Overcoming the Mom-Life Crisis: Ditch the Guilt by Nina Restieri (Book Excerpt)

Excerpted from Overcoming the Mom-Life Crisis: Ditch the Guilt, Put Yourself on the To-Do List, and Create A life You Love by Nina Restieri, courtesy of Post Hill Press.


Chapter 11: Secret Weapons

All there is to do, right at this very moment, is to breathe in, breathe out, and kiss the joy as it flies.

—Dani Shapiro


Andrew got into the car and let his backpack drop to the floor. He slammed the car door shut. “I hate everyone,” he muttered. Translation: I’m in a shitty mood, and there’s nothing you or anyone else can do to make me happy right now.

“What happened?” I asked, though I suspected I already knew the answer.

He’d taken a test that day, and I also knew he’d had an audition for the school musical. My heart sank for him. He was a junior in high school, and his grades and theater were all that really mattered to him, not just because of his self-image, but because of his college transcript.

“My teacher is so stupid,” he said. “None of the stuff she told us to study for was on the test. There goes my A average in that class. And on my transcript. I can basically forget about college.”

Andrew, I should mention, was prone to catastrophizing.

“You always do better than you think you did on tests,” I reminded him.

We’d had this conversation hundreds of times over the years, and no matter how convinced he was of his failings, he always did well in school.

He ignored me and continued with his diatribe. “Then I had my audition, and it was a disaster,” he said. “Disaster! My voice sounded so bad. The choreography was totally confusing, and I couldn’t get the dance moves. I’ll be lucky if I get a part in the chorus.” Andrew was confident in his acting skills but less so in his singing and dancing.

“The chorus is stupid!” he went on. “I’ll be invisible. There’s no point. It’s ridiculous. There’s no reason to be in the musical if I’m in the chorus. I should just quit theater. I’m not that good, and I don’t know why I even try.” Catastrophizing again. His anxiety, always a concern of mine, was spiraling out of control.

I tried talking him through his various issues. He tended to assume the worst, but his grades were excellent. And despite several self-described “bad” auditions, he’d gotten a significant role in every play he tried out for.

He shook his head and rolled his eyes, disagreeing with me. Apparently, I was stupid too. I knew there was nothing I could say. He was stuck, as though he’d fallen into a hole and couldn’t claw his way out. He’d always been that way, a kid who had a hard time finding his own way out of his own difficult feelings.

When Andrew was a baby, he cried and cried. I still don’t know, to this day, if his stomach hurt or his teeth hurt or what was really wrong with him. At the time I tried everything I could think of to soothe him. His response to the pacifier was to throw it across the room. Distraction with a book or a toy was futile.

One day while cooking dinner, I picked him up and held him, nearly crying myself from frustration and lack of sleep and the sadness I felt at not being able to soothe my child. Mariah Carey happened to be on the radio. Coincidentally, the song was called “Always Be My Baby.” As I bounced him gently along to the music, “Do do do, do…do do do, do do, do do…,” I noticed that he was starting to calm down. I danced a little bit, swaying him back and forth. Still sniffling, he rubbed his eyes with his chubby little hand.

After just a minute or so his crying stopped, and he rested his head on my chest, his eyes getting heavy. I kept bouncing and swaying, just letting myself move gently to the song. Soon he was sound asleep.

After that, music became my go-to when Andrew became inconsolable. He responded well to Mariah Carey, so I bought the latest CD and started playing it in the house. All I had to do was pick him up and start dancing with him to the music, and he’d calm down almost immediately. Sometimes he’d even fall asleep.

And so it began. Andrew’s secret weapon is music. Studying musical theater had helped to expand his repertoire beyond Mariah Carey hits, and eventually he grew to favor classic Broadway show tunes.

That day as he was on his tear about his terrible audition, I pulled the car over, took my iPhone out of my bag, and found a playlist on Spotify. I scrolled through until I found what I was looking for. I made sure my Bluetooth was connected and hit play. Soon the music filled our car, and Kelly Clarkson belted it out like Ethel Merman on steroids.

I looked at Andrew and smiled. His whole face softened as he let his head relax against the headrest, closed his eyes, and let the song fill up his body. He knew exactly what I was doing, and, best of all, he let it work.

By the end of the song his mood had transformed. He created a catastrophe when he felt vulnerable or uncertain, but it was self-created, all in his head, and not related to the reality of what was true in his life. All he needed was a quick hit of his secret weapon to get out of his head and into a mental space where he could think rationally again.

(And by the way, Andrew got a leading role in that show and aced the test that day.)

Secret Weapons Explained

We can practice being strategic about our self-care, but sometimes life gets in the way and we get stuck. When our usual methods fail, secret weapons are there as a backup. For baby Andrew, that Mariah Carey song was a secret weapon. What is a secret weapon? It’s a tool we can use to practice quick, effective self-care, anytime, anywhere.

Think of a baby who cries when she’s uncomfortable. What do you do to soothe her? Each baby is different, but most parents know which methods work with each child to stop the tears. You, too, can soothe yourself when you’re uncomfortable, or anxious, or sad, or away from home, or just in need of a boost. You need not be crying like a six-month-old to use your secret weapon. Like Andrew’s show tunes, it makes you feel good no matter where you are or what you’re doing.

There are as many ways to soothe ourselves as there are people on this planet. As an introvert, I favor methods that tend to be more calming and inward-focused. Yours might be more outward-focused, such as going out to a party. You might love the distraction of a true crime podcast. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to secret weapons. It’s all about what works for you, what helps you flip the switch when you’re not feeling your best.

These are a few of my favorite secret weapons, but please don’t limit yourself to this list:

  1. Breathe

It seems so simple, but breathing is one of the best secret weapons that exists. I’m talking about conscious breathing, with focused attention on the inhale and exhale. Focusing on breathing in and out does wonders for your mind and provides near-instant calm. When you’re feeling calm, you can respond, rather than react, to whatever external circumstances are occurring.

  1. Use Affirmations

Giving yourself peace of mind can be as easy as taking control of your thoughts. Using a positive affirmation can be helpful in anchoring your thoughts when your mind is like a runaway train, going full speed in the wrong direction. Over time, if you repeat an affirmation often enough, your subconscious mind will actually start to believe it. In this way, you can begin to create the reality you wish to have in your life.

Using an affirmation is easy. You simply need to commit to it. Write it on a Post-it note or on a note on your phone, or in your day planner, and repeat it to yourself regularly throughout the day. You’ll quickly start to feel the benefits of this simple practice.

Here are a few affirmations I like and use regularly in my life:

Only good things are happening in my life. 

Everything is working out perfectly. 

I love, accept, and approve of myself. 

I have more than enough time to do everything I choose to do. 

I am more than enough. 

I am perfectly healthy in mind, body, and spirit. 

All my needs are met with ease. 

I am grateful for the abundance in my life. 

I trust my intuition to guide me at all times. 

I breathe and relax knowing the universe supports me. 

I am powerful and strong.

  1. Listen to Music

“Without music, life would be a mistake,” said Nietzsche, confirming my own deep suspicion.

I have Spotify playlists designed for every mood. The most important one, by far, is my recovery playlist. That’s the one I listen to when I’m feeling down or heartbroken or just in need of a boost. The songs are upbeat and catchy takes on girl power, lots of Madonna and Britney and Beyonce. Music is one of my favorite secret weapons because it has the ability to change my mood almost instantaneously.

It turns out that there’s scientific evidence that supports my theory that music has the ability to improve mood despite trying external circumstances. The reason: music causes the brain to release dopamine, a chemical that causes our bodies to be flooded with good feelings. Dopamine is also released during sex, or when eating, taking drugs, and gambling, among other activities. It’s a feel-good drug that comes from deep within your own body. We’re wired to derive intense pleasure and good feelings from music, as evidenced by the fact that music has held an important place in cultures worldwide, since the dawn of history.

Don’t deprive yourself of this important source of pleasure. Make yourself a playlist that moves you so this secret weapon is always ready when you need it.

  1. Move Your Body

Moving your body is one of the most surefire secret weapons in your arsenal. And you can tap into it no matter who you are. Studies show that when you move your body and get your blood flowing, you feel good. That’s because moving your body causes your brain to produce endorphins. Endorphins, also known as “nature’s painkillers,” cause you to feel euphoric and combat feelings of stress. Endorphins are the reason we feel clearheaded and happy after even just twenty minutes of walking or running.

Even dancing will improve your mood. Studies have shown that dancing even for just five minutes elevates happiness levels. Dancing activates our pleasure centers to make us feel good instantaneously. Dancing can also provide an emotional release, a cathartic letting go of emotions that are pent-up in the body. It can release as happiness, or for some people, it can make them cry. When dancing is done purely for pleasure, not for performance, it can be a powerful means of accessing your deeper emotions and expressing them.

So, when you have a moment of feeling down, try moving your body for a few minutes. Science says your mood will improve significantly as a result.

  1. Get Outside

Getting outside and spending time in nature, also known in some cultures as “forest bathing,” is another instant secret weapon, lowering our stress levels and increasing our happiness levels almost instantaneously. We intuitively know that being out in nature makes us happy, but why?

Studies show that being outside in natural environments lowers cortisol levels, which are a key marker of stress, and that walks in nature are associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety. In addition, natural daylight helps raise your serotonin levels (feel-good chemicals), helping you naturally achieve a more positive mood. Getting outside for ten to twenty minutes a day can also help boost your memory and your immune function, so there are many reasons to make this one of your primary secret weapons.

  1. Get Cozy

Put things on your body that are soft, warm, and scrumptious, that make you feel pampered. My kids gave me an oversized, chunky knit cardigan sweater that I’ve put on nearly every day after work for the last fifteen years. Even the softest cotton pajamas or sweatpants imaginable will work. Don’t settle for kinda soft…wait till you find the ones that are so soft, that make you feel so bathed in comfort, that you feel compelled to put them on every day.

One of my favorite perks of attending trade shows is shopping for beautiful treasures. Even when the show is for the trade only, vendors are often willing to sell the samples from their booth at the end of the show. At one of the first trade shows I attended, I found a charcoal-gray cashmere blanket while visiting an Italian vendor who barely spoke any English. He took the folded blanket off the shelf, shook it open, and gently placed it around my shoulders. Oversized, the softness enveloped my entire body. I immediately felt calmer, seduced by the thick, rich feel of it. I envisioned days spent at the office, nights on my family room couch surrounded by family, and long plane rides wrapped up in the most delicious cashmere imaginable.

Needless to say, I negotiated the purchase and quickly became the proud owner of that blanket, and soon afterward it found a home draped over the back of the desk chair in my office. Every day after I dropped off the kids at school, I’d sit in my chair with my coffee, wrap my blanket around my shoulders, open up my laptop, and start my day. It didn’t matter what the temperature was. The blanket made me feel safe and comfortable and cozy.

I don’t like flying. So I always bring my cashmere blanket on the plane. It’s one of several secret weapons that makes the experience tolerable for me. If you ever run into me on a plane, I guarantee the blanket will be wrapped around my shoulders or draped over my legs, making me feel warm and safe and cozy. I actually invested in an enormous new tote for traveling, to ensure my blanket will fit no matter what.

Last year, while my daughter, Jenna, was packing for an abroad study program three thousand miles from home, she asked if she could take my gray cashmere blanket. At first, I hesitated. I didn’t want to part with it! Nearly fifteen years after I found it at the trade show, that blanket is still my portable safe haven, and my most cherished secret weapon. But then I thought of how terrified Jenna must have been feeling at the prospect of traveling away from her family and friends to live all alone in a strange country. The blanket would provide her with the comfort and security she needed, as well as a reminder of home.

I loaned her my blanket, first eliciting her promise to return it in one piece. And then, when Christmas rolled around, I bought her very own blanket. Now that Jenna knows the importance of secret weapons, she’ll never be without her own.


Nina Restieri is the founder and president of momAgenda. Previously, she has spent time as an advertising executive, president of a family business, and as a stay-at-home mom.

She started momAgenda when her four kids were seven, five, three, and one, to create organizing products to help make moms lives easier. The diversified collection is sold at leading retailers and regional boutiques nationwide. Nina and momAGENDA have been featured on The Today show, The Early Show, MSNBC, in Real Simple, The New York Times, etc. Overcoming the Mom-Life Crisis is available for purchase on April 6, 2021.


Tags: , , , , , , ,