We are all affected by stress and how we are able to cope with it defines our mood, how much we can control our emotions and physical well-being. That’s why we need to find ways to reduce it.
We all also know it is bad for us. But HOW do we manage it when it seems like there is a relentless onslaught of big and small daily stressors. From the kids and decision making to our environment, being permanently bombarded with messaging, work, politics, pandemic… The list goes on.
What is stress?
We mostly know what stress is. We can feel the emotion and physical tension, but do we really know what continued stress does to us?
As your body perceives stress, it releases cortisol which increases your heart rate and blood pressure. This is great for ‘fight or flight’ and not a problem for the odd occasion, like when you have a deadline and need to punch it out. But when you keep your body in a permanent state of stress, which is not difficult given our fast-paced lives, there are some very real and serious side effects.
Types of stress we may experience:
- Common stress, the one that accumulates on us day-to-day like work, childcare, relationships, illness, becoming a parent, loss of pregnancy, finances…the list goes on and then life throws us
- Sudden changes, such as a family loss or job loss
- Traumatic stress, which can occur due to extreme trauma as a result of a severe accident, an assault, an environmental disaster, or war.
- Intestinal problems, such as constipation, bloating and diarrhea
- Anxiety or depression
- Weight gain
- Increased blood pressure
- Low libido, problems with regular ovulation or menstrual periods
- Difficulty recovering from exercise
- Poor sleep
I’m not really telling you anything new, am I? So, how do we reduce stress when we are so busy?
Start by making one or two small and achievable changes that can easily become a habit.
Expert tip: Do not start big, start small. Otherwise, you will overwhelm yourself. Manage your expectations of what is achievable as an already stressed mum. Small steps forward are better than no steps at all.
What can we do to help ourselves cope?
6 ways busy mums can reduce stress
1. Sleep to destress
This is your first port of call and by just improving your sleep you can genuinely make a significant indent on your daily stress. Get more on sleep in my sleep blog.
2. Enjoy the small things
Take a moment to pause, even if it’s just for 10 minutes when you’re playing with your kids, chatting to a friend or taking a hot bath. Doing things we enjoy sparks dopamine and serotonin which helps keep the cortisol in check. (I’d love to tell you that I meditate for half an hour a day, but personally, that doesn’t work for me and so instead I take my dog for a walk which clears my head, and I get to spend time in nature to reset.)
3. Watch the sugar spikes
When we get stressed, we can often overeat or veer towards grabbing fast highly saturated or sugar-filled goodies that are calorific. These usually lead to spikes and then dips in blood sugar and mood. This is not sustainable in the long run, most importantly because nutrition is key to managing stress. My nutrition blog will help with some additional tips.
4. Exercise = less stress
As much as us busy mamas are so knackered that we can’t even think about going for a walk, let alone a run. Initially, we have to force ourselves. Why? Because thankfully, our bodies will respond and produce more happy hormones and lower our cortisol, which helps us to sleep better. Do what you enjoy; it’s about moving, not about subscribing to a fitness programme. If Pilates is your thing, great! If not, don’t worry. I’ve recently taken up paddle boarding and I love it. I look forward to doing it, which makes me want to stick with it.
We will never be completely rid of stress but we can introduce habits that help us cope and keep chronic stress at bay.
5. Deep breathing to reduce stress
I’m not getting all airy-fairy with you; deep breathing is a proven and well-known way to reduce stress and anxiety.
So what is it and how does it work?
When you’re stressed your breathing becomes short, shallow, and irregular. This means that you’re reducing the amount of oxygen you’re getting and setting off your sympathetic nervous system which controls your fight or flight response.
In addition to that,
shallow breathing doesn’t just make stress a response, it makes stress a habit our bodies, and therefore, our minds, are locked into it
says John Luckovich, an apprentice Integrative Breathwork facilitator in Brooklyn, New York.
Deep breathing on the other hand activates your parasympathetic nervous system which controls your rest and relax response.
What is wonderful is that deep breathing (belly breathing) is easy to learn and you can do it literally ANYWHERE. Sitting at your desk, in your car waiting for the kids to get out from school/activities/, lying in bed (great for helping you get to sleep), on the train, in a taxi…
So how do you do it?
- Deep breathing or belly breathing is taking slower and longer breaths, all the way into your belly. (Give it a go while you’re reading the blog.)
- Sit tall, put your hands on your ribs and take a deep breath in, watch or feel your ribs push out. Breathe in to the slow count of 3 or 4. Then hold your breath for the same count, and finally exhale slowly to the count of 3 or 4 trying to empty your lungs. The better you get at it, the longer your counts can get.
- Try the 4-4-4 or 4-7-8 method. In for the count of 4, hold for the count of 1-7, exhale to the count of 1-8.
Whatever you can manage, repeat the deep breathing numerous times (5 – 6) and see how your mind and body actively calm down.
Could you make this a daily practice? It’s free and is effective immediately.
If you have 18mins watch Breathe to Heal by Max Strom for TedX. It will be a worthwhile investment to understanding the power of breathing. (If you don’t have 18mins, skip to minute 14:30 of the video where Max Strom takes you through a breathing exercise for just 1 minute.)
- Teach deep breathing to your kids. It is incredibly useful for small children and teenagers.
Deep breathing alone is an incredibly effective stress and anxiety reliever.
PS. You know we’ve been talking about the importance of sleep recently. Well, if I’m battling to fall asleep, I do some deep breathing and it 100% helps me fall asleep.
6. Finding your flow to reduce stress
Now you’re asking: “What is flow?”
Flow is that state you get into when you’re completely absorbed in the task you’re doing. Time seems to stop, there’s no effort or overanalysing. When you enter your flow state there are a bunch of hormonal responses that enter into a state of rest and relaxation.
You can get your flow through work, sometimes, but generally speaking, you get your flow on when you doing a hobby or activity.
Can you think of anything you love doing where time seems to stop?
Maybe it’s reading or scrapbooking, hiking or knitting… Is it painting or even bungee jumping? You see, only you can answer this… Take a minute to think about what you love being totally immersed in. Something you do that when you look up you can’t believe time has disappeared.
The experience of “flow” is a state of engagement in which you’re using your talents, optimally challenged, consummately interested, and able to let time melt away. – Professor of psychology, Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
THAT’S the state you want. Then, you want to try and find this state a couple of times a week.
When you’re in a state of flow, it’s a sweet spot where stress and anxiety cease to exist and you have concentration, creativity and imagination. Flow invokes the opposite of stress and anxiety.
Now, don’t go thinking it’s a waste of time or that you don’t deserve this time or that it has to be hours of your time. You do deserve this AND since your family will benefit, they deserve it, too. A calmer, happier, less stressed mum makes everyone in the house happier.
So can you think of anything hat is likely to reduce stress for YOU?
Now you need to schedule it in, because flow doesn’t happen without intention. Make flow and yourself a priority, just a couple of times a week.
AND bonus points if you can add a multiplier.
What is a multiplier?
It’s super simple. Multipliers are when you can add other stress reducers to your flow state.
- Spending time with friends or people you love
- Being outdoors is a biggie for stress relief
- Exercise, another one we all know helps reduce stress.
So, if your flow is painting, what about taking your painting outside? If your flow is walking your dog, what about doing it with a friend where you can chat and laugh at the same time?
And that’s it really. Six ways to reduce your stress that will bring you relief from stress and anxiety, and make way for happiness and fulfillment.
P.S. When you’re ready here are a few ways I can help…
- Download my free meal planner and save yourself hours and reduce your mental load.
- Subscribe and listen to my Healthy & Thriving Career Mums podcast all about health, habits and mindset for busy mums.
- Join our Healthy Thriving Career Mums community. The No.1 free group for career mums who want to build healthier habits and thrive.
- Get ‘The Busy Mums Guide To Healthy Habits’ – my e-book to help you build healthier & sustainable habits to thrive in 90 days.
- Do you need more support & accountability with your habits? I can help you with my 1-2-1 coaching.