If you’re a mom, you’ve got stress. I know. It’s a stressful season of life. But...does that mean there’s nothing you can do about it? Do you just lie there and take it?
Many patients tell me they’re stressed. When I ask them what they’re doing to cope, people often shrug. Or look at me blankly. What can I do? they ask, rhetorically. I’m juggling so many things, my days are a crammed mess...but there’s nothing I can do about it.
Okay, granted. Sometimes you can’t change your circumstances. You’re not about to sell your children. Or move to Bora-Bora. But here’s what you can change: the way you cope with stress.
The trouble is, it’s easy to go through your day without doing a single thing to help your stress. Unlike food—where you’re forced to make decisions (good or bad) every day because you have to eat—you don’t have to practice stress management.
What you need is a strategy. And that starts with recognizing you don’t just have to suffer. There are ways to build “stress hardiness” or “stress resilience.” So you can roll with those punches when they’re coming at you.
Once you realize that, the next step is to take a look at your lifestyle and your preferences. There are loads of stress management strategies to choose from. Tailor an approach just for you by selecting the tactics that speak to you, and fit with your lifestyle.
So...here’s a sampling of those stress management techniques:
Abdominal breathing exercises are easy and have been shown in several studies to reduce anxiety, panic attacks, depression, headaches, and fatigue. Instead of using shallow “chest breathing”, use your diaphragm to fill your lungs more deeply. To learn it: put one hand on your stomach, the other on your chest. Breathe in through your nose and allow your abdomen to push out. Exhale fully, allowing your abdomen to retract. Rinse and repeat.
Many of us have vitamin D deficiency, without having any idea. (Count me as one of those!) We’re learning more and more about vitamin D, and its key role in preventing many chronic diseases. One of those is depression. Take it from Dr. Andrew Weil, who says: vitamin D deficiency correlates with suboptimal mood and brain function. Consider getting tested, and taking supplements if necessary.
To benefit from meditation, you don’t have to buy into the whole spirituality aspect of it, if that’s a turnoff for you. And you don’t have to devote a huge amount of time, either. But the benefits can be huge-ola.
Studies show that people with anxiety may be deficient in the omega-3 department. Replacing this insufficiency can improve symptoms of stress and anxiety. Fill your plate with fish like salmon and mackerel. Eat walnuts and omega-3 fortified eggs. Or take supplements.
Whether it’s yoga or whether it’s something else, getting moving on a regular basis has been well-documented to help with stress. Plus there are heaps of other benefits, too—not the least of which is a healthier heart, and the supremely mood-boosting effect of a trimmer silhouette! No time to exercise? Read this.
Research has shown that a component of green tea, L-theanine, increases serotonin, dopamine, and GABA levels in the brain—changes that are associated with increased relaxation.
Find your inner cheerful self. You can learn to be more optimistic. And the fact is, research has shown that optimists are healthier, and live longer. They certainly can weather through stress easier than pessimists. How do you find your inner optimist? Here.
It’s hard to cope with stress when you’re sleep deprived and exhausted. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is a great way to boost your resilience to stress. But...when you’ve got lots on your mind, sleep is often the first thing to go. Catch-22 much? If sleep isn’t coming easily, read this.
This one, for some reason, doesn’t get a lot of attention...but there’s good research to back it up, and it’s one of my key stress management strategies, personally. Studies show that music therapy lowers serum cortisol, heart rate, blood pressure, and perceived stress level. If music can alleviate the stress of parents waiting in a pediatric emergency department (as shown in one study), it can certainly help you in your day-to-day.
Beyond the specifics of vitamin D, omega-3, and the like, you need to take a generally healthy approach to nutrition. Eating regular meals, for one thing. Skipping meals is a sin easily committed, especially when you're busy and stressed. But starving yourself, even for a few hours, is its own stress on your system. Don’t be your worst enemy. Fuel your body so you can deal with the challenges of your day.
Aromatherapy, especially lavender, has been demonstrated to improve anxiety in a variety of stressful settings, like a dentist’s waiting room, and after working a night shift. Lavender aromatherapy has the potential to reduce serum cortisol—an important stress hormone.
This is not chanting mantras & affirmations. This is more about recognizing that negative inner voice that is simply not helping you cope, and replacing that voice with one much more positive. How? Here.
Most of us don’t get quite enough magnesium in our diets. What’s more, stress causes our bodies to eliminate extra magnesium, through urine or sweat. And having low levels of magnesium can cause all manner of symptoms: anxiety, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, headaches, muscle cramps or twitches, constipation...to name a few. You can increase your magnesium intake through food, or supplements. Read about both approaches here.
Okay, so the take-home message: eating fish and doing yoga isn’t going to make your problems go away. But if it helps you cope easier and feel better...in my book that makes all the difference in the world, to your health, happiness, and sense of well-being.