unclench yourself

When I think about 2016 and everything I want to accomplish, one word keeps popping up: UNCLENCH.

I do not have a to-do list of my dream online publications, an upcoming novel, or even a set of attainable blog goals. When I say “everything I want to accomplish,” I really mean what I want to do for myself, or what I want to undo, for that matter.

I need to unclench.

This term comes from a physical need for me to literally stop clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth – something I do when I’m stressed out and overwhelmed. It causes terrible headaches and jaw pain, something I haven’t experienced since before I had kids, when I was stressed out about spending every day of my foreseeable future in a dismal and uninspiring (for me) job. I left that job when I had twins and entered a whole different kind of stress. But the jaw pain was gone, because I was free.

The second half of 2015 was hectic and mostly unenjoyable for me. I took on too much – my own fault, because in foresight, I said, “Why not?” but in hindsight, I say “WTF was I thinking?” I have been unorganized and scatterbrained. I had to let a lot of things that had previously been important to me slide: writing, blogging, laundry (only important if you take into account the fact that clothing is, in fact, a must).

In 2016 something has to change. I know things need to come off my plate, or #offthebeam, as Jen Hatmaker describes in her book For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards (affiliate link FYI), which I am about halfway through. In the first chapter, titled “Worst Beam Ever,” Jen says this:

Decide which parts are draining you dry. What do you dread? What are you including for all the wrong reasons? What parts are for approval? Is there anything you could delegate or hand off? Could you sacrifice a Good for a Best? Throw out every should or should not and make ruthless cuts. Go ahead. Your beam is too crowded. I know it.1

These decisions are harder than they sound. I want to meet my girlfriends for lunch once a month. I should be able to work in a once-a-month lunch, but the fact of the matter is, sometimes that once-a-month falls in a bad week. If I haven’t planned the rest of my week around it – or even if I have – sometimes things just come up. (Sidebar: Girlfriends, don’t give up on me. This doesn’t mean I won’t ever be able to meet up. I live for having lunch or coffee or even better, COCKTAILS with you. Just know that sometimes it won’t be possible. Also, know that I realize that I am not the sun around which your social events revolve, and my inability to participate in some events is harder on me than it is on you.)

I'm no room mom, but making it to my kids' class plays, our last kindergarten winter party and on some field trips is immensely important to me. I will make time for those.
I’m no room mom, but making it to my kids’ class plays, our last kindergarten winter party and on some field trips is immensely important to me. I will make time for those. Also, this picture is the perfect illustration of my life.

That’s just one example in what seems like thousands. But in thinking of my priorities and what must get done, some clear winners come out:

• I must make sure my family is taken care of and that there is food in the fridge and dinner on the table (at least a few times a week I will actually cook said dinner) (maybe).

• I must be able to give my kids my undivided attention when they need it. They don’t always need it, because the three of them often come straight home from school and head straight out onto the trampoline. But every once in a while, our kids do little things to show us that they need us now. We must listen to these little things. Sometimes those little things consist of a stream of consciousness fan fiction mashup of Star Wars and Ninja Turtles, in which BB8 is in love with April O’ Neil. I don’t get it either, but if it’s important to her, it’s important to me.

• I cannot go through every day with a headache from clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth.

• I must divide my time – and my brain – between work time and me time. It’s not healthy for any of us to think about work all of the time.

Those are just a few things that have come to the surface. And I know I cannot accomplish those few things with so many other things on my beam. I’ll figure it out. Sometimes the decision process is more agonizing than the actual decision, and I look back and think “Why was that so hard?” But right now it seems excruciating. I’ll be looking at my calendar and working out what can stay and what needs to go.

And I’m going to unclench.

Life goal: do more of this.
Life goal: do more of this.


  1. Jen Hatmaker, For the Love (Nelson Books, 2015), 7.

Join the Conversation


  1. That last picture: sigh. Your Unclench sounds like it’s coming at a great time. We can’t have all cylinders firing at the same time – something has to give. For me it’s usually my resolve to geteverythingdone. Happy 2016, friend.

  2. Totally hear you! Wishing you the best! Dani Johnson’s Time Secrets has been immensely valuable for me in making headway prioritizing. I went from working 40-60 hours a week to putting my G-D first, my husband second, my kids third, and my work next and it has made SO much difference. (for the good)

  3. I have a physical thing that I do too when stressed. I hold my shoulders up close to my ears. There are many times a day when I have to do a “shoulder check”. LOL. I think as mothers and women we have a tendency to do this – take on too many things. I am glad you recognize that for your well being (and your family’s) you can let go of some of those things…


    Happy New Year!

  4. I hope the unclenching is going well. It’s so damn hard to strike the right balance sometimes. Side note: I would like to take a nap in that cozy-looking blanket next time I’m in TX, thanks.

  5. I remember you sharing this word when I asked on Facebook…I’m just now catching up with my inbox stuffed from two full weeks of holiday negligence.

    I enjoyed my family and food and fun and didn’t worry about the wide world.
    Now as I look at my email, jaw clenched (of course!) I will think of this post and try to breathe.

    Just breathe, dammit.
    (Did that sound clenchy?)

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