Dear Stressed out Mom: HOW TO RELIEVE STRESS WHEN LIFE FEELS HARD

Hey mama, 

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 mom’s have it all together. Do you find yourself regularly hiding in the bathroom just to get a moment of peace and quiet. Do you find 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. 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 so that you can do things differently and life doesn’t have to feel so hard. 

I have learned that when we experience a number of stressors that all pile up on top of each other it creates stress. We need to be aware that stressors and stress are different. According to the Mayoclinic stress is your body’s reaction to the demands of life, while stressors are events or conditions in your surroundings that may trigger stress.  

Did you know that stress is actually a normal part of life and serves a good purpose? You can experience stress from your environment, body, and thoughts. Stress has a good purpose to – it is meant to motivate you and keep you safe. 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. 

I was about to write about how stress affects us, and about the stress response system, and then I saw this article and thought it was so well articulated so i am sharing it with you here instead. 

“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. Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without 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 Cycle

Click the image to add this book to your library!

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

  1. You sense danger – your stress response system is triggered. (anger, embarrassment, sadness, vulnerability, or an actual threat to your safety)
  2. You respond to the stressors – when this happens we often have a physiological response such as racing heart, tense muscles, shallow breathing etc. and using survival instincts to help you get rid of the stressor (such as run away, fight back etc)
  3. 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’   

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 release the stress 2 things will happen… 1) your body will store that negative energy in an organ and stress hormones will wreak havoc on your physical systems (IBS anyone? ) and 2) 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

Whether you 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. 

  1.  What are your three tops stressors?
  2. I invite you to imagine what your perfect ‘average’ day would look like….
    1. Do you wake up to an alarm? Do you wake up to your kids? Are you up early or do you sleep in?
    2. What does your morning routine look like? Do you sit down for a warm breakfast? Do you get the kids out the door to school and then sit down with a journal and coffee to have some alone time? Do you head to work and take the first 5 min of your work day to write down your gratitudes?
    3. What does lunch look like? Your afternoon? What does dinner prep/planning look like? 
    4. 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.  
    5. 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. 
    6. 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? Maybe 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. 

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. 

Click the image to add it to your library!
  1. Connection – our stress response system is designed to make you social, as it releases oxytocin. I think this is so cool… 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 you can talk to – a loving presence in your life, in her book The Gifts of Imperfection (also a must read).  
  2. A 20 sec 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! 
  3. Move your body – this may be yoga, going for a walk, exercise, dancing, progressive muscle relaxation techniques…. Just move your body! 
  4. 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. Deep breathing comes from the belly and involves long, slow exhales. 
  5. Laughter – 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.
  6. Cry – you can never underestimate the power of a good cry. There is no shame in crying.
  7. Creative expression – having a creative outlet is super important for a number of reasons. 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.  

Changing Your Mindset About Stress

There is a TedTalk called How to Make Stress Your Friend by Kelly McGonigal that is a must watch! (I’ve included the link at the bottom)  

What I want to highlight from her video is this… 

  1. When you change your mindset (what you believe about stress), you also change how your body is affected by stress. Kelly talks about a study where 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 thats a no brainer), however only those who also believed that stress is harmful (watch the video for more details)
  2. Therefore we need to instead see stress (not stressors, our stress response) as energy that pulses through our body in order to help us make it through something difficult – our body is working with us, the best way it knows how. 
  3. In fact, 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. 
  4. 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!)  

Action steps

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 is 4 things I want you to do… 

  1. 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) 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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!
  4. 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!  

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. May you appreciate the things that make you smile, accept the challenges that lay ahead, and acknowledge the blessings you experienced today. 

Xoxo 

Sarah 

Follow along on Instagram @mentallyhealthy_me

Gift for You – Free download

Pin It

Share the love! We want to reach as many mamas as possible with this important and invaluable information. If you are able to, please pin your favourite image and help someone else on their journey of becoming a Wholehearted mom!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: