I decided to do this series on Stress Management because it is a constant work-in-progress for me. (teaser–I share a big Ah Ha! moment in part 3) I see so many moms dealing with chronic stress that I wanted to share some specific strategies so that managing our day-to-day stress becomes an essential part of caring for ourselves.
I had no idea that I was mismanaging my stress before I had Charlotte. I thought that it was completely normal to be doing ten things at once, carrying around other people’s problems, and thinking deeply and heavily about things I couldn’t control.
When I went into therapy at the onset of my Post Partum Depression, my therapist dubbed me ‘omni-competent’, a ‘pleaser’, and a ‘plate spinner’. These titles made sense to me. I knew I had always been a type-A overachiever, and I can still recall my 7th grade teacher calling me a Perfectionist. What I didn’t know was that a lifetime of these negative thoughts and labels ruined me. In 2008, I was handed a severely depressed and anxious state after the birth of my second child.
After many years of a non-sensible low-fat, high-carb diet and a I-can-do-it-all-attitude, I was nutritionally depleted and mentally exhausted. Something had to change, and I received the signals loud and clear. (Read my Adrenal Fatigue experience for more details). Thankfully, I had a wonderful therapist to gently guide me out of my old ways and into a more peaceful existence where I spin fewer plates and say “No” more often.
It has not been easy to face the challenges of the last 4 years with this foreign-Zen-like attitude. While I sometimes do not recognize myself, I also catch myself sliding back into my old ways. I feel like I am constantly integrating pieces of the old me with new information that I learn about my children, the Paleo diet, and my overall health.
However, I know the key to my success with my adrenal issues is having an awareness of my stress level and keeping a constant eye on myself. It can be time consuming and overwhelming to manage myself on top of everything else, but I know that being aware of and reducing my stress has lead to a better life.
What does it mean to be aware of your stress?
Being a former teacher and a visual learner and if I want to understand something intangible like stress management, it helps for me to create a visual for what I’m working with. One of my favorite images is the one below:
The green zone is safe and my feeling of happy/sane/calm/controlled. I find that I can deal with life’s ups and downs. I know I’ve let myself slip when…. I feel irritability, digestive distress, muscle tension, or illness, and if I have really let things get out of control, I meet my old friend, Insomnia. All of these symptoms are telling me to deal with the stress differently. My adrenal glands are typically overworked, and I have to react immediately.
Your symptoms of stress response may not be as severe. Everybody works differently under stress and each one of us has our own markers for making changes or slowing things down. The most important piece to managing chronic stress is an awareness and acceptance of how our bodies work and developing an appropriate reaction to what they are trying to tell us. One of my biggest struggles on this journey was learning my own limits and not viewing these signals as a sign of failure.
Through much trial and error, I am learning to use life’s challenges in a positive way. I have written in this blog here and here about how I must put myself as a priority and use the powerful tool of self-forgiveness to get back on track. I have learned to accept myself as a work-in-progess, and instead of fearing life’s challenges, I use them as a gauge to see how my body and mind react.
This week my daughter Dana got the stomach flu on her 7th birthday. Of course, We had a beautiful day planned that we could not enjoy. The disappointment was intense, but in the end, I was proud of how I pulled it together, made it a special day for her, and most importantly recognized how well I now handle life’s curveballs.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this Stress Management series–Taking action.