Dear stressed out mom,
You are looking tired, flustered and overwhelmed. I am guessing you are feeling like you just can’t take anymore. And maybe you even feel alone. Like the other moms have it all together. You are desperate for some stress relief – for things to feel different.
- Do you find yourself regularly hiding in the bathroom just to get a moment of peace and quiet?
- Have you found yourself often counting down the minutes until bedtime?
- Are the demands of work, family and home just too much?
I have definitely been there – you are not alone. I think what you may be experiencing is mother-overload aka too much stress.
When I was experiencing mother-overload I wouldn’t have said I am stressed, I would have just laughed it off and said #momlife.
ps. my mother-overload also turned out to be postpartum anxiety. Is this you too? Check out my story post, Anxieties of Motherhood: What is Postpartum Anxiety?
But motherhood doesn't have to be this way...
I have done quite a bit of research on stress recently and I am passionate about sharing what I have learned with you. This way you can do things differently and life doesn’t have to feel so hard.
If you are a stressed out mom looking for simple, real-life stress relief strategies you NEED TO KEEP READING! I have written this post for you.
This blog post isn’t just a typical article written on stress. Instead this post will guide you on a journey of understanding ways to embrace calm, create a mindset that protects you from the vulnerabilities of stress, and provide you with tools and activities to put in to place today!
But, here is what I need from you. I need you to decide today that you no longer want to struggle in your motherhood and choose to become an action-taking Wholehearted Mom!
Stress Relief Tip #1: Taking Care of Ourselves First
If you’ve ever flown on a plane before you have heard the flight attendant’s speech about putting own oxygen masks on first, in the case of an emergency. (Well that is unless you totally tuned that part out) The same is true for experiencing stress relief and protecting ourselves from the vulnerabilities of stress.
I am going to walk you through 6 areas in which small positive changes can make a huge impact. Those areas include:
- Learning to manage when stress comes knocking
- Understanding the stress cycle
- The power of connection
- And self-compassion
“Mindfulness isn’t difficult. We just need to remember to do it” ~ Share Saltzberg
Mindfulness is non-judgmental awareness of your present moment experience.
So how is mindfulness connected to stress relief?
Well mindfulness helps us become more aware of what is going on for us internally and externally. We become more present to the “right now”. (Aislinn Burke, Centre for Change)
Photo by Matthew Henry via Burst
Why be mindful?
Mindfulness practices can help us to increase our ability to regulate emotions, decrease stress, anxiety, and depression. (Aislinn Burke, Centre for Change)
It can also help us to focus our attention, as well as to observe our thoughts and feelings without judgment.
As we become more present in our lives and in relation to others, it can help us to make better decisions, to manage our emotions and to be more fully engaged in life.
Some of the ways we can practice mindfulness is through
- Prayer/Christian meditation
- Guided Meditations (I really like this guided meditation for stress and anxiety)
- And mindful exercises such as mindful eating, mindful walking etc.
Instead in learning more about how to be mindful? Check out this blog post, coming soon all about being a mindful mom.
We all have days when the mundane tasks of work and motherhood seem purposeless, overwhelming, or undervalued. As moms we work tirelessly, day in and day out, often without receiving a thank you or appreciation.
Sometimes are kids are in a state of yuck. Yuck is when your stress response system is triggered, which we will talk about more later. In this state of yuck, kids struggle to manage their behaviors, stressors, and emotions. When we are dealing with our kids in a state of yuck, it requires us to lend our calm and to co-regulate with them.
In order to do this well, especially when we are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and underappreciated, we need to cultivate a mindset of abundance & gratitude.
It is only through this mindset that we can begin to find calm and ground ourselves in the midst of a storm. When we are ground we can begin to alleviate stress.
*Important: I have a more in-depth post all about how to foster a mindset of abundance & gratitude. If you are struggling with feeling blah, mental and emotional exhaustion, or just feel like your mindset is not serving you and has become quite negative, than you need to read this post. Mindset work is a game changer!
Since mindset is so important in our stress relief plan I will include an overview here also.
There are 3 steps we need to complete in order to be able to experience the freedom and stress relief that altering our mindset gives us.
Let’s walk through those steps together…
- Setting Intentions for our Motherhood
- Speaking Truth & Positivity Over Our Lives
ps. Each of these steps includes activities or reflection questions to help you become an action-taking Wholehearted Mom and make that mindset shift you need.
The first step in making changes in our lives is to become aware. To become aware of our thoughts, reactions, judgements, values, and emotions.
“To be the change we wish to see in the world, we need to be aware of our awareness, to hold within this place of knowing our own unfolding sense of being awake. It requires that we hold our own intention in the front of our minds—that we pay attention to our intention”. —Dan Siegel
“Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think” ~ Unknown
In CBT we believe that our thoughts are largely responsible for our emotions. An event on its own doesn’t cause an emotion. Instead, it’s our interpretation of that event that does.
Unfortunately, our thoughts aren’t always the most accurate. Although our thoughts are very real to us, they aren’t always true or fact. However, the neat thing is that we can learn to manage our emotions and behaviours by learning how to interpret situations in different ways.
In order to help make this information come to life, I would like us to try the 5 factor model together – it’s like a 5 piece puzzle.
The puzzle looks at a situation in connection to our thoughts, emotions, behaviours, and sensations. As I work through an example feel free to reflect upon one which applies to your life.
The Power of Our Thoughts - Case Example
Situation: Let’s imagine that you are in a rush to get yourself and your 4 yr-old child out the door, as you are late for a doctor’s appointment.
You ask your child to get on their coat, boots, and hat.
After a couple of minutes of you running around the house you come back….
You notice their coat lying on the floor with the sleeves inside out. And you find them sitting on the floor by the door with only their hat on, playing. (Definitely been there!)
So, what negative thoughts might be going through your mind?
Maybe you are thinking
- They are being so defiant.
- My child never listens to me.
- Why can’t I control my kids.
- I’m such a crappy mom.
- The kids always make me late.
I know I have experienced these stress provoking thoughts before.
So, how may you feel?
Maybe you are feeling: disappointed, angry, frustrated, impatient, flustered, overwhelmed, sad, shame/guilt etc.
If you are in this mom’s shoes and you are experiencing these negative thoughts and emotions… what might you do as a result?
- Yell/raise your voice
- Lecture your child
- Walk away and give up
- Take it out on someone else
- In a huff, pick your child and their stuff up and walk out the door. I guess they aren’t wearing their coat.
Now by this point your stress response system is likely triggered by these emotions and the feeling of being rushed/late. And you are feeling some of the physical sensations of stress. You may be feeling hot/sweaty, tense muscles, racing heart etc.
Your child is also likely experiencing all these sensations as their stress response system may be triggered by your response & expectations.
Let's change the ending...
Now let’s imagine this mom has a different thought or perspective.
What other thoughts might she have or what other interpretations are possible?
Mom thinks: “Aww my child looks like they got frustrated and embarrassed because they couldn’t get their coat on with the sleeves inside out.”
With this new interpretation this mom will likely experience different emotions such as sadness, more patience and empathy.
And, instead of yelling or taking it out on someone else this mom may calmly say, “you look like you got stuck with your coat, do you need help?”
Then walk over and show them how to pull their sleeves right-side-out, help them put their coat on and figure out which foot goes in which boot.
This mom may also recognize that next time she needs a little more time to get her child ready as these teachable moments are important.
Even though the mom in the second scenario spent more time helping her child, which mom and child do you think got out the door first?
And which child learned something positive from that experience?
I find it interesting how different those two situations look and feel, just by changing the thought.
Learning how to monitor and alter our thoughts in stressful situations is a very powerful tool to have in our toolbox for becoming a Wholehearted Mom.
“Our mindset is an established set of attitudes created in our brain. Mastering our mindset (changing the lens) requires us to retrain our brain to see the good already there. It is not a matter of working harder to find happiness, just smarter.” (Lori Jackson)
The mindsets we create are often based on someone else’s expectations of you and your role as mom. This can lead to unhealthy mindsets such as scarcity, perfectionism, not good enough, fear, and mistrust.
So how do we begin to “retrain our brain to see the good already there and see the world through an abundance lens?”
Well, we can do this by being grounded in our intentions/values and speaking truth into our lives.
Once we harness the power of our thoughts, we can begin to speak truth into our lives by setting intentions.
As Daniel Siegel said, “It requires that we hold our own intention in the front of our minds—that we pay attention to our intention.”
“The power of intentions. When you’re clear on your intention, you take inspired action that’s in alignment with your words and truth. You also quickly manifest what you desire because you’re clearly putting out words and actions that are in alignment with the things you want to attract into your life.” -Stephanie Zamora
What's an intention?
You might be wondering… ok so what is an intention? Let’s look at a couple definitions together.
- Well, according to Webster’s dictionary: an intention is “a determination to act in a certain way.”
- In It for the Long Run says, “an intention is a purposeful awareness of how you want to experience something. It’s about how you want to act and also how you want to feel”.
- Intentions are the act of clearly stating a feeling or emotional response you want to create more of in your life that will help you to manifest experiences and keep you in alignment with your happiness and life purpose.
- Setting an intention is drawing your attention towards something, which allows you to open your heart to that desire and speaking truth into your life.
- It’s setting the mood and the vibe for your brain. Mindset
Goal versus Intention
People are goal driven and that is a good thing. Goals are important as they help motivate and direct us.
Intention setting is not goal setting.
“The difference between setting a goal versus setting an intention is that a goal is about achieving a specific outcome, whereas an intention is about setting a specific mindset or feeling.” -Georgie (In It 4 The Long Run)
A goal is specific to what we will do (focus on an outcome). Whereas intentions are about how we will do things (focus on how we want to feel and be)
For example: I am a…
- Mom who is calm and sees the good in my children despite their behaviours or poor decisions.
- Good mom who believes her worth.
- Calm mom who feels freedom from her work life balance.
- Creative mom who thinks outside the box.
- Open mom who offers a safe and supportive space for my children.
Now, I invite you to write out your own intentions for how you want to show up in the world and more specifically in your motherhood.
Speaking Truth & Positivity Over Us = Stress Relief
So far we have reflected upon the power of our mindset and set intentions for what we want our motherhood to look and feel like. Next we need to foster this new mindset by creating a daily practice of speaking truth into our lives through gratitudes and affirmations.
“…practice gratitude to honor what’s ordinary about our lives, because that is what’s truly extraordinary! ~ Brene Brown
Research shows us that by focusing on the positive and what we are thankful for, can make a significant difference in how we feel, think, and therefore react/behave.
Both Shawn Achor & Brene Brown share their wisdom on this topic, which is in my post on how to create a mindset of abundance & gratitue, coming soon.
I invite you to write your own personal ‘stressed out mom’ affirmation list – words you can speak over yourself when you are feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and need a little stress relief.
Some of my favourite examples are:
- I am a good mom.
- This too shall pass
- Delegation isn’t failure.
- My worth is not defined by my to-do list.
- I can do anything, but I can’t do everything
- Just breathe
- Take things one day at a time.
- Rest is just as important as work.
Stress Relief Tips for When Stress Comes Knocking
Did you know that stress is actually a normal part of life?
It may surprise you to know that stress can actually be good. Well, some stress. When we have super low levels of stress we may be unmotivated and not as likely to perform well.
When we have just enough stress (an optimal level) it serves a good purpose. Stress is meant to motivate you and keep you safe.
For example, stress about writing a test helps motivate us to study.
The problem is when we experience more stressors than we can handle, we experience these stressors over a long period of time, or when we remove the stressor but don’t know how to manage the stress that’s left over.
When we experience a high degree of stress or prolonged stress it has a negative affect on performance.
We can actually receive an ‘injury’ from stress – similar to a weight lifting injury. If you lift more weight than you can handle you will likely get a pulled muscle or even a broken bone.
Stress Response System
“The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert, motivated, and ready to avoid danger.
On the other hand, stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without stress relief or relaxation between stressors. As a result, the person becomes overworked, and stress-related tension builds.
The body’s autonomic nervous system has a built-in stress response that causes physiological changes to allow the body to combat stressful situations. This stress response, also known as the “fight or flight response”, is activated in case of an emergency.
However, this response can become chronically activated during prolonged periods of stress.
Prolonged activation of the stress response causes wear and tear on the body – both physical and emotional.” Myclevelandclinic.org
Stress & The Brain
I want to highlight 3 mains parts responsible in your stress response system:
prefrontal cortex – I like to call Olly the wise owl, this is the thinking part of the brain. This part is responsible for logic, problem solving, language, body regulation, response flexibility, empathy, and calming fear to name a few.
Amygdala – or Amy the security guard dog, as she’s feisty. She is the one responsible for alerting your body to danger and triggering your fight, flight or freeze response.
Hippocampus – Hippo the Camel as she stores the memories from emotionally aroused events to help avoid trauma in the future and respond better in the future.
When your amygdala senses danger (real or perceived) it will start to fire signals to the rest of your body. Your PFC tries to control your amygdala. But as your amygdala fires and fires your PFC starts to bubble like a lid on a pot of boiling water.
If your body is not able to regulate you will “flip your lid”. At this point you can no longer access your PFC and your amygdala is in full control of your body. You will either fight, flight, or freeze.
Daniel Siegel explains this stress system using an easy to understand hand model. This model makes explaining the brain to children fun! Daniel Siegel’s Hand Model of the Brain video (2:31).
What Is The Stress Cycle?
Earlier this year, I listened to a podcast with Brene Brown and sisters Emily & Amelia Nagoski who recently released the book Burnout.
In their book they talk about our stress cycle – that working through emotions is a biological process that actually has a beginning, middle, and end. And when we get stuck in an emotion we start to experience those burnout symptoms.
The stress cycle is as follows:
- You sense danger – your stress response system is triggered. (anger, embarrassment, sadness, vulnerability, or an actual threat to your safety)
- You respond to the stressors – when this happens we often have a physiological response such as racing heart, tense muscles, and shallow breathing. And using survival instincts to help you get rid of the stressor. (ex. run away, fight back)
- You survive and you are safe. Your stress response system triggers to your body that you are safe and your other systems come back online and you return to ‘normal’. #stress relief
In order for you to release the stress within your body you need to find a way to complete the stress cycle. (As I said before this is more than just getting rid of the stressors).
If you don’t experience stress relief and release the stress hormones 2 things may happen.
First, your body will store that negative energy in an organ and stress hormones will wreak havoc on your physical systems (IBS anyone?)
And secondly, a build up of stress can lead to chronic stress – aka burnout and trauma.
Before I share with you how to complete the stress cycle and a life changing mindset adjustment you need to make about stress, I want to walk through a reflection exercise with you.
Your Perfect Day Activity
Either go grab a journal and write it out or just close your eyes and imagine it. I encourage you to take 5-10min to reflect upon these questions.
- What are your three tops stressors?
Perfect Day reflection...
I invite you to imagine what your perfect ‘regular’ day would look like….
- Do you wake up to an alarm? Are you up early or do you sleep in? Do you wake up to your kids?
- What does your morning routine look like? Do you sit down for a warm breakfast? Or do you get the kids out the door to school and then sit down with a journal and coffee to have some alone time? Are you taking the first 5 mins of your work day to write down your gratitudes?
- What does lunch look like? Your afternoon? What does dinner prep/planning look like?
- I want you to keep imagining your ideal day from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed. And be detailed in your thoughts.
- Next I want you to write down how that day felt. What words/themes come to mind that describe you or the day? For me the biggest themes are peace and a slower paced lifestyle.
- Lastly, I invite you to look at your top 3 stressors and reflect on how those fit or didn’t fit into your ideal day.
- Maybe those stressors were still there but you didn’t feel stress from them? Perhaps, you realize those stressors don’t belong in your ideal day. Maybe your expectations around the stressor changed in your ideal day because life was more calm and you were more present.
*stress relief reminder...
Reminder: Sometimes our stressors are here to stay for a while and are unavoidable and that is ok. That is why it is so so important to learn how to complete your stress cycle.
According to Emily & Amelia Nagoski’s research (found in their book, Burnout), here are the 7 ways to complete the stress cycle and signal to your body that you are safe.
7 Ways to Complete The Stress Cycle
Our stress response system is designed to make you social, as it releases oxytocin. I think this is so cool as your stress response system pumps out oxytocin as part of the response to motivate you to seek support.
What?! Yes, your body wants you to be around people who care about you and love you when you are stressed.
Brene Brown also highlights the importance of having that 1 person who is a loving presence in your life, in her book The Gifts of Imperfection (also a must read). Let’s get you some stress assistance!
Two: A 20sec hug or 6 sec kiss
Now that may feel like an abnormally long time to be physically affectionate with someone you don’t know well and trust. But when done in a relationship it can work wonders.
My husband and I try to do this when we get home from work and give each other a 20 sec hug to help release any stress we are holding onto from our days. Thanks oxytocin!
Three: Move Your Body
This may be yoga, going for a walk, exercise, dancing, progressive muscle relaxation techniques…. Just move your body!
Four: Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is the simplest and quickest way to trick our body into thinking it is calm and slowing down our stress response. Importantly, deep breathing comes from the belly and involves long, slow exhales.
I mean gut wrenching, going to pee our pants laughter. Ok it doesn’t have to be that intense. But it does have to be genuine.
Six: A Good Cry
You can never underestimate the power of a good cry. There is no shame in crying.
Seven: Creative Expression
Creative expression can be as simple as using imagery to as complex as painting, drawing, sketching, recording a masterpiece.
In the book the sisters give a fun example in which one of them imagines herself as a large being stomping on all of her stressors while she walks on the treadmill. You can just imagine how freeing that would feel.
Since you have probably experienced stress for a number of years without completing the stress cycle regularly, you may have a build up of stress stored in the body.
This means that doing one of these 7 actions 1 time isn’t going to solve all your stress problems. You need to incorporate your favourite of these 7 actions into your daily life and be an action-taking mama.
Although these 7 ways to complete the stress cycle are amazing and ground-breaking, I want to briefly touch on one more important aspect to managing stress and that is mindset.
Our thoughts are powerful and therefore we can’t leave them out of the equation.
See how I did that? I came back full circle to mindset. It is all so connected and complex yet simple!
Changing Your Mind About Stress
There is a heartfelt and mind-blowing TedTalk called How to Make Stress Your Friend by Kelly McGonigal. This is a must watch!
But, for those of you who don’t have 14min to spare I will summarize key points.
- When you change your mindset (what you believe about stress), you also change how your body is affected by stress. Kelly discusses a study in which they discovered that those who have a high level of stress in their lives have a higher risk of serious health conditions and/or dying prematurely. (to me that’s a no brainer) However only for those who also believed that stress is harmful (watch the video for more details)
- Therefore we need to instead see stress as energy that pulses through our body in order to help us make it through something difficult. We need to celebrate that our body is working with us, the best way it knows how.
- Those who cultivated this mindset towards stress didn’t see the same physical symptoms and long term health issues as those who believed stress to be bad.
- When we are able to acknowledge our stress response and support it by completing the stress cycle and leaning into human connection/support we can actually begin to repair and strengthen certain organs and systems such as our heart (thanks again Oxytocin!)
Stress Relief for When We Are Our Own Worst Enemy
When most people talk about the stress response system they look through a very physiological lens. Because they explore what is happening to our body to cause/ prepare us for that fight, flight or freeze response.
However, our stress response system also protects our self-concept. And when this is threatened we tend to turn inward and experience fight, flight or freeze on a different level.
We either experience it through self-judgement and criticism (fight), isolation (flight), or rumination (freeze).
The answer? Self-compassion.
If self-judgement, isolation, or rumination are a struggle for you than you need a dose of self-compassion. Check out my post all about Self-Compassion, coming soon. You can also access some self-compassion meditations from researcher, Kristin Neff’s website.
Inconclusion, let’s start alleviating Stress today!
4 Action Steps for Stress Relief
So mamas, I know that is a lot of information to process. And I know that as a stressed out mom it can be hard to get what you need from a long blog post so here are 4 things I want you to do…
But first, I just want to commend you for sticking it out and making it this far. You showed up for yourself and hopefully learned some invaluable tools along the way. Make sure you go back and complete those reflection exercises. And follow the links to the other connected blog posts/videos.
- Review the 7 ways to complete the stress cycle (see above). And pick 1 to do each day. (Maybe pick your top 3 and rotate between them)
- Our mindset toward stress is super important. Instead of fearing stress we need to see it’s value and learn to manage and leverage it.
- Stress makes us social. Our body wants us to seek human connection and be supported by those we love and trust. When you are stressed, ask for help!
- When you experience stress I need you to turn towards your feelings with kindness and compassion for yourself. Treat yourself like you would a friend
Words of Love
I am here for you mama and want to leave you with this blessing….
Sending you a calming blanket of peaceful energy. May you feel relaxed, serene, and content. Let your troubles go, and be at ease. Might you appreciate the things that make you smile, accept the challenges that lay ahead, and acknowledge the blessings you experienced today. #inthistogether
Always here for you
Sarah Reckman (@thewholehearted.mom)
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