Every woman has some everyday anxiety, but soon–to–be moms can pile on a few more factors sure to send even the coolest cucumber into night sweats (seriously, this growing baby is going to come out where?).
You know that stress is bad for your mental and physical health—and it could have an effect on your baby as well. Some studies, such as a 2008 Columbia University one, have found that elevated levels of maternal cortisol (the stress hormone) may lead to shorter pregnancies and possibly affect the baby’s development.
So while we can’t do anything about your unrelenting boss (sorry!), stress relief is just a few deep breaths away. Here, experts share their best techniques for prickly situations.
1. You’re already stressed about the day’s tasks and it’s not even 9 a.m.
Brain going a mile a minute? Take a 5-minute break.
Learn to identify the moment when your stress level becomes overwhelming and at that moment, bring your awareness to your breath, says Sara Trapani, Registered Yoga Teacher, Bard College, Omega Institute. It’s as simple as noticing the natural pattern of your breath as it draws in and out through your nose. Close your eyes and take at least five, full breaths. As you breathe, notice the rising and falling of your chest, and relax your face and jaw. Practice this anytime, anywhere—it will calm your nervous system and create an instant sense of grounding and regained control.
2. You’re stuck in traffic and already late.
“This is the perfect situation to practice surrender.” says Trapani. “You can’t control the traffic, and you likely have no way to get out of it. Recognize that becoming tense and frustrated will not change or improve the situation.”
First, turn on a radio station or CD with calming music. Then take a moment to feel your hands on the steering wheel. Now, take a full breath in through your nose and let it out of your mouth with an audible sigh. Aaaah. Or, as you inhale, draw your shoulders up to your ears and say inside your head, It’s okay. When you exhale, let your shoulders drop and say to yourself, Let it go!
You can also visualize that you’re inhaling positive, light energy and exhaling all of your stressful energy. Repeat this exercise at least five times. Now just surrender to the situation.
3. Work is absolutely crazed and your boss is driving you nuts.
Taking just a couple of minutes for some deep breathing and gentle stretching during a hectic day will help instill the mental clarity to organize your thoughts, says Kim Watters, Fitness Manager at Red Mountain Resort in Utah. Here are her three favorite office–friendly stretches. Hold each one for at least 20 seconds.
Abs and side stretch: Sit near the front edge of your desk chair. Lengthen your arms overhead and exaggerate your reach. Now stretch up through your right hand, lengthening the right side of your body more while pressing down with your left heel. Switch hands and repeat to the other side.
Neck stretch: Sit near the front edge of your chair. Raise your shoulders up and press down. Repeat a few times. Then roll them forward, up, back and then down. Repeat a few times. Turn your head as far to the right as possible. Repeat to the left. Now, tilt your head to the right and then repeat to the left. Finally, tilt your chin down and then pull it in towards the chest.
Back stretch: Sit forward on your chair with your legs a little wider than your hips. Lean forward from the hips and drop your torso down so your head is resting between your thighs (or close, if you're expanding belly is limiting you!). Let your head and arms hang down toward the floor.
4. You're stressing out about weight gain and your clothes not fitting.
Every pregnant woman has those days when the outfit that would have fit yesterday is not going to happen today—and that’s never a fun way to start the day.
This is a great time to “give yourself some love," says Trapani. While seated or lying down, rest both of your hands on your chest. Feel the warmth of your hands as connected to your body. Send your breath into your hands and imagine your chest filling up with warmth. Offer some mental, positive affirmations to yourself like, “You are healthy,” and, “You are strong.” It’s possible to change your negative feelings.
Remember that healthy eating and light to moderate exercise are the best things for you to do for yourself and your baby. Meditation will help you be more in tune with what feels right for you, says Watters. Do activities that you enjoy and make you feel good, like going to a yoga class, listening to your favorite music, meeting a friend, or having a date night with your partner.
Now put on your stretchy pants, accessorize beautifully, and get on with your day!
5. You have a million things to prep and do before this baby comes.
Meditation may help you to sort through the things that really must be done before baby, and what can wait, says Marci Howard-May, Spa Services Manager at Red Mountain Resort. By letting go of overwhelming thoughts you can focus on one item on your list at a time instead of thinking of all of them. Yes, the crib, car seat and stroller are important before junior arrives, but the entire nursery doesn’t need to be decorated to perfection right now.
Do a brief calming meditation (like this 5-minute meditation), then pick up a pencil and write a list of what you feel are the most important tasks you need to accomplish, suggests Trapani. Remain relaxed, and create a clear strategy on how to complete the task that will give you the biggest sense of relief when completed. “By taking those few minutes to breathe, focus and relax, you can reduce that sensation of being overwhelmed and make yourself be more productive,” says Howard-May.
6. You're getting nervous about the labor and delivery.
First, remember that every pregnant woman is nervous about delivering her baby (whether she admits it or not). Watters suggests this meditation exercise to help you get in tune with your body:
Get in a comfortable position, either seated or lying down on your side. Tense one area of your body for 2-3 seconds and then let that area relax. Move from your toes up to your face, tensing and relaxing each area.
This will come in very handy when you're in labor, because it'll help you learn how to relax all areas of your body, conserve energy, and make the work of birthing your baby easier. The breathing exercises can also help you focus and relax. Visualizing an easy and smooth delivery can be very powerful, reassuring and relaxing when that anxiety arises.
More calming tips to use in any situation:
• Create a mantra. Mantras are simple phrases you can recite to yourself to change a limiting belief in any situation, and reduce stress. When you become overwhelmed, find a mantra that you can repeat at any time to ease anxiety, suggests Trapani. Create an encouraging statement like, “I am completely ready to take care of my baby”. Once you choose a mantra, say it to yourself silently over and over whenever anxiety pops up.
• Keep lavender essential oil in your purse and put a drop on your wrist. Rub your wrists and hands together and massage the back of your neck and tops of your shoulders when you feel stressed.
• Drink peppermint tea to relieve anxiety and an upset tummy.
• Try these CDs, recommended by the Red Mountain Spa experts: A Simple Guide to Successful Meditation (Ian Phillip White) and Soul Connection (Andrea Becky Hansen-Guided Meditation and Energy Healing).