By Shannon Valenzuela
Three Simple Skills to Lower Your Stress Now
As a mother of many who homeschools her kids and has decided to birth a career as a write-at-home-mom, I was feeling all the negative effects of my abundantly full life — high stress, exhaustion, and a roller coaster of energy flares and burn-outs. I decided that I needed to do something about it — I had too much to love and enjoy to feel so run-down and out of it! I needed to make some changes…fast.
I read Dr. Sara Gottfried’s new book, The Hormone Cure, to fill my idea tank. Her approach to hormone imbalance — like the “tired but wired” experience of an overproduction of stress hormones — is beautifully simple and incredibly respectful of the natural interconnectedness of our body’s systems. I was sure I would find something radical to help me rebalance my inner state — perhaps an exotic herbal supplement. I was completely surprised when I discovered that I already had the skills I needed to manage my stress levels…and that I had learned them for managing labor.
If you, like me, need to hit the reset button and bring some calm back into your life, look no further than your labor toolbox! Use these three skills regularly to lower your stress levels.
1. Deep Breathing
I wrote a piece a while ago about the benefits of deep breathing as a life skill. Deep breathing breaks the stress cycle and restores calm. Dr. Sara notes that it also boosts melatonin production — this hormone helps you enjoy deep, restorative sleep (Hormone Cure, 106, 81). Remaining in a constantly jazzed state of stress disrupts your sleep/wake cycles — and disrupted sleep means that your body can’t rebalance itself.
If you, like me, have your sleep/wake cycles disrupted by an infant, it’s all the more important to manage your stress levels so that the sleep you do get is quality sleep!
2. Progressive Relaxation
Progressive relaxation is a terrific exercise if you have difficulty winding down for sleep. I tell my expecting mamas that this skill will be their best friend in the third trimester, when insomnia always seems to rear its ugly head. The idea behind the exercise is to move through the entire body, first tensing each muscle group, then releasing, taking note of how the muscles feel when they’re tense and how they feel when they are relaxed.
Working through your whole body this way, using deep breathing to soothe away tension, is a perfect way to prepare for sleep. It lowers cortisol levels — that’s one reason why we use it during labor — and contributes to a sense of peace and well-being. I’ve started doing this every night as I drift off to sleep, and it’s amazing what a difference it has made in my quality of sleep!
3. Catch and Release
One of the biggest contributors to stress — especially in our ultra-hectic, world-at-your-fingertips modern culture — is our inability to give our minds a break. We’re constantly moving from a rapid-paced present to concerns about the future and our never-ending to-do list. The fact is, we need a break. Our minds need a break.
I always found labor to be one of the most relaxing experiences because it forced me to stay in the present moment. I had to learn to let go of everything else and just be. But you don’t have to be in labor to practice this. When you settle down to sleep and your mind begins to race, try catching each thought and then letting it go. Dr. Sara’s term for this is “Mindfulness-based stress reduction”, and she suggests labeling each thought with a category tag before letting it go (Hormone Cure, 108). This practice allows you to prioritize your mental chatter and let go of things that aren’t critically important, thereby lowering anxiety and worry.
Learn these skills for labor, but keep them for life!
Photo credit: Denise Cross Photography / Foter.com / CC BY
Sara Gottfried. The Hormone Cure. New York: Scribner, 2013.
About S.K. Valenzuela
S.K. is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and teaches for Isis Parenting in Dallas. She also enjoys freelancing about writing and all things mothering. She is currently working on her book, Mothering the Mother of Many, which she hopes to release in the winter of 2013. She also enjoys writing fiction, and her third novel, The Artifex, will be released this summer. For more information about her current projects, please visit her at www.skvalenzuela.com and follow her on Twitter at @skvalenzuela. She and her husband and their six beautiful children live in Dallas, Texas.