Pregnancy can be a blissful time rich with new experiences, sensations, and emotions that enrich your life in a plethora of exciting ways. And yet, it can also be filled with the not-so-pleasant stuff like morning sickness, fatigue, and mood swings.
During this turbulent time, countless books, and “parenting experts” tout the importance of reducing stress levels, but there seem to be far fewer discussions about what we can actually do to accomplish this. In today’s post, I hope to bring you some of my favourite tips and tricks to help you feel more grounded and at peace throughout your pregnancy.
First Thing’s First, What Kinds of Stress Are There?
Typically, there are three different types of stress that people experience:
1. Time-related stress: stress related to feelings that there just aren’t enough hours in a day.
2. Anticipatory stress: stress due to imagining what might go wrong in the future.
3. People stress: when you feel stressed around certain people.
What Coping Mechanisms Are Useful for Each Category of Stress?
1. Time-related stress:
• The best way to cope with this is to improve your time management skills. Making a to-do list and writing it down is essential in my opinion. This is vital if you are experiencing ‘Pregnancy Brain’! From there, I like to go one step further and divide your tasks into the following categories: Urgent, Important, Delegate, or Forget It. This tells you what needs to be done immediately, what needs to be done eventually but isn’t pressing, what can be passed on to someone else, and what might not even actually need to be done any more.
• Figure out when you’re most productive and do the most important tasks during that time frame. Deciphering what environment is most conducive to you being productive is also helpful; if you need quiet time, see if you can go into work an hour early or stay an hour later when there are less people in the office.
2. Anticipatory stress:
• It’s easy to think of all the things that could go wrong during pregnancy or as a parent in general, but worrying won’t change the outcome. What are the smallest things you can do in the now to make yourself feel more in control of the situation you’re fantasizing about? Is the future picture you’re painting realistic or are you exaggerating things in your mind? And if you’re fearing something about the future, ask yourself what would be your “upper limit” in that situation that would cause you to change your actions. For example, if you’re worried about pain management during labour, what will be the signs that will help you decide if you will or will not have an epidural? Defining your threshold and sharing it with your partner can be helpful.
3. People stress:
• Everyone has an opinion when it comes to parenting, which can become exhausting. Know when you need to cut yourself off from other people—or at least limit your time with them. From there, develop strategies to decrease the amount of time you’re near them. It can be as simple as sitting on the opposite side of the table if you’re at dinner or putting on headphones at work.
• Know when you need down time to recuperate and be able to say “no” when that mood strikes.
• Try to develop empathy for the other person. Your mother may want to be involved in the pregnancy because hers wasn’t… knowing this can help you separate your emotions from her behaviour.
Overall Methods to Decrease Stress
1. Progressive muscle relaxation*:
This technique involves tensing and releasing different muscle groups so you know how it feels to have fully relaxed muscles. First, you squeeze the muscles as hard as you can for about five seconds. Really focus on what it feels like to have tense muscles. When those five seconds are up, quickly release the tension and exhale. Pay attention to the difference between super tense and super relaxed muscles. Here’s the series of clenching/relaxing that I would follow (TIP: put on some relaxing music in the background as you do this!)
• Forehead: raise eyebrows as high as you can
• Eyes: clench eyelids tightly
• Mouth: open your mouth as wide as you can so your jaw feels stretched
• Neck and shoulders: raise your shoulders so they get as close to your ears as possible
• Chest: take a deep breath and hold so your chest feels tight
• Stomach: suck it in as much as you can
• Butt: squeeze your butt cheeks together
• Right arm: clench your fist and extend your arm as hard as you can
• Left arm: see above
• Upper leg: extend your leg as hard as you can and focus on how tight your quadriceps and hamstrings feel
• Lower leg: put your ball of the foot on the floor and tighten your calf muscle
• Foot: curl your toes downward
2. Go out in nature and unplug.
• There’s something about being fully immersed in nature, whether that’s through taking in a sunset or sunrise when it’s quiet outside, feeling grass on bare feet, or basking in some hot rays of sunshine. Being immersed in nature not only promotes peacefulness, but your body also reaps the physical benefits of doing so such as absorbing some much-needed vitamin D or inhaling some fresh oxygen.
• This has become a new trend in the social media world that involves doing extremely mundane tasks as a form of helping yourself feeling better. It might be as simple as making your bed, doing the dishes, or packing your lunch for the next day. The best thing about #BoringSelfCare is that it can make you feel slightly more in control when things seem all over the place.
4. Do a totally brainless activity.
• Yes, I watch The Bachelorette. I’m not proud of it, but after a long day of exerting mental and emotional energy, this show allows me to shut my brain off. I get the same sensation when I read a really stupid trashy magazine that consists of fictional stories about celebrities. Find something—anything—that let’s you go practically brain dead.
5. Learn to say no and set boundaries for yourself.
• It’s easy to feel like you need to say “yes” to everything due to social pressures or to avoid hurting people’s feelings. But if you continually put yourself second (or third or fourth) on the priority list, you’re just going to get burnt out. Once the baby comes, this will become even more important – be good to yourself. Remember the advice you get on airplanes: You have to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping someone else.
6. Engage in a hobby that makes you feel good about yourself—or pushes yourself outside of your comfort zone.
• Try something totally new that pushes you out of your comfort zone. Seeing your ability to learn and adapt to new situations and environments reminds us that we’re resilient and hobbies also give us time away from our stressors. I actually just started taking a pottery class for the first time, and it’s been amazing to realize that I’m capable of learning something totally new. Plus, those Wednesday night classes give your partner and baby a chance to bond with each other… every Wednesday night! For more on how to build your resilience, check out this other blog post of mine.
7. Eat well and exercise.
• If you’re downing six Red Bulls a day, eating drive-thru food every five days a week, and sitting on your butt 24/7, your body is going to be in such a poor state that handling stress will just throw it over the edge. Cue getting sick, feeling like garbage, and having to possibly miss work (which, of course, only adds more stress). Do yourself a favour and eat as clean as you can during more overwhelming periods. It’s also important to find a form of exercise that connects to you. Many experts highlight the benefits of yoga and meditation—which are certainly helpful and can be done at home even after baby arrives! —but if you feel less stressed after punching a boxing bag for 30 minutes, do that!
The Bottom Line
Identifying the type of stress you experience most often, knowing how to identify stressors, and finding helpful solutions on how to deal with these stressors are the keys to feeling more grounded. And never forget: you’re more capable, resilient, and powerful than you know! Written by Kristina Virro, BA, MA (Journalism), RHN, MSc (Psychotherapy – current) from anxiety comes.com