I have a confession to make — one I’m sure that many parents can identify with, though they may not choose to vocalize it. I secretly enjoy the few times a year I get to travel for work. My story might be different if I traveled all the time. As life stands right now, I relish the thought of spending a few hours alone in my car, a few nights with a hotel room all to myself, and freedom from the tasks that come with having school-aged children (helping with homework, fixing lunches, bath- and bedtime routines). Adhering to my schedule, rather than my family’s, is also a refreshing change. Plus, it makes reunion with my family and appreciation for our routines all the more precious upon my return.
That being said, traveling for work is not relaxing in the least. It’s early mornings and late nights, with little opportunity to fit in exercise or keep to healthy eating habits. (The same can be said for family vacations. As I like to remind my husband, “We don’t go on vacation to save money or lose weight.”) What’s a writer to do when the conference press room offers limitless amounts of coffee, soda, chips, candies, pretzels, and granola bars? Take advantage, of course! Switching to half caff in the middle of the day and eating more granola bars than candy bars are half-hearted attempts to stop fueling myself with so much junk.
Once I return to my home to my regular work and home routines, I find that I’m sleep-deprived and not at all pleased with how clothes are fitting. What’s a busy working mom to do? How can I keep it together, mentally and physically, while meeting deadlines, making dinner, and keeping up with the kids?
For me, it all boils down to energy and having enough of it. I am such a better person inside and out after a good night’s sleep. I realize I can no longer scoot by on six hours of sleep for days on end. Productivity plummets and I turn into an absolute grouch after 4 p.m. Seven hours is ideal, and eight is the Holy Grail. (The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults over 25 get seven to nine hours a night. I’d like to meet the lucky person who has the luxury of nine hours.)
That being said, I realize there will be more days than not that six hours of sleep will be about it. That’s certainly the number I was lucky to get during my most recent excursion for work. To help myself get reenergized afterwards, to get my body and mind back to some kind of normalcy, I made a few changes to my daily routine.
- Cut back on the coffee. Instead of drinking coffee throughout the day and evening, I scaled back to my typical two cups. (Life has still got to be worth living, ya know?)
- Drink lots of water throughout the day. I met a doctor recently who told me proper hydration is the key to keeping some of our most basic ills away, including the migraines I occasionally suffer from. To keep water consumption fun, my husband and I will sometimes embark upon a water challenge, where we compete for a week or two to see who can drink the most ounces. We’ve even gotten the kids involved. They especially enjoy writing everyone’s tally marks on our bathroom mirror.
- Cut back on processed foods; instead, opt for fresh fruits and vegetables, yogurts, and soups for that filled-up feeling. As I mentioned in my last blog, the typical foods a family of four consumes in this day and age will veer towards the boxed and pre-cooked varieties, which are filled with sodium, preservatives, and high-fructose corn syrup.
- Eliminate sodas, at least for a few weeks. Kicking my 4 p.m. Diet Coke habit for a while has not been as difficult as I imagined, especially when I can replace it with a glass of water that will help me beat my husband!
- Consider taking a multivitamin. I find that keeping a bottle of vitamins on the kitchen counter, rather than in a drawer or cabinet, helps me remember to take them.
- Get more sleep. This goes without saying, and often trickles down to the rest of the family. If I want to get 30 extra minutes, that means I need to back the kids’ bedtime up, too, which affects everyone’s routine starting the minute they get off the school bus. Strategy will be required.
- Aligned with above, try to eliminate or cut back on working after the kids go to bed. I often find myself catching up on tasks after 9 p.m. that I couldn’t get to during normal working hours. This sometimes results in trouble falling asleep due to my mind swirling with tomorrow’s to dos. If evening work is inevitable, try to sneak in at least 15 relaxing minutes with a good book before bed.
- Avoid eating out for a week or two. Chances are you’ve had your fill of fast food and restaurant fare after traveling, so you’re probably ready to enjoy saving money and home cooked meals.
I’m in the midst of implementing all of these suggestions (though I still haven’t figured out how to deal with the pile of laundry that always seems to be waiting for me upon my return). I’m hoping they’ll help reenergize you as well.