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8 calming techniques you and your kids can do together

Anxious about the news? Try these stress-reducing exercises you and the kids can do together.

strategies for reducing pandemic anxiety

If you're more anxious than ever, you're not alone. We're all coping with a lot right now—a surging global health crisis, an ongoing financial crisis and loads of uncertainty about everything from childcare to playdates. Makes sense that we're all keyed up.

Whether you have previous experience with anxiety (as many moms do) or this feeling is new to you (but a natural response to this stressful time), you may be wondering how you're supposed to manage your anxiety while keeping it together for your kids.

The good news is, if we choose, we can use this time to build our anxiety coping skills and come out more resilient than before.

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What is anxiety? Why is it so intense right now? I feel like my body is working against me.

Anxiety is actually designed to help us. Our bodies have a complex alert system to sense potential threats in our environment; anxiety is this system's signal that tells our brain: "Change detected!" so we can activate our fight-or-flight response.

But here's the thing: Right now, there's no one to fight, and nowhere for flight. So, what does our anxiety do when it can't convert itself into the energy to attack or flee? It just cycles in our body. Over and over again.

And if we don't change our relationship with anxiety, it can continue to torment our thinking, convince us of our helplessness, and come out as frustration.

Can't I just ignore my anxiety? Won't it eventually go away?

Here's a rule about anxiety: The more you avoid anxiety or will it to go away, the worse it becomes.

And here's why: Our body interprets avoidance as confirmation of danger, so the more energy we use to push anxiety away, the more our alert system activates and the more powerfully our anxiety springs back up.

To manage through this time, we need to shift our relationship with anxiety. We need to say to ourselves, "Anxiety is not my enemy. My anxiety is allowed to be there. I can tolerate my discomfort."

But how can I live around my anxiety right now? I have too much to do!

All the coping skills and breathing techniques in the world are only effective if you first do the following:

Acknowledge anxiety. Name your anxiety and locate it in your body if you can. Something like, "I am feeling anxiety right now. My heart is racing, which is a sign of my anxiety."

Validate anxiety. Tell yourself a story of why your anxiety makes sense. Something like, "Our body interprets changes as threats… and wow, there have been so many changes! Makes sense that I'm feeling so anxious."

Give yourself permission to have anxiety. It's okay to have space for these feelings. Say to yourself, "I give myself full permission to be feeling anxious." Maybe add onto that, "Anxiety is not my enemy. It's my very loud friend."

I promise, these are not just touchy-feely steps. We cannot regulate a feeling until we first name it, make sense of it and allow it to be there. And here's a secret—these three steps actually become a large percentage of coping. They'll help manage your anxiety before you start using any of the coping skills listed below.

Acknowledge, validate, permit… then cope.

What are some coping skills for anxiety that I can use right now—even in the midst of all the chaos in my home?

I'm dividing coping strategies into two categories: managing and skill-building. Managing strategies help when you have an anxiety surge. But skill-building is really where it's at because these tactics reduce the likelihood of anxiety surges in the first place. And we'd all like to have fewer anxiety fires, rather than just improving our ability to put the fires out.

Strategies for managing anxiety

1. Self-talk
Greet your anxious feeling to neutralize its power. Try out, "I see you, worried feeling. We will get through this because I'll keep talking to you." If you can put a gentle hand on your chest at the same time, even better.

This is a great method to teach an anxious child as well. For example, you might say, "Do you know that there's a Worry Girl inside each of us? If we say hi to her, like, 'Oh, hi, Worry Girl, I see you!' then she kind of chills out a bit. Let's keep our eye out for her." Teach your children that trying to drown out or ignore Worry Girl will make her scream even louder.

2. Deep breaths
This is a great activity to do with your children if they're in the room. Announce, "I'm thinking about all the changes in our life. I'm going to take 5 deep breaths. Want to join me?" Put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Breathe in deeply to your diaphragm and then purse your lips like you're holding a straw and blow out very slowly. Long outbreaths activate our calming-down response.

3. Ground yourself in the moment
Anxiety involves worrying about the future. Coping involves returning to the current moment. Announce to your kids, "Let's all pause what we are doing. Let's name items in the room that we see right now. I'll start." Then name physical items around you (a table, a rug, a slice of apple) or even name something about your body's position like, "My feet are pressed into the ground."

4. Find something you can control
When anxiety surges, we need to remind ourselves of our agency in the moment. Talk to yourself about what you can do. For example, you can practice social distancing, wash your hands, and disinfect after going to the grocery store. Remind yourself of other factors in your control: You can make chicken or pasta for dinner or you can watch the news or a funny TV show.

Skill-building strategies for anxiety

1. List your triggers
Make a list of triggers that tend to bring on your panic feelings. This list might include reading the news, talking to a friend who's big on doomsday predictions, dealing with squabbling kids or thinking about your family finances. Having this list helps you recognize what sets off your anxiety, so that you can tell yourself, "Ah, yes. Makes sense that I am feeling anxious right now. I know this situation tends to bring on these uncomfortable feelings." Learning more about how our anxiety works gives us a sense of control.

2. Schedule in worry time
While our anxiety needs acknowledgement, it also needs restrictions so it doesn't permeate every aspect of our life.

Schedule in 5 minutes of Worry Time at the top of every hour or two, at which point, say to your anxiety (yes, really speak to it!), "Worries, you're getting my full attention right now." Tell your kids that you need a few minutes in the bathroom, grab a notebook and record your worried thoughts and feelings.

At the end of Worry Time, talk to your anxiety again: "Okay, worries, our time is up for now. I'm going back to my kids. Only 55 minutes until I give you my full attention again!" Take a few deep breaths. When your worries pop up again, remind them, kindly: "I hear you. I'll give you my full attention very soon." A compassionate attitude when talking to your anxiety is key in making Worry Time effective.

3. Record 5 "Manageable Moments" per day
A Manageable Moment might be as simple as, "While eating my cereal this morning, all felt okay," or "Got though bath time with my kids." Remind yourself that even in the midst of a crisis, there are moments when you feel capable. You might even predict that your future self will continue to find Manageable Moments as the weeks go on.

4. Anticipate + plan for "no end in sight" thoughts
Anxiety exists when uncertainty about the future is coupled with your underestimation of your ability to cope. Catch yourself worrying about coping in the future and gently come back to now.

Tell yourself, "Ah there you are, future worried thoughts. Normal for you to arise. But I'm coming back to right now." Then remind yourself, "All at once, I don't need to get through anything that has no end in sight. I need to get through this next minute. Hour. That's all. And I can do that. Because I'm so strong."

You can say a version of this aloud with your children around, too: "I am so proud of this family for coping so well with all of these changes. Audrey, you are so strong. Landon, you are so strong. And me? I am so strong, too!"

You've got this. Because you're so strong.

This post was originally published March 2020; it has been updated.

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on www.comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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Errands and showers are not self-care for moms

Thinking they are is what's burning moms out.

A friend and I bump into each other at Target nearly every time we go. We don't pre-plan this; we must just be on the same paper towel use cycle or something. Really, I think there was a stretch where I saw her at Target five times in a row.

We've turned it into a bit of a running joke. "Yeah," I say sarcastically, "We needed paper towels so you know, I had to come to Target… for two hours of alone time."

She'll laugh and reply, "Oh yes, we were out of… um… paper clips. So here I am, shopping without the kids. Heaven!"

Now don't get me wrong. I adore my trips to Target (and based on the fullness of my cart when I leave, I am pretty sure Target adores my trips there, too).

But my little running joke with my friend is actually a big problem. Because why is the absence of paper towels the thing that prompts me to get a break? And why on earth is buying paper towels considered a break for moms?

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