Press pause

Life never stops when you’re a mum, so try these clever ways to de-stress as you juggle your way through the day

Mother & Baby (UK) - - CONTENTS - Dr Emma Row­ley

De-stress in sec­onds as you juggle your way through your day

Does it feel like your life never stops, from the se­cond your baby wakes you up to the mo­ment you crawl back into bed at the end of the day? Yep, life is se­ri­ously busy, and that can be stress­ful. But press­ing your pause but­ton and turn­ing down that stress dial a few notches needs to fac­tor on your pri­or­ity list. ‘It can feel hard to stop when you’re con­stantly switched on to the needs of your baby,’ says clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Dr Emma Row­ley. ‘But no mat­ter how busy you are, find­ing a lit­tle time to re­lax can bring all sorts of benefits.’ And it re­ally doesn’t take long. ‘Re­lax­ing doesn’t have to mean sit­ting down with your feet up for a full hour, but sim­ply tun­ing in to how you are feel­ing in the here and now, and switch­ing off your auto-pilot for a mo­ment,’ says Emma. By paus­ing for a few mo­ments dur­ing a busy day – while you’re mak­ing your tod­dler’s lunch or dur­ing your baby’s bedtime rou­tine – you can grab a quick men­tal, emo­tional and phys­i­cal boost. It takes sec­onds, but press­ing your pause but­ton reg­u­larly will help you deal with the chal­lenges of par­ent­ing.


Your au­to­nomic ner­vous sys­tem con­trols all your in­vol­un­tary body pro­cesses, such as your breath­ing and heart rate. And it op­er­ates in two dif­fer­ent modes. ‘The sym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem is the “fight, flight or freeze” sys­tem, which works to help you cope with all the chal­lenges you face on a daily ba­sis,’ ex­plains Emma. It’s all about sur­vival in the face of per­ceived threat. Once ac­ti­vated, this sys­tem brings about phys­i­cal changes in your body: your heart rate in­creases, your mus­cles may tense, and adren­a­line is pumped around your body. While all this is good news if you need to es­cape a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion quickly, for most of us, the kind of stress we ex­pe­ri­ence on a daily ba­sis means that our bodies are con­stantly in this ex­haust­ing state of high alert.’

Your parasym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem, how­ever, sorts out the ‘rest and digest’ side of things. ‘When you are re­laxed or at rest, your parasym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem takes over,’ says Emma. And when this mode’s in charge, your body is primed to ben­e­fit from feel-good hor­mones like sero­tonin and oxy­tocin, mak­ing you feel more re­laxed, men­tally and phys­i­cally.

Only one of these sys­tems can op­er­ate at a time, and you’ll nat­u­rally switch be­tween the two modes. But when you’re a busy mum with a never-end­ing list of things com­pet­ing to be done

right now, your sym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem can be switched on too of­ten, for too long. Press­ing your pause but­ton and con­sciously re­lax­ing is all it takes to switch it off and al­low your parasym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem to take over.


The great news is that it doesn’t take long to trick your body into switch­ing modes, and the re­sults are al­most in­stant. ‘The most im­me­di­ate ef­fects of re­lax­ing are phys­i­cal,’ says Emma. ‘All the sys­tems in your body, from your heart­beat to your rate of breath­ing, slow down, and your mus­cles re­lax. Just five min­utes of re­lax­ing is enough to get this

‘I un­plug my­self from so­cial me­dia to give me lit­tle mo­ments of calm. I’m far too good at slip­ping down the Insta rab­bit hole, only to find I’ve achieved very lit­tle when I fi­nally rest my scrolling fin­gers! Just leav­ing my phone up­stairs or delet­ing the app for a few days lets me rest my busy mind.’ Jo Love, 34, from Lon­don, is mum to Bella, two, and runs lo­bel­

ef­fect.’ As you re­lax, your brain ac­tiv­ity changes. ‘When your sym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem is switched off, your parasym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem al­lows a neu­ro­trans­mit­ter (brain chem­i­cal) called GABA to be pro­duced. This acts like a tran­quiliser, calm­ing brain ac­tiv­ity,’ says Emma. ‘It also trig­gers a dif­fer­ent type of brain wave, one which has a re­ju­ve­nat­ing, calm­ing ef­fect on your brain.’ And the benefits are worth get­ting: ‘Once you’re calmer, you have im­proved men­tal clar­ity, im­proved mem­ory, much bet­ter con­cen­tra­tion, and you’ll be much more men­tally avail­able,’ says Emma. And wouldn’t that make cop­ing with life as a mum far eas­ier?


‘The more you prac­tise re­lax­ation, the eas­ier and more nat­u­ral it be­comes,’ says Emma. ‘So try to fit some lit­tle “time-out” mo­ments into your day. Ex­per­i­ment with a few ideas to find a hand­ful that work for you.’ And once you’ve found a tech­nique that fits into your life, stick to it: ‘The more of­ten you prac­tise it, the quicker you’ll feel the ef­fects,’ says Emma. And don’t worry if, while you’re press­ing pause, a nag­ging voice in your head in­ter­rupts your thoughts, re­mind­ing you about feeds and nap times. ‘Our minds are en­gaged in a con­stant in­ner mono­logue,’ says Emma, ‘and there’s a ten­dency for thoughts to pop up when you’re tak­ing time out to re­lax. If those thoughts crowd in, try not to let them stress you out or draw you in. Rather than let­ting the thoughts carry you away, back to stress, ac­knowl­edge them then let them go, imag­in­ing each one pass­ing like a cloud in the sky. No­tice any re­sponse you have to them in your body, and con­sciously re­turn to slow, deep breath­ing. This will help shut down your body’s stress re­sponse.’ So, next time your lit­tle one is play­ing, re­sist the urge to dash off and put on a load of wash­ing. Use those snip­pets of time to press your pause but­ton –you’ll feel a mil­lion times bet­ter.

is a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist, mind­ful­ness coach, and is train­ing to be mid­wife; mum­maswell be­

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