and fever (sweating is not great for eczema-prone skin); and external circumstances that pushed my stress-load right off the charts.

On top of this – and my life as a writer, mom, wife, business owner – is the daily regimen I keep up to avoid a flare. I keep a gluten- and dairy-free diet and take a supplement of fish oil, omega 3, 6, and 9s, and other oils to help manage the disease from the inside-out. I moisturize like my life depends on it, many times a day. I avoid triggers, especially when my skin is very dry. The list goes on. Last week, I let things slide.

No wonder it flared.

I feel the same way, kid.
[Playing at Keem Bay, Achill Island, Ireland.
Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.]

Where to go from here?

As devastating as this flare-up has been, it also lit a bit of a fire under me. I’ve come to a few realizations, some related to managing the disease, but I think all of these are transferrable as tools to avoiding burnout:

1. I need to take this condition seriously. A flare-up takes weeks or months to heal. My friend Robyn calls her MS her “sidekick,” and I think I need to reframe the way I view eczema. It’s a nuisance, yes, but it’s also a unique tool I can use to keep myself in check. The trade-off if I pay more attention to it, and prioritize myself more, is that I won’t only have fewer flare-ups, but I may also heal my system.

2. I need to make some adjustments to my external circumstances or the stress-load will never come down. This is something my husband and I are working through together.

3. I complain all the time that I lose my creative time to admin work and life logistics, so I need to create more space for the things that make my heart truly sing. No one else can do that for me.

4. I need to get my “team” back together and get back on my supplement train. My team includes my naturopathic doctor, massage therapist, and yoga instructors. As a creative entrepreneur, I absolutely cannot do my job or pursue my passions when I’m running on empty.

5. I need to listen to my body and the people who are holding me accountable. How often do we resist words of caution or “symptoms” when they arise? Often I just need to listen to what I’m saying to others: “It’s a little too much right now” (usually with a nervous laugh) or “Yeah, things are pretty crazy around here.” These are words of caution to heed as much as any others.

6. I need to simplify my life, even if it means making hard choices. I think many entrepreneurs will relate to the idea that you need enough on your plate to feel motivated and productive. Finding the right balance is tough, but I plan on taking some time to identify the pinch points in our lives, what I can say “no” to moving forward, and putting together some goals for the next year.

So, whatever your “sidekick” is or the mode your body and spirit go into when you’re running full tilt into a brick wall, I hope you’ll take the steps you need to get back on track.

This is my work for the year ahead. 😊

Feel free to share with me in the comments – I’d love to hear your thoughts on this very important topic and how burnout affects other creative entrepreneurs.

Managing the Load: 12 Tips for Parent/Entrepreneurs

Most entrepreneurs have an insatiable desire to see their ideas and projects come to fruition. They have many balls in the air at once as they build out their ideas and create businesses from scratch. It is a volatile position to be in, but manageable.

But, when an entrepreneur also wants to have a family, the juggling act can get overwhelming – at times even out of control.

For me, the health of my family comes first, but that often means I put my own needs by the wayside. I hit major burnout a few times in these early years of parenthood after letting the candle burn at both ends a bit too long. Running two businesses while creating a new magazine and raising a spirited baby-then-toddler became more than I could handle. After some time, I recognized that I needed to put a few things in place to help me manage the load (and eliminate some things from my plate altogether).

My system is far from perfect, but these are the tips that have helped me regain some balance:

12 Tips for Parent/EntrepreneurS

1. Sit down weekly to plan.

Spontaneity can be a good thing, but life can unravel quickly when you fly by the seat of your pants a bit too much. When you take some time to sit down and look at the calendar, you can get a good overview of how your time is balanced in the upcoming week, and where you’ll fit in your workout/outdoor time, family time and meal prep on top of your workload.

2. Synchronize your calendars.

Whichever platform you use (I use Google), a digital calendar allows you to synchronize between your devices and synchronize your calendars with other people. I share a calendar with my husband and a  calendar with my business partner. This allows me to maintain a good level of communication when things get busy, and it also helps me manage my family’s schedule overall because I can instantly see when we are all available or what’s in the books.

3. Buy a crock pot.

An odd one, I know, but seriously it’s a lifesaver. After a long day, whether I’m working or in full-time parenting mode, I find I’m usually feeling exhausted or scattered right around 5 p.m. The last thing I want to do is start cooking dinner. With the crock pot, I can prepare most of the meal in the morning, when I have energy. My particular model has timers and a “keep warm” setting when the cooking is done. So satisfying.

4. Avoid the unnecessary.

This one sounds rather obvious, but I find I often get caught up in the “urgent + unimportant” and “not urgent + unimportant” quadrants (if you’ve never used the Do, Decide, Delegate or Delete method, check out this post). Ideally, tasks should get broken down into these quadrants to help you identify what you can simply delegate to someone else or eliminate altogether.

5. Don’t try to do it alone.

Neither of our businesses – both media and photography – are run by a single person. There is power in partnering up for many reasons: you share the load and the responsibility, you can work according to your strengths and eliminate items from your list that you simply don’t enjoy doing. Yes, this involves some financial output, but if you can swing it, bringing some assistance on board, or going into business with a suitable partner, can be key assets in helping you manage the load.

6. Turn off notifications.

Most notifications are totally unnecessary and I promise they will distract you from what you’re trying to accomplish. I recently read it takes 25 minutes to regain your focus after giving in to one of these distractions. Productivity aside, I noticed I felt less stress when I shut down my notifications and wasn’t tempted by the small bits of information appearing each minute on my phone. It also keeps me more focused and attentive in my meetings and social engagements.

Sometimes my "media fasts" look like this. One day in the great outdoors is enough to refuel me for a week or two. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

Sometimes my “media fasts” look like this (see #10). One day in the great outdoors is enough to refuel me for a week or two and provide me with new perspective. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

7. USE Wunderlist.

This one also made it onto my list of productivity tools for writers. For me this app goes far beyond the writing business. We use it for all of our businesses and as a family, too. Having the ability to share specific lists with specific people, and to categorize them into folders keeps me organized and helps me to clear the clutter from my brain. The ‘Quick Add’ feature on the desktop version allows me to add an item without interrupting my workflow. Gold, I tell you.

8. Prioritize.

This one goes back to our quadrants from #4, but let’s go deeper. Priorities need to be made on a daily basis because life is constantly changing. A task that may seem important one day can be eliminated the next. I frequently scroll through my Wunderlist to look for items that can be *starred* as important or deleted. I also use the 80/20 rule when I’m looking for items to bump up or down the list.

9. Just ask.

My daughter is in part-time daycare, but I live far from family (and, as I say, help I don’t have to ask or pay for). There are times that Paul is travelling for work, or we’re both in crunch time on a project, or someone is sick (you name the reason) and I simply need to reach out for help. Now we schedule visits more regularly from grandparents or set up a few hours when someone else can take care of the little one. When I try to be Superwoman, I crash – big time.

10. Go on a media fast.

Each week, I pick one day to go on a media fast. What this means for me is no checking emails or social media for the entire day. (Since text messages have largely replaced phone calls now, it’s difficult to cut those out, but I cut out work-related texting on those days.) My media fast days usually line up with a weekend day when I’m with my family, which ensures quality time together. I’d like to try to add a second day during my regular working days to increase my productivity level in other aspects of my work. Once you get over the initial urges to ‘check in’, it feels so good to be disconnected.

11. Choose to unitask.

I am becoming more and more convinced that multitasking is much less productive than choosing a task and seeing it through before moving on. I have also heard that you’re not actually multitasking so much as toggling between tasks quickly. This working style makes me feel scattered and stressed. Eckhart Tolle writes about this in The Power of Now – about finding calm and peace in the present moment by focusing wholeheartedly on a task, even if it’s making a cup of coffee. If you find you’ve got 10+ tabs open in your web browser and you’re flip-flopping between tasks, take a minute to assess what your focus should be.

12. Finished is better than perfect.

This has been my mantra this year, and I have grown to love it. I am certainly still on the perfectionist end of the spectrum, but being a parent has certainly taught me that I simply can’t always finish things because my time is not always my own. There have been many times in the past few months that I have resisted the urge to go that extra mile, provide feedback or tweak something myself. It’s not to slack off; it’s being realistic and practical when I have so many things demanding my time and attention.

The bottom line is to create more time in our lives by sloughing off the unnecessary. If anything is truly urgent, it will present itself again. Keeping our priorities in check helps us to quickly determine how to expend our energy and worktime, and retains some quality, stress-free time to spend with family.

Resources in this article: 

What tips do you have for managing the work-family-life balance? Let me know in the Comments below!