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15 keys to happiness for overwhelmed, overburdened parents

Many parents report feeling overwhelmed by a relentless stream of obligations and pressures. How can we feel happier and be our best selves?
/ Source: TODAY

You are not alone! Many, many parents report feeling overwhelmed and overburdened by a relentless stream of obligations and pressures. We all try to do the best we can — but how can we be our best selves?

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Thankfully, the TODAY Parenting Team is here to help. In our latest “Get Happy!” challenge, we asked TODAY Parenting Team contributors to share strategies for managing chaos and feeling happy — and so many great tips have come in that we might need to round them up in two installments!

Please feel free to join in this ongoing conversation by becoming a member of our team, and stay connected to TODAY Parents updates on our Facebook page. If you’ve got other insights and strategies to share, we’d really love to hear them! Here are some highlights from what’s come in so far:

1. Act like a little kid. (Angie Goff)

Family plays in a ball pit
Remember to play and be silly together!Courtesy of Angie Goff

“When a giant ball pit came to Washington I think I was more excited than my kids. In fact I was the first to jump in! As parents we are programmed to be the authoritative voice, the rule maker and all too often the serious one. Look for ways to be a kid again. For instance, every now and then we do "backwards dinner". That's where we go out for dessert first then follow up with supper. Try coloring too ... it's actually pretty therapeutic and they now have several books just for adults!”

2. Re-gain perspective by getting enough sleep. (Jill Morgenstern)

“I’m lousy at getting enough sleep, but people can’t really do without it any better than they can do without food, water or air. The studies keep showing that we’re happier and healthier with more rather than less. So hit the sack already! And remind me I’m supposed to be asleep too, would you?”

3. Hang out with your girlfriends more often. (Jennifer Lizza)

Girlfriends being silly together
See why getting together with girlfriends is such a good thing to do?Courtesy of Jennifer Lizza

“They make you laugh and if for some reason you are going to cry, they will hug you and give you wine. They understand you. They love you for who you are; not who you think you should be. Be silly with them. Be there for them. Life is so much better when you surround yourself with people who get you.”

4. View exercise as a mini-vacation. (Lisa Maxwell)

“This is a huge stress reliever for me. I literally run away from my problems. ... I listen to music and have some time to zone out, by myself, and nothing else matters. I also love to do yoga — nothing like a good backbend to make you feel like you're young and yourself again!”

Lisa Maxwell and daughter
Lisa Maxwell views exercise as a major stress reliever.Courtesy of Lisa Maxwell

5. But don’t overthink exercise or make it too complicated. (Angie Goff)

“Sometimes I go to the gym and I just row on the row machine with my eyes closed for 15 minutes. Then I'll spend another 15 doing more cardio or strength training weights. It's actually relaxing even though my body is working. Truth is, the exercise is never intense ... just enough to get the blood flowing. Even then, sometimes I just don't wanna go. Then I remind myself of one thing: ‘I'm just 30 minutes away from a better mood!’”

6. Remember that you’re a mom, not a martyr. (Danielle Campoamor)

Danielle Campoamor on beach with child
Live in the moment — and don't fill every single moment up with obligations.Courtesy of Danielle Campoamor

“Mothers need to be reminded that they cannot take care of anyone if they don’t take care of themselves first. Mothers need to be told that it is OK to be selfish. In fact, an act of selfishness could not only benefit them, but their entirely family. Mothers need to be reminded that their personal happiness will only aid their family, for it is their laughter and prosperity and exhilaration that can create an environment their family is sure to thrive in. Mothers need to be assured that having something outside of their families — a hobby, a career, baby-free friends, a moment of celebrated silence — is not only something that is vital to their mental and physical well-being, but something they just plain deserve.”

7. Abandon labels that bring you down. (Molly Jones)

“The key to any happy life is your ability to accept all things that come your way. This means ridding yourself of the ‘my 3-year-old should not be sleeping in our bed’ or the ‘it's 11 a.m., we really shouldn't still be in our jammies.’ Own it! Or change it! But don't waste your mental energy on the in between. ... Accept every situation for exactly what is (without the worry of how else you wish it was) and you can handle all of your mommy ups and downs with true peace.”

8. By going with the flow, you might get more done. (Chrissy K)

Toddler napping on mom
This mom might not have budgeted time for this snuggly nap — but isn't it important?Courtesy of Chrissy K

“It is hard to let go of our own agenda and goals for the day and let the needs of our children dictate what we accomplish. I have discovered that all the same responsibilities will await me the next day and when I allow the day to unfold organically, and with adjusted expectations, I accomplish everything I set out to do. It is opening up to a mindset that is in search of the positive, accepting of the challenges, and ready to celebrate all you can along the way. Sometimes the best parenting strategy is to be forgiving of yourself.”

9. Start your day with peace. (Lisa Maxwell)

“I get up 20 minutes before everyone else, so I start my day with 20 minutes of peace! I need this time to check my email, drink my coffee, remind myself what our crazy schedule is like for the day and just breathe before all the morning chaos and the house goes crazy with socks, shoes and backpacks we can't find. (Yeah, the struggle is real.)”

10. Make laundry duty less of a grind. (Amanda Mushro)

“Cut down on laundry sorting by throwing everyone’s socks in a mesh bag. Toss the bag in the washer and dryer and finally solve the mystery of where do missing socks go. Are you thinking, ‘I just did all this laundry and now I have to put it away?’ Yes, you do, but I’m going to show you how to hang clothes in record time.”

11. Remember how important it is to laugh. (Jennifer Lizza)

“Because if you don’t laugh you will cry, and crying is just not a daily option over laughter.”

Mom laughing and being silly with son
Just as a captain sets the tone for the ship, parents set the tone for their families.Courtesy of Jennifer Lizza

12. “Get it on!” (Lisa Maxwell)

“Yes, in the words of Marvin Gaye, take time and get it on! Nothing like the best cardio ever to de-stress you! Sex is a natural stress reliever, so why not? Share the stress, bond with your partner, get under the covers and get busy! It’s a win-win!”

13. Live in the moment and embrace the concept of “mindfulness.” (Jill Morgenstern)

“Ignore the fact that it’s a buzzword these days. What it really means is that your toddler is one up on you: he or she is naturally mindful without practice. It’s the reason toddlers’ tantrums are so very relentless. The moment where there is no cookie in a toddler's hand is the ONLY moment there is. After dinner does not exist. Next week does not exist. Three minutes from now does not exist. Toddlers can wholly focus on the missing cookie for as long as the cookie-less condition lasts. It makes them VERY effective in wearing down grown-ups.”

14. Keep learning from your kids — they can teach you a lot. (Molly Jones)

Mom getting kiss from little girl
Moments like this one matter. Other things do not.Courtesy of Angie Goff

“Watch them and then model your behavior after theirs. They are so carefree and are naturally present in all that they do. They have no worries about what others will think and no expectations of how things should be. They just live. Be more like your kids and happiness will be your way of life.”

15. Be comfortable! (Amanda Mushro)

“Take some time for yourself to relax. Maybe do some yoga, or just wear yoga pants. To be honest, both make me feel really zen.”

Follow writer Laura T. Coffey on Twitter @ltcoff and Google+.