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by: Meredith Stedham, RN, LPC

Some of you ladies and moms are gifted with a natural tendency to be relaxed, calm, and take each day with a “go with the flow” kind of attitude. I must say I admire and respect you for that. I, however, am not a member of your club. My entire life I have gravitated towards routines, schedules, organization, and opting for planning ahead rather than spontaneity. All of this has been in an effort to strive toward the unattainable goal of feeling like things are “under control” in life. And while I am fully aware that life inevitably does not always fit neatly onto a color-coordinated google calendar, I still chase the dream that it will.

This week I had multiple conversations with expecting and new moms who found themselves in the midst of the battles that happen when our goals, hopes, and dreams collide with reality, uncertainty, and unexpected “bumps” in the road of life’s journey. Sometimes they are relatively minor shifts like a 5-month-old who seemed to be finally learning to allow themselves and everyone else in the house to sleep the majority of the night, until suddenly things shifted and now baby is waking up every 2 hours. Or it’s the expecting mom getting news of a blood test or ultrasound that warrants further testing. And when we females are especially hormonal, sleep deprived, and/or stressed, it can be something as simple as the office supply store deciding to no longer carry our favorite type of folders without our approval!

According to the U.S. Department f Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, “Stress happens when people feel like they don’t have the tools to manage all of the demands in their lives… even happy events, like having a baby or getting married can cause stress.” Some of the common signs of stress are: changes in appetite, feeling like you have no control or needing to have too much control, forgetfulness, headaches, lack of energy, lack of focus, poor task completion, irritability, trouble sleeping, and general aches and pains. Stress alone is a sufficient trigger for any of these symptoms, but new moms also often face sleep deprivation and a roller coaster of hormonal changes that can increase their chances of experiencing any or all of these reactions.

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While there is no guaranteed way to completely avoid stress and life changes, we do all have a choice in how we decide to cope. Here are 12 suggested stress relievers (in no particular order) to consider in 2012:

1. Get Active/Exercise
Virtually any form of exercise can help to reduce stress and increase the release of endorphins that help with focus and to stabilize moods.

2. Do Yoga
Yoga can help you relax, manage stress and anxiety, focus on controlled breathing, and help to achieve an overall feeling of peace.

3. Get Adequate Sleep
Adequate sleep helps your body to recover from the stressors of the day and improves overall concentration. Most adults require an average of 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.

4. Massage Tense Muscles
Muscle tension, especially in the neck and shoulders, is a common physical reaction to stress. Not to mention carrying a new baby and/or car seat all the time can increase the demands on these muscles! A professional massage session can do wonders to ease muscle tension and bring a feeling of renewal.

5. Eat Right
We all know what we “should” do here… lots of veggies, fruit, whole grains, etc. And drink plenty of fluids, especially water.

6. Get out of the House
This is especially important for new moms, and can be as simple as walking to the mailbox, a short stroll in the neighborhood, or loading yourself and baby in the car and go to a drive thru cleaners or other quick errand.

7. Set Attainable Goals & Priorities
No woman can do it all. And goals shift over our life span. When we are at our best, our daily to do list is longer and contains items from different categories such as fitness, social activities, career, hobbies, and relationships. For new moms, the list (especially in those early days of motherhood) can be as simple as feed baby, hold baby, change diapers, and (if you’re lucky) take a shower before the end of the day.

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8. Connect With Others
Healthy relationships are essential, especially for women. Whether you call, text, Skype, email, grab lunch, make a play date, or attend a new mom’s support group, women of all life stages are encouraged to hear that they are not alone.

9. Seek Counsel
We all go through periods of life that are more challenging and difficult to navigate. During these times, you may need to seek additional resources such as professional counseling or support groups such as our Baby Blues and Beyond Support Group.

10.Nurture a Hobby or Personal Interest
Doing something you enjoy is important for emotional health, and can be a source of renewal when you are feeling depleted.

11.Take Time to be in Nature
It is a simple exercise, but very effective. Looking at anything “green” like trees, plants, flower gardens, etc can help to calm and relax you. Plus the exposure to sunlight (in limited amounts) is helpful to regulate adequate levels of Vitamin D.

In our busy pace of daily life, stopping to reflect on our journey and all of the trials, tears, triumphs, and celebrations can be a very therapeutic exercise. So whether you put pen to paper, grab your laptop or other gadget, or post your on blog, telling your personal story can be enriching to you and your family.

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