Feeling stressed? Overwhelmed with life? Being a mom is hard work. Whether you work outside the home or inside the home there are so many things that constantly cause us stress. In order to not become incredibly overwhelmed we need to look out for our own health – mentally, emotionally and physically. When we are under stress (anger, anxiety, fear, etc) our body produces a hormone called cortisol.
Cortisol is a part of the fight-or-flight reflex within our body. It shuts down nonessential functions to focus on fighting the immediate physical threat. It also breaks down tissue to provide the necessary energy for fighting that threat. When cortisol levels are constantly high and the threat is more psychological, rather than physical, it can be challenging to keep those levels down where it is not continuously doing damage to our bodies.
“Too much cortisol for too long can have negative effects. The tissue breakdown, reduced protein synthesis and conversion of protein to glucose can decrease musculature and increase abdominal fat. It also suppresses levels of growth hormone and sex hormones, which can reduce libido and fertility. It lessens glucose usage and increases blood levels potentially predisposing to diabetes and its effects on calcium can increase osteoporosis.”
DNAfit gives a much more in depth explanation of the effects of cortisol on the body.
Too much cortisol can also disrupt sleep, promote anxiety and depression, supress the digestive system, increase blood pressure and contribute to a weakened immune system. This is why when we are under large amounts of stress we tend to get sick more often.
There are so many different ways to relax, destress, and lower those cortisol levels.
Getting daily exercise can be a huge help. When you start exercising and your heart rate goes up, endorphins (our own personal happy drug) are released. This triggers a positive feeling in the body and decreases your cortisol levels. Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that “Studies show that it [exercise] is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.”
There is such a variety of types of exercise that there is something for everyone.
Walking/ Running/ Jogging
Getting outside to breathe fresh air and go for a walk, or run, is great way to destress. It can give you a chance to think and clear your head, away from the environment that is causing the stress.
Walking, also helps your body loosen up tight muscles that we tend to carry when we are stressed. Walking is also beneficial for healing from a variety of injuries.
Some other forms of exercise are:
- Yoga/ Thai Chi
- Aerobics/ Dancing/ Fitness class
- Circuit training
- Floor exercises
Change Your Environment
If you’re at home all day, get up and go outside, go for a walk around the block or just into your yard.
Split up your errands so you have reasons to break up your day and leave the house. When you’re at work get up and have a drink of water and stretch. Some jobs may not allow for random breaks so use some of your lunch break to go for a quick walk, or at least get outside (if you work indoors) and get some fresh air.
Whatever you are doing, make a point of changing your environment throughout the day to give yourself a stress break. As a stay at home mom it can be really easy to go multiple days without getting out of the house, especially in the winter. If you need to, start scheduling in times where you go do something different. Getting out with the kids is a great way for everyone to have a change of environment. A big dose of fresh air before naps or bedtime is helpful for relaxing and falling asleep (adults and children).
If bedtime is a stressful time for your family, try getting out and going for a 15-20 minute walk after dinner before you get ready for bed.
It helps parents calm down after a possibly stressful day, It lets the littles get the last of their energy out, and helps everyone sleep better at night.
Once you’ve practiced, meditating can be incredibly useful and only takes a couple minutes to restore some inner peace.
Meditation is about getting a healthy sense of perspective and learning to observe your thoughts and feelings without judgement, not to turn them off. There are many different types of meditation. Just like any other skill, it takes a lot of practice to become good at meditating but, it is incredibly rewarding in the end.
Headspace gives a good explanation of mindfulness – “The quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment — free from distraction or judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them. We train in this moment-to-moment awareness through meditation, allowing us to build the skill of mindfulness so that we can then apply it to everyday life.”
The two main types of meditation are focused-attention and open-monitoring.
Focused-Attention Meditation, also called concentrative meditation, is when you are focusing on one single object. This can be internal or external. A couple examples of objects that can be focused on are: repeating a mantra, focusing on your chest rising and falling with every breath, watching a flame on a candle, or listening to a gong or chi.
Open-Monitoring Meditation is when the meditator focuses on awareness of the feelings, thoughts, or sensations that are currently present in their body, with the goal of being nonjudgmental.
Pocket mindfulness offers a more in depth explanation of these two types of meditation.
Read a Book
Reading a book is a great way to temporarily forget about the stressors of your life and into another universe. When you are actively reading a book you’re generally not thinking about what you have to do tomorrow, or how stressful your day was. You’re concentrating on the characters and story within the book. Reading a book can be a great way to let your body, and mind, have a break from real life.
Get a Hobby
Having a hobby you enjoy can help distract you from the stressors of your life. Some evidence shows that having a hobby can contribute to good health and leave you in a better mood for multiple hours after that activity. Whether you enjoy cooking/ baking, art, building/ constructing, or photography, it all helps. It gives you a break from thinking about life and focus on something positive.
Have a Bath
Taking minimum 15 min to sit in a warm bath has many health benefits that most are not aware of. Not only does it give you a chance to be by yourself, and not worry about the dishes piling up or the clothes needing to be folded, it also improves your overall health.
Submerging yourself in a warm (not hot) bath helps your heart beat faster, giving it a healthy workout. As your heart beats faster your oxygen intake can be improved and the steam helps to clear your sinuses and chest. Being in the water can reduce pain and inflammation on the body, as well as calm the nervous system.
Taking a hot bath can kill bacteria and improve immunity and thus relieving symptoms of the cold and flu.
Our bodies are 95% water and, along with drinking lots, it is also beneficial to our skin, hair, and eyes when we soak in it. We can enhance this by adding certain oils or minerals. You can also soak in a natural pool of water where those minerals are naturally occurring; think ocean, hot springs, lakes, rivers.
Everyone has heard the phrase “laughing is the best medicine”. You can’t feel anxious, angry, or sad when you are laughing. A good belly-aching laugh can relieve physical stress and tensions, leaving you feeling relaxed for up to 45 min afterwards.
Laughter improves your resistance to disease by decreasing stress hormones and increasing immune cells and infection fighting antibodies. Laughing improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against cardiovascular problems.
When we laugh our bodies release endorphins stimulating an overall sense of happiness and even temporarily relieving pain. It can help you let go and move on from confrontations by sharing a laugh, which diffuses the anger. Having a humorous perspective creates a psychological distance, which can help put your problems into perspective without holding on to the resentment, and feeling overwhelmed.
A study in Norway found those who did not laugh as often died sooner than those who had a strong sense of humor. It was particularly noticeable with those who are battling cancer.
Laughter is contagious, so surround yourself with other people who like to laugh and have a good time. It will benefit your emotional and mental health.
Some ways to include laughter into your life:
- Watch a funny show or movie – stand-up comedy is great for this
- Better yet, get out and go see a comedy show with some friends
- Read the funny pages
- Tell a good joke or funny story
- Have a game night with your friends
- Play with a pet
- Find a “laughter yoga” class
- Be silly with your kids
- Make time for fun activities with other people who make you laugh
Get Out in to Nature
Going for a walk, meditating, or just sitting in nature is more beneficial than doing the same in the city. The benefit of being in nature has been studied and proven many times showing the positive effects it has on our body, reducing stress, fear and anger. Even just looking at scenic pictures of nature has been reported to reduce stress.
Depending on where you live it can be difficult to get out into nature on a regular basis. Try finding a small green space, a garden, pond or water feature that you can go sit (or walk around). Put away the phone or any other technology and pay attention to nature’s sounds. Listen and focus on the birds, water, and wind in the trees and try to let your mind relax.
Some studies have shown that listening to nature sounds and bringing plants into your home (or workspace) can benefit you.
A study done within a hospital, where they added just one plant to each hospital room, showed a significant impact in combating stress and anxiety among the patients. Some even showed a reduction in mortality.
How much time do you need to spend in nature to help?
Just 20-30 min 3 times a week, or a consistent 3 day weekend out in nature is shown to have huge benefits.
Count Your Blessings
Sometimes it can feel as though everything is going wrong in your life and it’s hard to see the positive. Try to make a point of listing off 5 things you are grateful for about that day. Then list 5 things you are grateful for in any aspect of your life. Sometimes you need to flip the problem around in order to see something positive.
Your toddler is sick and miserable. Their screaming and crying and following you around anytime you get up. You ask yourself “what am I grateful for?” and then look for the positives about your day. Maybe your child is not normally cuddly but you wish they were. But now they are sick and all they want is some cuddles from mom. Maybe you had to take the day off work to be at home with them. Yes you now have a day without pay, but maybe you also needed a mental break from work.
There can always be a positive, you just have to change the way you look at things. And sometimes what may seem difficult now, i.e. that super stubborn toddler, may turn into something positive, a grown child or adult who sticks up for themselves and goes after what they want. The more often you acknowledge those little blessings the easier it is to deal with the difficult parts.
Let It Go
It can be hard to let go of things in our past, or present, that have caused us pain. But it is important for your mental, emotional, and physical health to not carry it with you. You don’t need to forget the things that have happened in the past but you need to stop carrying the stress from them.
No matter how hard you may want to, you cannot change the past. So you have two choices, learn to let it go and move on, or you can continue to feel sad/ angry/ anxious/ depressed because of something that happened, however long ago.
It is not as easy as just telling yourself to let it go. It’s about learning to acknowledge/ accept things as they come and focus on the positive. If you can focus on what you can do to better yourself, rather than the negative things, your overall health will thank you for it.
Everyone has their own issues they deal with on a regular basis. Some are more difficult than others but what everyone has in common is that they all need an outlet. The outlet looks different for everyone. The important part is finding a positive way to release those emotions and not suppressing them.
Some people find it useful to talk about it out loud. Having a good friend, that won’t judge but will give you words of encouragement, or some constructive criticism is helpful.
If you don’t have someone to talk to, reach out. There are a lot of counsellors around and even crisis lines, where you can call anonymously. They can be helpful as they don’t know you, and can give some non-biased feedback, or just be an ear to listen.
Some people don’t like talking out loud about their problems, but writing in a journal is much more helpful. Others turn to art or exercise as a way to release their pent up emotions.
Keep it Positive
Its important that you choose positive ways to release those feelings. Negative releases, though they may seem helpful in the moment do not actually help the situation.
Things like drinking too much alcohol, smoking, or hurting yourself are only temporary and actually cause more problems. Some people also turn to, or away, from food when they are stressed. Although a little special dessert to boost your day is okay, binge eating, or not eating at all, is not healthy. Try out different methods of stress release to find one that works well for you. It will require you to actively pay attention to your habits as sometimes, we don’t realize how often we are dealing with emotions in a negative way.
In The End
Whatever way you choose to relax and calm yourself doesn’t matter. But just make sure you are acknowledging those feelings, accepting them for what they are, and finding a positive outlet to let them go. Sometimes a short break from something can give you a moment to calm down and then go back at it with a different look, hopefully more positive.
And when all else fails, lock yourself in your bathroom with your favourite snacks (not too many). Your children and pets may be screaming on the other side of the door but moms mental health is important!