Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (from Random House in October ...Read More
Can you take a moment?
Lower your stress
[Note: This JOT is adapted from Mother Nurture – a book written for mothers – focusing on typical situations that are experienced by many, though not all, mothers during the years before their children enter grade school. These are most commonly the years when mothers (biological and adoptive) experience the greatest demands of parenting.]
Nobody likes being stressed, but mothers often seem to have a hard time doing anything about it. First, it might look like nothing can help. But while it’s true that mothers no longer have the kind of control over their lives they once had, it’s important to remember that no matter how bad it gets, there is always something that can be done to soothe nerves and boost spirits. Right now, for instance, try shifting positions, loosening tight clothing, or taking a full breath. Does that feel even a little better? It’s a small thing, but it shows how small actions and adjustments can affect stress levels.
Second, experiencing some resistance to taking time to reduce stress is normal. Many women were raised to put everyone else’s needs first, and they can have a hard time asserting their own. And for mothers it just gets worse. Commitments to the children’s welfare is so primal that it’s hard to pay attention to one’s own needs-it can be hard to think about taking a nap or a bath when the children need something-plus other people can add guilt for daring to try.
This view is pretty darn crazy. Nurturing one’s own needs is what enables mothers to provide the best care for their children.
Even in the middle of the most insane day, there are lots of things that can be done to immediately lower stress levels, foster a better sense of well-being, and create a small space in which to begin figuring out how to lower stresses over the long term. Additionally, getting out of the red zone stops the current wear and tear on the body, and it helps prevent the brain and hormones from getting so sensitized to stress that they overreact to it in the future.
That’s why it’s important to feel good as often as possible, at least several times each day. These experiences are more than enjoyable: they help protect the body against future stresses, improve problem solving, and stop downward spirals.
Here are some soothers to practice throughout the day:
- Take four long, slow breaths, and with the exhale, imagine that a gray cloud of stress, worries, or troubles is leaving the body. With the inhale, imagine that peace and love and wisdom are filling the body.
- Repeat a favorite saying or prayer.
- Make a cup of tea.
- Listen to music.
- Go for a short walk.
- Call a friend for a quick chat.
- Exercise, dance, stretch, or do yoga.
- Do some art or a craft.
- Prepare a simple healthy meal.
Some of theses things will take only a minute or so, and can be done while nursing, tending to children, doing housework, or driving. It’s also important to continue using whatever stress-reducing techniques are already working well.
Partners can also help one another take breaks, perhaps for half an hour in the evening, or for several hours each weekend. And it’s important to make sure there are times with the kids that are especially enjoyable. Make a mental list of fun things to do with the children, and make time to do those activities on a regular basis. Plus dream up a wish list of new things to do with the kids, and then do at least some of them. It doesn’t have to be a big-ticket item.
Be at peace
Another way to stay well is by focusing on being, rather than doing. Sure there’s a lot to do, but avoid running around like the Energizer Bunny more than is needed, being perfectionistic, or staying busy as a way to avoid certain feelings. Every so often, stop all that doing for a bit. Perhaps the In Box is empty, the baby’s asleep, the bills are in the mail. The urgency of the daily round falls away and a quiet fills the air. Thoughts slow down, no longer grabbed and jostled by tasks. There is presence in this moment, and no worries about the future. Allow the feeling of being freer, less bound by burdens, less limited by roles. The edges soften. Each breath comes like a wave on the seashore, rising and falling, the ocean abiding. There is peace, contentment, warmth, and happiness, just here, just as you are.