Nurturing yourself is what enables you to be at your best for your children. It is not something that requires feeling guilty. It is something that is necessary for the well being of mothers and their children. Further, mothering is not a hobby you picked up for fun. You work hard for the sake of your children and family, and that entitles you to respect, care – and stress relief.
Short-term Stress Relief
Even in the middle of the most insane day, there are lots of things you can do that will immediately lower your stress level and help you both feel better and create a small space in which you can begin to figure out how to lower your stresses over the long term.
Additionally, getting the needle on your personal stress meter out of the red zone stops the current wear and tear on your body, and it helps prevent your brain and hormones from getting so sensitized to stress that they over-react to it in the future.
Here are some soothing activities that you can do in one minute or less:
- Take four long, slow breaths, and as you exhale, imagine that a gray cloud of stress, worries or troubles is leaving your life. As you inhale, imagine that peace and love and wisdom are filling you up.
- Take your shoes off, rub the bottoms of your feet with your knuckles and massage the joints and tips of your toes.
- Smell something nice, like an orange or your child's hair, or put on a dab of perfume.
- Splash water on your face.
- While standing, bend over to touch the floor, shake your arms loosely and straighten up slowly as you take in a big breath.
- Look at something pretty.
- Knead your neck and shoulders.
- Nibble something good.
- Rub your eyes and the bones around them gently.
- Hug your child or partner for one whole minute.
- Remember a good joke.
- Repeat a favorite saying or prayer to yourself.
Long-term Stress Relief
Immediate stress relief feels great, but it's also important to build up your psychological resilience for the long term. The essence is simple: First, let go of the "bad," like tension, sadness or troubling thoughts.
Then, when you have released these burdens on your mind, you will have created a space in yourself in which to take in the "good," such as positive experiences of happiness and self-worth. You can let go of stress in each part of your inner world, including your body sensations, mental images, emotions, desires and thoughts.
Letting Go of Stressful Thoughts
Untrue, illogical or overly negative thoughts just increase your stress – and insight into them is like waking up from a bad dream, usually to good news, as one mother found out.
She says: "I got a message at work that the daycare staff had phoned me. I called them and called them, but their line was always busy, so I left and drove over. It's true, I usually assume the worst. I was sure Jasmine had gotten hurt, and I worried about all the horrible possibilities the whole way. When I got there, they said she was fine, they'd had some trouble with their phones and they just wanted to ask me about my payment last week. I felt a little silly about getting so worked up."
One of the most powerful methods for releasing stressful thoughts is to talk back to them. All you have to do is catch the unrealistic thoughts that are making you stressed and replace them with true, logical and positive ones. Many studies have found that this positive self-talk is one of the most powerful ways to cope with stress. In essence, you are sticking up for yourself inside your own mind by focusing on the objective facts, defending yourself against unfair attacks and giving encouragement.
Taking in the Good
After you let go of stressful experiences, replace them with positive ones. Every day has dozens of little opportunities – such as moments of pleasure, achievement or love – to replenish yourself psychologically. Each of these is an oasis where you can rest briefly and refuel yourself for the challenges ahead.
Throughout your day, really pay attention to positive events. For example, notice everything you're accomplishing. Or has your child been especially cute, your partner acted supportively or someone praised your work?
We're not talking about million-dollar moments, but the small changes in everyday life. In a fundamental sense, the person you are is the distillation of all the experiences you've ever had. By consciously putting new, good ones in the emotional memory bank each day, you build up an increasingly positive balance.
So when a tasty dish is set before you, dive in with a big spoon! As your day unfolds, make sure that positive events register as positive experiences. Stay with those experiences a few seconds or minutes longer than you normally would. Let your body relax around the good feelings, be filled with them and soak them up like a sponge. If you like, you could imagine that they are being placed in a treasure chest in your heart and you can take them out and feel them again any time you want.
Out with the Old, In with the New
Going a step further, you could actively dislodge old, bad experiences from their places in emotional memory by replacing them with new, good experiences. All you have to do is be aware of both experiences at the same time – the present, positive one and the old, unpleasant one – and let the new one be a more powerful experience than the old. Then you'll have an internal sense of the good, current experience dissolving and replacing the painful, old one, of finally getting fed where you are hungry inside. You'll be giving yourself today some of what you didn't get – but should have gotten – as a child.
In particular, try experiments in which you do something out of character that challenges a negative belief, and observe the results. For example, if you normally feel nervous about being assertive, because deep down you expect to be punished for it in some way, you could try being one notch more direct, blunt or forceful with your partner, a friend or a coworker. If the experiment goes badly (but make sure it's a fair one!), maybe the old belief is true after all. If it goes well – which is what usually happens – then let the good news sink in. This process is probably the single most effective method of personal growth we know, and every day has opportunities to use it.