Okay, aside from trying to be cutsie with the title (sing it to the tune of "I'm Sexy and I Know It"), there's nothing cute about stress. Studies show it affects almost every area of our bodies, including our brains, hearts, guts, immune systems, and endocrine systems (which includes sexual hormones and function). When we’re stressed out, we don’t think or focus as well (“Squirrel!”), our moods are wonky, and our memory wanes…
Where was I? Oh, yes. STRESS!
Research also suggests that chronic stress can be a culprit in causing inflammation inside our bodies. Inflammation is, in turn, a major contributing factor in diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, gut issues…the list goes on and on.
But not all stress is bad. If a tiger came roaring into your house, the “Fight, Flight, or Freeze Instinct”—your body’s natural stress response—would kick in. Now, I can’t say which one of these you would choose, but I’m guessing “flight”. In other words, RUN! This is acute stress and the flight stress response in this case definitely has its benefits!
The problem, however, is when your fight, flight, or freeze response is constantly switched on, as is the case for many of us in this modern age. And while most of us no longer need to run from saber-toothed tigers anymore, our brains don’t differentiate between a true, immediate physical threat and ones that tend to threaten us mentally and emotionally over the long haul. Work stress, family stress, relationship stress, financial stress… This all adds up to chronic stress, and this is the stress that causes chronic inflammation and ailments.
What’s a Mom to Do?
For starters, take a deep breath…in through your nose…and slowly out your mouth. You might think deep breathing is some woo-woo distraction, but there is science behind it.
Studies show that deep, diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the vagus nerve (Let’s go to Vagus, baby!). The vagus nerve is the largest cranial nerve. In Latin, vagus means “wandering”. And wow, does this nerve wander! It starts at the back of your brain and branches down and out, touching nearly every major organ in your body, including your heart, lungs, and gut.
The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, not to be confused with the sympathetic nervous system, which cranks your heart rate and breathing up (you know, when you get “nervous” or “all nerved up” and jittery?). You can remember the difference with the prefix “para”. Think…parachute. It slows you down when free-falling. Stress is your free-fall, the vagus nerve is your parachute.
Other tools to add to your stress-less toolbox include various grounding techniques and self-care. While bubble baths and pedicures can certainly be a part of your self-care routine, when you’re a mom, sometimes simply peeing alone with no kids at the bathroom is an act of self-care. Some others: taking a shower and applying a little lip gloss, shaving your legs, eating something that doesn’t resemble boxed mac and cheese, calling a friend, reading a book composed with words that are above a first-grade level…
Self-care can be whatever you need it to be. And ultimately, self-care is really family-care, because as the saying goes, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!"
[Read Part 2 of this post to help get to the root of your stress!]