As moms, we carry a lot of stress. It's just part of the job, isn't it? We're juggling twenty things at the same time and we can't allow anything to drop. We can try to get better at saying "no", unloading some responsibilities and holding on to what really matters in life...but at the end of the day, there are lots of things we still have to do. Clearly, we can't say "no" to every responsibility.
Yesterday, we began the conversation about stress, rest and recovery in Part 1 of this two-part series. If you haven't read it yet, pause, go back and catch up.
We talked about the importance of having a daily routine and how comforting a familiar schedule can be. Of course, every day has variables, but you can set up certain aspects of your day to happen at the same time, such as your wake time, sleep time and meal times. We also highlighted the importance of regular exercise and a consistent sleep schedule, including the benefit of naps. Having these aspects in place can do wonders to reduce your overall stress.
Today, we're going to learn about some practical action steps that you can try that reduce body tension and alleviate the gobs of stress that you harbor.
Soft Tissue Work. An important tool for recovery and regeneration is good muscle work, and I’m not talking about working out. Think massage and foam rollers. Getting pressure and movement into your muscles encourages adequate blood flow to help them heal and helps realign knotted up muscle fibers.
Don’t underestimate this. If your muscles are bound up and carrying tension, this can translate to tension elsewhere. How can you properly relax when your shoulders are up in your ears?
Always foam roll after every workout, do extra foam rolling for tense muscles in between workouts and get massages when you feel it’s necessary. Being a strong woman is important, but those strong muscles should know when to stop contracting and just relax.
If the foam roller is totally new to you, here is a quick video demonstration. Obviously this video is sped up a bit...foam rolling should be smooth and flow naturally.
If you're interested in a complete tutorial on foam rolling, go here.
Stretching is effective too, if you do it right. Yes, proper stretching technique is important, but how you approach your stretching is even more important. If you just wrench on your muscles, gripping and bracing while you hold, your muscles will never release and gain flexibility.
Here is how to stretch properly: when you stretch, pull the muscle carefully all the way to its end range (it should hurt a little) and then focus on your breathing, not on the stretch. Allow your body to do deep, long inhalations and slow, complete exhalations. If you hold each stretch for at least 5 of these deep breaths, you will find that your body learns to relax and your flexibility will even improve.
Do you have no idea how to stretch? Head over to this static stretching tutorial.
Breathing. Breath work on its own is a marvelous stress reliever. It is one of the only ways that you can voluntarily control your nervous system, causing it to relax and quiet. Nothing else does this aside from medication. Cool, huh?
You can do breathing exercises anywhere. Of course, a quiet and relaxing environment is ideal, but how often do you have access to that? I sometimes do it in the car when the kids are screaming in the backseat (just don’t close your eyes!). Yep, it helps, but somehow the kids are still there. Gah!
You can even try it right now. Begin by inhaling, through your nose, trying to pull the air into your belly and lower chest area. You can picture yourself filling up a balloon in your belly. Inhale for a count of 5, then gently hold that breath for another count of 5. Slowly exhale through your mouth for a full count of 8. It should feel like you’re gently squeezing the air out of your belly balloon. You may even feel your abs contract.
Try it: 5 Count Inhale...5 Count Hold...8 Count Exhale
Repeat this inhale/hold/exhale cycle 5 or 6 times, consciously blocking out any distractions. You will get better at it and your nervous system will respond quicker the more you practice. Good breathing is an amazing skill to have as a mom.
For guided positional breathing practice, follow along with this video:
Put it all together. Now you should have a full toolbox of tools to handle your stress. Remember, letting your stress get out of hand can severely impact your ability to become healthier, lose weight and feel completely comfortable in your body. We know that exercise and nutrition are important, but managing your stress, especially as a mom, is just as important.
Here is a reminder of the stress and rest management tools you have learned:
You don't have to always be stressed out, momma. True, you can't control everything that gets put on your plate, but you can utilize these tools to help you manage it all, without being sent into a tailspin.
Feel free to comment if you have other stress-management strategies that work well for you! We'd love to hear about your own tricks...