Life is full of stressors. These stressors can be found in both our personal lives and at our workplaces, and as a young mother they may seem more prevalent in your life then in that of your child-less friends. Even though you might not realize it, these stressors could be impacting your overall health.
According to the Mayo Clinic, stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. They also state that stress can not only affect your body but also your thoughts, your feelings and your behavior. As a mother you know you cannot afford any down time for illness. So thankfully, if you are able to recognize these common stress symptoms, then you can get a jump on managing them.
Common Effects of Stress on Your Body
• Sleep problems (with children, babies especially, who can afford any more sleep issues?)
• Stomach upset
• Muscle pain or tension
• Chest pain
Common Effects of Stress on Your Mood
• Lack of motivation and/or focus
Common Effects of Stress on Your Behavior
• Angry outbursts (yelling at your child for silly reasons then feeling guilty later)
• Undereating or overeating
• Social withdrawal
• Alcohol or drug abuse
• Use of tobacco
Many of these possible negative health consequences can be reduced by finding healthy and positive ways to manage stress as it occurs. Here are five things you can try to help reduce your stress levels.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), exercise is considered vital for maintaining mental fitness as well as physical fitness, and it can reduce stress. They state that studies show that exercise is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. Basically, when your body feels better, so does your mind. The ADAA goes on to say that for the biggest benefits of exercise you should try to include at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity (e.g. brisk walking) each week, 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity (such as jogging or swimming laps), or a combination of the two.
Purchase a jogging stroller for your younger children and set a time during the day to go for a run or brisk walk. When/if your child is older they can join you on their bike or scooter, or even run/walk along with you. In the summer many public pools offer swimming classes that you can take with your baby/toddler or an open swim for only a couple of dollars per person. You could even play catch or shoot hoops with your child, or be more involved in their play at the park instead of sitting on the bench to get in a little more exercise.
2. Loosen Up
You may notice that when you are stressed your whole body tightens up. This is because your body feels the impact that stress has on your brain’s many nerve connections. Meditation, yoga, acupuncture, massage therapy, and bubble baths are a great way to help your body unwind a little. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “meditation and mindful prayer help the mind and body to relax and focus. Mindfulness can help people see new perspectives, develop self-compassion and forgiveness. When practicing a form of mindfulness, people can release emotions that may have been causing the body physical stress.”
As a mother, a little alone time once in a while goes a long way. Arrange for someone to watch your child(ren) for an hour or so at least once every few weeks to take some time to unwind. Go to the spa and get a massage, or get your hair done at your local salon. Take the time to sit in a warm bath and wash your worries away. When you can’t be alone, include your child. Teach them to meditate and breathe, or purchase a yoga for children video that you can do together. Learning to relax now will only benefit your child(ren) in the future.
3. Talk it Out
One of the best tools a person has for managing stress is his or her social network. Share what’s going on with someone close to you. Talking face to face works best, but over the phone is okay too. Try and avoid texting or emails when reaching out, as it is harder to read reactions that way. Sometimes talking about what is bothering you will give you a new perspective on the situation, and whomever you are communicating with may have some helpful insight on how to deal with the situation. If nothing else you will let off some steam. The APA recommends that the person whom you talk to is someone you trust and you feel can understand and validate you. It may not alleviate your stress if you share your woes with someone who can be considered a stressor in your life.
We have all heard that “laughter is the best medicine,” and in a way it’s true! According to WebMD, a good belly laugh will lower cortisol, your body’s stress hormone, and boost brain chemicals called endorphins, which help your mood. So maybe when you find someone to talk it out with (see above), choose someone who knows how to make you laugh out loud. Including your child in this can be very therapeutic for both of you. Put on your favorite sitcom or funny movie or read your favorite comics together.
5. Take Care of Yourself
Mothers are always putting themselves in last place. They tend to put their husband’s or significant other’s and children’s care before their own. It is important to remember that you take care of yourself as well. You should try eating nutritious meals regularly, and limit your intake of foods that are high in caffeine and sugar – as these can aggravate stress. Also, make sure that you are getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Good nutrition and a good night’s sleep will help provide you with the energy you need to combat stress and take on the day.
Every person handles stress differently. What works well for one person may not work as well for another when it comes to stress management. It may take some experimenting and time to find out what works best for you personally. It may be one of these things, or it may take all of them, and that is okay. The only wrong way is to do nothing at all.
If you are still feeling stressed and don’t know where to turn, it is okay to seek help from a professional. They may be able to provide you with the tools and information that you need to help you cope through the difficult times.