Full disclosure: I’m not a mom. So what makes me think I can share tips that help moms de-stress and come back to calm? Because stress is universal and the tips that help it are, too. I’ve taught stress busters to corporate execs, academics, students and working moms. I’ve dealt with the Vata dosha–my dominant constitution according to the ancient holisitic Indian medical system–tendency towards anxiety and panic attacks. And maybe I feel a teensy bit experienced, what with spending oodles of time with my one-year-old niece and giving tips to my sister, a working mom, and my own mom–above, who actually is pretty darn chilled out most of the time.
So much of stress relief is about becoming aware of and re-programming our auto-response. Preventative action is also key.
So here goes:
1. Developing body awareness. Simple practices like bringing our attention and intention to our breath, or our wiggling toes, our nose or our stretching hands can help us drop away from the worrying thougths and find distance and space between our essential selves and our mind. Okay, I gotta say it: a yoga practice is a huge help here.
2. Developing mind awareness. What was that thought? And the next one? Ever noticed how many we have in one minute? Some yogis say hundreds. We have the power to choose our thoughts–and we do, though most of the time we do it unconcsiously. Who decides that the worrying, planning, and rehashing is more important than being here now, at ease in the present moment? We do. And we can change that. Acknowledging that all thoughts are just thoughts, no matter how important they may seem at the time, is a big first step.
3. Developing breath awareness. Inhale. Exhale. We do this millions of times a day. The incredible thing about our breath is that it can be one of our most powerful stress busting tools and we have it with as all the time. When we inhale and exhale deeply and slowly–say to a count of four on each inhale and exhale with a pause at either end–we activate the calming systems in our nervous system, helping our ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic nervous system take over when our ‘act and react’ sympathetic nervous system is overacting.
4. Developing self acceptance. This is the most powerful take-away I’ve gotten from reading up on Buddhism–so far. As Pema Chodron says, all the junky, yucky stuff we feel embarassed or ashamed of–like feeling we just need a break from our baby or our kids, or angry at our partner for not intuiting what we need and diving in to help, or short-tempered because we’re exhausted–is all fuel for self-acceptance and acceptance of others. And the more the better! Because these thoughts and reactions give us a opportunity to pause and reflect, to sit with the discomfort, to just be with it without labelling it as bad and trying to shove it down or run away from it. We all have this stuff. And it’s okay. It means we’re human. And practicing just sitting with it, without labelling it, means we’ll become more compassionate to ourselves, to others, to our kids, our families, and world.
5. Letting go of stress. The very best thing for stress relief, in my experience and in that of many yoga teachers, naturopaths, M.Ds and more, is exercise. Exercise helps to burn off the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. It helps us to get out of our heads and into our bodies. Dance. Ride a bike. Power walk to work. Do jumping jacks in your living room. Hit the yoga mat. Love it. You deserve it.