Stress. It’s a loaded word. A little bit is a good thing: it gets your adrenaline going and can kick-start your motivation to achieve a variety of things. But too much of it can be devastating: potentially damaging your health, your relationships, and your family. If you ever find yourself out of patience and continuingly snapping at your children or colleagues while grabbing a Tylenol for a headache,chances are you’re a mom stressed for time.
The proper definition for stress is a “demand you have no control over,” says Georgia Witkin, Ph.D., an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and director of The Stress Program at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
Women, and moms in particular, are especially aware of these types of demands. The examples are plenty: your child sparks a fever, or has an accident at school, so you must leave work to pick him up. Or, your mother-in-law, who moved in with you, has fallen down and needs to be taken to a doctor—which you do on your lunch hour. Somehow, these types of demands seem to fall on women more than men, regardless of whether the woman works full-time or not. Schools typically call moms. Mothers-in-law typically request their daughters or daughters-in-law to help them. Certainly, women can take steps for additional help, but inevitably, we end up with too little time to get everything done.
“The number one stress for women is time deficit. Women run twenty-one minutes short every day—and this is in basic time to do basic activities. Women have new roles today added to their old roles and we have over-loaded schedules. Email adds to that. In one survey we conducted women said that they now consider the middle of the night as their time!” says Witkin.
Fatigue obviously exacerbates the problem, as it’s a vicious cycle—the more demands you have, the more tired you’ll become trying to meet them.
“The reality is that we just have more on our plates today and life moves more quickly. Cell phones and email can just double our demands,” Witkin reiterates.
There are many strategies for managing time (see The Over-Scheduled Family) but regardless of what tactics you use to reduce the number of commitments, chances are, your stress levels may still be high, so incorporating tension-reducing strategies is key.
One technique is taking a “time out” every day.
Research from Harvard University shows that incorporating twenty minutes a day of “pause time” can cut your stress level in half. Whenever you pause, your breathing returns to normal, slowing your heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones, which reduces the adrenaline levels in your body caused by tension, explains Witkin.
For the busy mom, finding twenty minutes on some days may seem impossible— especially during the work week. But, luckily, you can break up the pause time in increments.
“Stop for tea, read something amusing, take a long shower. It doesn’t have to be twenty minutes at one time. Five minutes of diaphragm or yoga breathing counts. You need twnety minutes of pausing a day to cut off the adrenaline which affects concentration, your muscles, your health,” Witkin says.
Lisa Nastasi, Ph.D., DivineCaroline’s own DivineGuidance columnist who is a stress reduction specialist and clinical psychologist adds that for those who can’t find twenty minutes during their day, they might want to focus on their mornings.
“Why not start your day with ten minutes spent visualizing yourself and your day unfolding as you desire. Getting a positive, yet realistic start to your day in this way is a good habit to cultivate as it helps you organize and set mini goals for the day,” she explains.
Nastasi also warns that many women cause undue tension with inflated expectations for themselves.
“I would define stress as anytime we are trying valiantly to live up to some idealized expectation of ourselves, our day, or our circumstances. As women, we pile a lot of expectations on and society joins in the chorus: be thin, be fit, be youthful, be an uber- mom, be happy, be kind, be a breadwinner. Asking too much of ourselves and holding ourselves up to some impossible ideal is stressful,” Nastasi shares.
“It’s not about forcing life to fit to our preconceived notion of what it should be, but rather going for what we want and fulfilling our responsibilities with more joy, lightness, and ease of being.”
Try Conscious Breathing.
When you’re feeling your heartbeat rise during a pressured moment, you may want to try conscious breathing, a cognitive therapy technique to lower stress and bring awareness into thoughts, body, and breath.
The first step is to come off autopilot and to recognize whatever is going on for you in the moment. It could be a strong emotion, feelings of being tired, or a pleasant experience. Are you sitting, standing, running, walking, eating, waiting on line or in traffic, dealing with a child’s tantrum? Whatever it is, pause, recognize and identify your experience without feeling like you need to change it in anyway, and tune into your breath and body.
Next, relax your abdomen and take ten conscious breaths. Really allow your mind to rest with each breath. When you are finished, return to the task at hand but keep some attention focused on the body and breath.