11/24/2014 08:16 am ET Updated Jan 24, 2015

How to Save the Day and Avoid Dinnertime Drama

My kid was complaining about homework: "It's haarrrddd."

My husband had the vacuum going, a good thing to be sure, but a noisy one. And I was in the last 15 minutes of a deadline struggling to focus.

By the time I was done I felt on edge and irritable. I was tired of noise and complaints and pressure. I was just downright tired. And I let that intense energy spiral around me until I snapped at everyone.

Then I took a timeout.

Each day we are faced with plenty of challenging moments. Often one builds on another until our self-control is depleted and we feel wiped out. But our day isn't over just because we are. There is dinner to fix, clothes to wash, homework to help with -- or at least nag about -- and work to finish.

For many of us the end-of-the-day routine sets up the perfect storm of bad behavior. A coming together of people and energy and demands at a time when we've already been pushed by people and energy and demands and we just aren't into it anymore.

This is prime time for petty arguments, overcooked dinners, whining kids, and red wine. This is also the time when we can add to the stress with our bad behavior or pull on our big girl britches (otherwise known as sweats with an elastic waistband), take a swig (or two) of wine, and act like the heroines we are.

Shift to Something Better

I fancy myself heroic. I mean it's unlikely the people I live with would know what kale is, let alone have underwear to wear, if I weren't here to help. But, despite adhering to higher nutritional and hygienic standards, I've been told I can get a bit impatient and sarcastic and well, perhaps even snarky, at the end of the day.

It do get a little edgy when certain family members dump their pockets out on the kitchen counter where I'm preparing the fish dinner and other certain family members say that they aren't going to eat the fish anyhow so it doesn't matter if the keys and the screw found in the driveway are sitting next to it on the counter.

In these chippy moments, it's easy to let the negative vibes take over and fall into a pattern of fatigue-and-frustration-induced nagging, yelling, and complaining guaranteed to create enough drama to ruin dinner and probably the day.

Or we can shift the energy just enough to change the tone of the present moment and feel better.

Sometimes, on my best days, when I am my most evolved self, this is what I do. And I use some little life hacks, simple little things, to help me get through the upset before I create more.

How to Save the Day

1. Get away. Take a timeout. Got to a back bedroom and take a deep breath and if you do it a little huffy and dramatic like I do, people will be too afraid to come knocking on your door for the first five minutes. Usually that's all I need to turn it around. Just a breather.

2. Smile at the people who are making you crazy. First and foremost, a fake smile generally helps me keep my mouth closed so I'm less likely to say all the things I'm thinking. But, research by Robert Zajonc in the '80s, and others since, shows that when we activate those smile muscles we actually feel better. Plus, smiling out of turn also keeps the grouchy people around you a little nervous.

3. Assume the Wonder Woman pose. Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy says a change in posture also changes our mood. Stand tall, feet wide, shoulders back, hands on your hips, a la Wonder Woman and you're likely to feel more confident. Now, if you want to don a little star-spangled banner leotard and a cape and crown, that would probably go a ways toward changing the mood in the kitchen too.

4. Turn down the lights. Bright lights cab intensify our moods and dim lights tend to diffuse the intensity, according to new research led by Alison Xu. So, when things are heating up, turn down the lights.

5. Turn on music. Some days call for Wilson Phillips Hold On, others a little Happy or Shake it Off. Some days Patsy Cline's Crazy does the trick. Whatever it is, change the dynamic in the room by putting on some music that inspires, calms, or just plain old makes you feel good. From the time our daughter was a baby she could be soothed by music, and it works for most of us. In this house you'll hear everything from heavy metal to classical, and it always changes the tone of things around here.

*portions of this post appeared at