Life never stops when you’re a mum, so try these clever ways to de-stress as you juggle your way through the day
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.
HOW WE RELAX
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.
IT’S LIKE MAGIC!
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 lobellaloves.com
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?
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
‘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 being.com