Lower Your Stress

Lower Your Stress

Can you take a moment?

The Practice:
Lower your stress

Why?

[Note: This JOT is adapted from Mother Nurture – a book written for mothers – focusing on typical situations that are experienced by many, though not all, mothers during the years before their children enter grade school. These are most commonly the years when mothers (biological and adoptive) experience the greatest demands of parenting. The article has been adapted to use non-gender specific language.]

Nobody likes being stressed, but parents often seem to have a hard time doing anything about it. First, it might look like nothing can help. But while it’s true that parents no longer have the kind of control over their lives they once had, it’s important to remember that no matter how bad it gets, there is always something that can be done to soothe nerves and boost spirits. Right now, for instance, try shifting positions, loosening tight clothing, or taking a full breath. Does that feel even a little better? It’s a small thing, but it shows how small actions and adjustments can affect stress levels.

Second, experiencing some resistance to taking time to reduce stress is normal. Many people were raised to put everyone else’s needs first, and they can have a hard time asserting their own. And for parents it just gets worse. Commitments to the children’s welfare is so primal that it’s hard to pay attention to one’s own needs – it can be hard to think about taking a nap or a bath when the children need something – plus other people can add guilt for daring to try.

This view is pretty darn crazy. Nurturing one’s own needs is what enables parents to provide the best care for their children.

How?

Even in the middle of the most insane day, there are lots of things that can be done to immediately lower stress levels, foster a better sense of well-being, and create a small space in which to begin figuring out how to lower stresses over the long term. Additionally, getting out of the red zone stops the current wear and tear on the body, and it helps prevent the brain and hormones from getting so sensitized to stress that they overreact to it in the future.

That’s why it’s important to feel good as often as possible, at least several times each day. These experiences are more than enjoyable: they help protect the body against future stresses, improve problem solving, and stop downward spirals.

Here are some soothers to practice throughout the day:

  • Take four long, slow breaths, and with the exhale, imagine that a gray cloud of stress, worries, or troubles is leaving the body. With the inhale, imagine that peace and love and wisdom are filling the body.
  • Repeat a favorite saying or prayer.
  • Make a cup of tea.
  • Listen to music.
  • Go for a short walk.
  • Call a friend for a quick chat.
  • Meditate.
  • Exercise, dance, stretch, or do yoga.
  • Do some art or a craft.
  • Prepare a simple healthy meal.

Some of these things will take only a minute or so, and can be done while nursing, tending to children, doing housework, or driving. It’s also important to continue using whatever stress-reducing techniques are already working well. Partners can also help one another take breaks, perhaps for half an hour in the evening, or for several hours each weekend. And it’s important to make sure there are times with the kids that are especially enjoyable. Make a mental list of fun things to do with the children and make time to do those activities on a regular basis. Plus dream up a wish list of new things to do with the kids, and then do at least some of them. It doesn’t have to be a big-ticket item.

Be at peace
Another way to stay well is by focusing on being, rather than doing. Sure there’s a lot to do, but avoid running around like the Energizer Bunny more than is needed, being perfectionistic, or staying busy as a way to avoid certain feelings. Every so often, stop all that doing for a bit. Perhaps the In Box is empty, the baby’s asleep, the bills are in the mail. The urgency of the daily round falls away and a quiet fills the air. Thoughts slow down, no longer grabbed and jostled by tasks. There is presence in this moment, and no worries about the future. Allow the feeling of being freer, less bound by burdens, less limited by roles. The edges soften. Each breath comes like a wave on the seashore, rising and falling, the ocean abiding. There is peace, contentment, warmth, and happiness, just here, just as you are.



Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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