Module 4 Healthy Mind, Healthy Mother

Strategies to Reduce Stress

There are many different ways and strategies to reduce stress. Ideas are available through professionals (doctors, psychologists, counsellors, other professionals), through the internet, apps and self-help books.

Understanding stress

It is important to reflect on your thinking and behaviour, and what physically happens to your mind and body when you are stressed. The stress response is a flight or fight response. The physical symptoms may be increased heart rate, heightened sense of alertness, increased blood pressure, increased respiratory rate (fast breathing) and sweating. You may feel anxious, worried, fearful or depressed. Experiencing these symptoms long term is not good for your health. You might think of the brain as having a default mode when you are not paying attention. This may be daydreaming, catastrophizing, worrying, replaying, reliving, thinking about the past, or having a conversation with yourself. Your default mode works overtime when you’re anxious or depressed. In this default mode we are more vulnerable to stress and anxiety, worry, fear, doubt and depression.

When you identify a stressor that is in the past or the future, then the stressor is in the imagination. You might also experience this ‘imaginary stressor’ as anxiety. Anxiety has a long term wear and tear on the system, it burns up energy, it’s not good for your health, it makes your immune system weaker and less able to fight coughs, colds and infections. Not a good scenario! You have the capacity to lower your own responses to stressors, remove some of them from your daily life, and minimize the frequency that you confront other stressors.

Your mind body relationship goes very deep, more than just a little bit of muscle tension. Stress affects the brain, our immune system, your metabolism and your physiology—even your DNA. Those effects of chronic stress are actually reversible if you learn how to recognise and switch off the unnecessary activation of the response. It is very interesting to learn that one successful strategy that has some scientific evidence supporting its effectiveness is in fact mindfulness. Learning to be mindful and be present in the current moment can improve your happiness and health. Mothers of children with a disability are known to layer many activities into each chunk of available time—more than other mothers. In general, women are considered to be very skilled at multitasking. However multitasking can be a challenge because the human brain labours to pay attention to multiple things at the same time—and this overload can create a stress response. Basically, your brain needs you to pay focused attention to one thing at a time and prioritise each task.

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Worry is something that many mothers say that they do frequently. Often worry masquerades as planning and preparation for possible, though unlikely, adverse events. Coming back to the moment and re-engaging your attention helps to reduce the stress and tension that comes with your mind projecting into and living an event that hasn’t happened yet.

It is just reality that anxiety and tension will arise at times, whether you want them to or not. If you try to ignore them, you may escalate the very feelings that you’re trying not to experience.

Another aspect of mindfulness is to learn to feel comfortable with a wave of anxiety. If you say “No, no I don’t like this feeling, quick make it go away, practise some mindfulness” what you may be doing is feeding the fear and anxiety and making the very thing you’re trying not to experience more intrusive. Learning to feel comfortable with that feeling is an important thing, to soften your attitude to it, to not beat yourselves up for experiencing it because it might be entirely natural that you have these thoughts and feelings. And that’s alright.

Firstly, we would like to share some of the main aspects of mindfulness. Secondly we would like to share a psychological approach to managing stress and distress. Finally we will share with you one easy way of making yourself accountable to increase the frequency that you participate in activities that make you feel great.

Entry last updated 10 February, 2020