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A few months ago I was exhausted. You know you’ve reached that point when a good night’s rest isn’t enough and everything is too much. We were planning on going on a much needed vacation and then decided that it wasn’t great timing. Without the possibility to unplug, I started researching what I could do to make sure dad and I wouldn’t burn out.
When we talk about stressed out moms, there’s this stereotypical image that comes to mind. The house is a mess, the kids are crying, an indifferent or absent husband serves as a casual observer and dinner is halfway underway. Although we might recognize some of it, stress is far more subtle and complicated than this.
Demands versus Resources
The demands in our lives have increased: taking care of our kids, household chores seem endless, keeping your relationship with your partner healthy, taking care of yourself, making time for family and friends, ensuring you do a good job at work if you’re still working and otherwise transitioning into full time mommying, community work. I’ve probably forgotten some demands. And on the other hand if you look at your life, your resources haven’t increased probably in order to make all of this happen.
I’ve been stressed out about the dangers of traffic, trusting myself, but not others on the road while I ride my bike with my son in the front. At daycare one kid pushed my son around causing me to worry about bullying now and later in his life. I’ve experienced stress as to which school to send him to, vaccinations, quality time (not) spent, his growth curve, his health and the list goes on. I’ve come to believe that as a parent worrying about stuff that’s not necessarily relevant now is as much a source of stress as daily responsibilities.
Definition Of Stress
My favorite definition of stress is a very broad one put forth by Kelly McGonigal in her book ‘The Upside Of Stress’. We use stress to mean smaller things like getting everyone ready in the morning to the stress of dealing with loss in our life. This broad definition means that stress is what you experience when something you care about is at stake. As moms, we care deeply about our children hence the stress.
Pregnancy has also changed your brain. You’ve probably noticed this already. It changes the brain so that we become hypervigilant to ensure our helpless infants can survive. This to make sure we become moms. Better known as those individuals who are able to put baby’s needs before their own without questioning it. When left unchecked hyper vigilance and putting every one else’s needs before our own take their stressful toll.
Your whole body feels the effects of stress like your metabolism, immune system and even your memory. There’s a study that shows that how sleep deprivation causes our stress hormone called cortisol to increase with 45%(!). The cure nowadays is to drink lots and lots of coffee like. The problem is that coffee further increases your cortisol levels. A lot of times, when the babies are asleep a glass of wine is introduced, which makes sure the part of your body responsible for dampening the stress response becomes less active. This results in higher cortisol levels secreted by your adrenals.
Basically, we appear to make it our goal to keep stress levels high. This makes us more susceptible to getting sick, our memory deteriorates even further and our metabolism slows down. You get into this permanent state of stress, anxiety, and even panic. Our bodies weren’t made to handle chronic stress! It damages us until we get so fatigued that we burn out.
When I was researching my own stress resiliency tools, I kept coming across the term ‘stress management’. I’m not a big fan of managing stress since it implies we are able to sort through our stress as long as we’re organized about it. I think that’s only part of the story.
Deal With It
One of the first things you learn as a parent is that life happens regardless of how organized you are. Baby will poop at the exact moment you’re in a hurry or forgot to bring diapers. Baby refuses to sleep when you have a deadline. And when you finally have date night baby will get too sick for you to leave. Deal with it.
That’s why I like to talk about stress resilience. What I mean with stress resilience is the ability to be better equipped physically to handle the things that get thrown your way. From handling bruises and bumps on 3 hours of sleep to the tantrum your 2 year old throws because he or she refuses to put on a diaper or insert other random tantrum worthy action.
For me it was about taking an honest look at the sources of stress in my life. We often have the need to push passed the stress levels we’re able to tolerate and that wasn’t what I wanted to do. Since the risks involved with pushing through are much worse than the temporary relief you get. I wanted to listen to my body, nourish it abundantly and give myself a break where possible.
Increasing Stress Resilience
You might be surprised that breathing is on top of my list (or not). Oxygen is essential to our existence, but despite this fact we’re very shallow breathers. When it comes to a clear head, better concentration, more energy, getting enough oxygen is key. Especially since breathing will also help your body remove waste through your lymph system and produce the energy necessary to do your daily activities.
Heart Rate Variability
One of the biometrics I get excited about (yes, I confess to getting excited about biometrics) is one called Heart Rate Variability (HRV). We often think a low resting heart rate is a measure of health. But this is not the whole story. Especially if this heartbeat sounds like a metronome and shows little to no variety, we have a problem Low variability means we don’t react very well to our body’s demands. Low variability basically means that we’re not in a healthy state.
When your HRV is high your nervous system that’s in control of resting and digesting gets activated. In this state your body responds quickly to the demands placed on it. A high HRV protects against stress, anxiety, inflammation and pain. So when you consciously breathe yourself into a state of high HRV you’re not being controlled by your stress or anxiety, which will allow you to make better decisions.
The easiest way to reverse this is by breathing purposefully a few times a day. One of the easiest breathing exercises you can do, which will only take you a few minutes is to breathe in for 4 counts and breathe out for 8 counts. Do 10 cycles and make sure your breathing is rhythmic. Before you start exhale fully, this will help you to increase your HRV even more. I start and end my day this way, which has a real calming effect.
If you like to measure things you could download an app called elite HRV (it’s free and I’m not an affiliate). This app will measure your stress levels and give you a ballpark estimate of your HRV by placing the camera of your smartphone on your finger. If you want something more elaborate, you could try Camera HRV (it’s not free and I’m not an affiliate). It’s a bit more complicated since it gives you a more metrics. What I like about this app is that while measuring your HRV, it will guide your breathing. Causing the whole measuring experience to be stress reducing.
Harness The Power Of (Adaptogen) Herbs
An adaptogen is a herb that increases your stress resilience and brings your body back to balance. These herbs also actively help your body better deal with different stressors. An adaptogen will bring relief and also revitalize you at the same time.
Rhodiola has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s an ancient mushroom that has proven effects in improving wellbeing, mood and reducing fatigue. This was the first herb I took consistently with the purpose of preventing a meltdown. It didn’t take long to notice the effect of this powerful herb. Within a week, both my better half and I felt like we weren’t on the verge of collapsing any longer. We both experienced more headspace and felt physically like we had more energy.
How To Use
This is a herb you don’t want to overuse. The recommended dosage is between 250-650mg of which the active ingredients rosavins and salidroside are present. It’s best to take your Rhodiola with meals. Make sure you check with your naturopath or doctor for interactions with medicines your taking. In addition, it’s not recommended to keep using Rhodiola indefinitely. It’s best to take it until you run out of your capsules and then take a month break before you start again.
When I ran out of Rhodiola, I turned to this amazing herb. Ashwaghanda is used in Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine. In Ayurveda it’s said to give you the strength of a horse! Apart from reducing stress levels, this herb relieves anxiety and also improves (cognitive) performance. Another great benefit is that Ashwaghanda counters the suppressive effect of cortisol the immune system.
How To Use
You want to make sure you use Ashwaghanda root powder. It’s available in capsule form, but also as a powder you could mix into your smoothie. The recommended dosage is 300-500mg taken with meals. Again if you want to try out this supplement and you’re taking medicine, consult with your naturopath or doctor first.
Tulsi or Holy Basil
This is my favorite bedtime tea because of its calming effect. Traditionally it has been used in Ayurveda for a host of different illnesses. Studies show that it will also support the immune system while providing this adaptogenic effect of decreasing stress levels and supporting the adrenals. My recommendation would be to buy the dried leaves and drink one or two cups before bedtime. If you need that calming effect earlier you can also drink it during the day.
Last but definitely not least are stinging nettle infusions. The nettle plant in herbalism is mostly mentioned for its nourishing effects since it’s high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It’s also called food for the organ and has an adaptogenic effect. My favorite way of using nettle is by making an infusion. Basically, that means steeping for more than 4 hours so the nutrients get released. The high magnesium content of nettle is really great as well for promoting relaxation. By making an infusion, you’re actually providing your body with a liquid multivitamin.
How To Use
Since nettle can have a stimulating effect it’s best to start with a small dosis. Steep 1 teaspoon of dried organic nettle leaves in a cup of tea (250ml). Let sit either overnight or make in the morning to drink in the evening. At first the taste will be strong, but you’ll get used to it and start craving it. If it’s too strong you can either dilute it with hot water to make tea or add a drop of lavender essential oil. The lavender has a very calming effect, which makes it a great addition to consume before bedtime.
So there you have it. Next to eating healthy, being kinder to myself, I added these herbs and practiced daily breathing exercises to make sure I wouldn’t drive myself crazy with exhaustion. If you want to discuss your personal situation then click the link below and please allow me to help you!