There is no other way to describe it: as a mother of two young children and a small business owner, this s*&t is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S. My world has completely imploded between navigating COVID-related school closures, homeschooling and work on top of all the chores that need to get done.
I'm exhausted, I'm stressed and I feel completely depleted. And the saddest part is that I know I'm not alone. There are thousands of women who are struggling right now. I suppose I should find comfort knowing that I'm not the only one suffering through this, but it still pisses me off.
An impossible load is put on our shoulders every day and yet we are told to keep going and lean in. We are being set up to fail, but it's also ruining our physical and mental health which just adds to my frustration.
We all know that chronic stress is bad, like reaaaally bad for our physical and mental health. It affects all of the systems in our body – musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems. This is why you might have a backache one day and an upset stomach the next, or randomly miss a period.
As a health coach, this is why the first question I almost always ask my clients is, 'have you been under a lot of stress lately?' Stress is like a sneaky ninja, and you never know what part of the body it will affect. That's also why it's so important to keep stress in check.
You might be thinking, 'Lauren, how am I supposed to keep my stress levels in check during a global pandemic?' I get it. I also know the last thing busy moms need is to add one more thing to their never ending to-do lists.
That's why I'm sharing three quick and simple methods you can try next time you feel your stress levels rising:
- Daydream. Picture yourself on a beach, your happy place, or better yet in the future where COVID isn't a thing anymore. Ahhh, can't you feel the stress melt away already? Even though our brain is a super complex organ, we need to treat it like a muscle which means it needs exercise, but it also needs rest. The bottom line is, we think too much. Even while watching TV or scrolling through social media, our brains are still processing information, which means we never get a break! No wonder we have trouble sleeping. So the next time you have five minutes between Zoom calls, try gazing out the window and imagining yourself on a beach with your favourite tropical drink in hand. Daydreaming helps reduce stress, but it can also free up mental space to help you set goals, solve problems, and expand your creativity. Check out this article to learn more.
- Slow down your breath. Try 5-5-7 breathing (also called 4-7-8 breathing or box breathing). Inhale for five seconds, hold your breath for five seconds then exhale for seven seconds. By doing this for two minutes or 10 breath cycles, you can turn your body from stressed to zen. Physiologically, you are switching from your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) to your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). To our bodies stress is stress, meaning if you're late for a meeting or a bear is chasing you, it has the same impact on our bodies. By slowing your breath you are sending a message to your body that your life is not under immediate threat (no, a bear is not chasing you!). The best part about this technique is that you can do it anywhere. I use this one a lot, especially when I've asked my son to put on his coat for the five hundredth time and he continues to play with his toys. To read more about our autonomic nervous system, check out this article.
- Positive Affirmations. Is anyone else from the era of Stuart Smalley from SNL? I grew up thinking that positive affirmations were a complete hoax, but it turns out we've come a long way since the nineties and research shows that the opposite is actually true. Repeating a positive phrase or statement can help overcome our inner saboteur and counter negative thoughts. Here is more info on positive affirmations and how to come up with your own. Mine is 'you are more important than the sticky Cheerios on the floor'. Meaning, 'stop cleaning and go and take care of yourself'.
So, the next time your shoulders start to creep up or your heart starts pounding and you feel like you are about to erupt like Mount Vesuvius, try one of these simple stress-reducing techniques. While we can't control everything that's going on in the world, we can learn to control our our thoughts, our breath and our words. Three seemingly small things that can have a significant impact on our health and wellbeing.
Lauren Wagner is a Registered Health Coach (RHC™) and Fitness Trainer based in Vancouver, Canada.