Change is a cause of stress and having a baby changes your life in countless ways, some of which you didn't see coming. The physical and psychological trauma of childbirth, the pain and extreme tiredness that follows, chronic sleep deprivation for one or both partners, a host of new expectations for yourselves as parents responsible for another life, changes to financial state, ceasing work even temporarily to take on parenthood, and of course, failure to be 'super mum'. Each of these causes of stress are out of our control, but there are some simple things you can do to help lower your stress levels at home. So here are just a few tips on how to stress less and begin enjoying your new family.
Tip 1. Accept all offers of help.
Some of the countries with the lowest levels of postnatal depression are those in which the extended family members pull together to help after a baby is born. So let go of any ideas you have that you should be able to do it all alone. It makes sense for you and your baby to accept any offers of help, however small. Kindly accept the offer of a homemade meal from your neighbour or the chance to take a shower while your best friend holds the baby. All of these things accumulate to a calmer, happier household.
Tip 2. Involve older children.
If you have older children, this is the time to let them get involved. Recruit them to fetch the nappies or bring mummy a drink of water while she is feeding. They will enjoy being involved in the care of the newborn, so give them jobs that make them feel important. Have set times that you can spend being attentive to the older siblings to prevent them from feeling neglected. For example, while the baby has her morning nap, your older child knows this is the time he gets to choose a game to play with Mummy.
Tip 3. Share your worries.
If this is your first baby, expect to come across lots of worries about your baby along the way. Don't bottle these up. Instead, share them with your partner, health visitor or your own parents to get some reassurance and some advice. Many parents worry about being judged if they share problems with other new mums, because there is often the perception that everyone else is doing things perfectly. In actual fact, everyone has similar sorts of concerns, so talking about them can stop you feeling so alone.
Tip 4. Rest is golden.
Rest can feel like gold dust for a new parent so if an opportunity arises and you see the chance for a half hour nap – take it. Sleep deprivation makes us feel less able to cope with stress and so you are doing the best for you and your baby if you get as much rest as possible.
Tip 5. Nutrition.
When your normal routine is thrown out the window and you are struggling to find time to cook, the temptation is to eat unhealthy snacks at random intervals throughout the day. Poor diet will have a negative impact on your stress levels, so do what you can to keep your food intake as regular and nutritious as possible. Buy healthy snacks to keep in the house and when you do have time to cook, make a big batch that you can freeze for those days when you don't have the time or energy.
Tip 6. Get Outside.
In those early days with a new baby it can be difficult to get out of the house. If you can try to get out every day, even just for a short walk, this will have a positive impact on your stress levels and your mood. Any parent knows that getting out with a baby is big task, so if you can't face the organisation needed to go out, take your cup of tea and walk in the garden for a couple of minutes.
Think exercise is all about weight loss? Think again. A surge of scientific research into the links between physical exercise, the brain, and mental health in the last few decades has revealed more and more great reasons to get moving. Below are just some of the ways in which exercise has an impact on how you feel.
1. Research shows that regular exercise (burning around 350 calories three times a week) can significantly reduce the symptoms of depression. In fact, studies have shown exercise programmes reducingsymptoms as effectively as antidepressants. The side effects of exercise are more pleasant too.
2. Stress causes our bodies to show signs of ageing right down to a cellular level. Researchers at the University of California have found that vigorous exercise significantly reduces the signs of ageing on our cells. So after a bad day at work a game of tennis could be a better stress reliever than watching television.
3. Participating in yoga three times per week has a significant effect on the chemicals in our brain associated with depression and anxiety. This makes it a great complement to both pharmacological and psychological therapies.
4. The runner's high is no myth. High intensity exercise such as interval sprinting can lift your mood and leave you feeling uplifted for the rest of the day. But you don't have to be a runner to get the effects. Cycling, swimming, football or tennis will have the same effect. The important part is just to involve bursts of high intensity with short rests in between. Get the heart pumping and the blood circulating and your body will do the rest.
5. Exercise can improve your confidence, but you don't have to wait for radical changes in your waistline to feel it. Studies have found increases in self-esteem and body image just from reaching goals such as lifting heavier weights, running a faster time or winning a game. Furthermore, taking the focus away from weight loss and paying more attention to improving your performance can be much more motivating and enjoyable.
6. Depression has a negative effect on concentration and memory. But a study in Germany found that students scored better on high-attention tasks after doing just 10 minutes of exercise compared to those that did not. Their scores were even better if that exercise was something complicated such as dancing or a racquet sport. This is because complicated activities that require our full attention and hand-eye coordination improve our capacity to learn by enhancing attention and concentration skills.
These are just a few of the ways that exercise influences the way you feel and so, if you do nothing else today, exercise. Any form of activity that gets your heart rate up and makes you feel a little out of breath. If exercise is new to you, visit your GP to get some advice on getting started, or seek out a therapist who can support you in gradually increasing your activity level to help improve your mood.
Everyone has good days and bad days. At times it can feel like we are at the mercy of the mood we wake up with. Once you are feeling low, it can seem as though you are doomed to feel that way for the rest of the day. But research shows there are small things you can do that lift your mood and do your general wellbeing some good. No rocket science involved and you don't have to get up at 5am to pracitce yoga. These are the small things. Some of them might seem too simple to make an impact, but give them a try. These are generally the first things we let slide when we are feeling a little low. So I invite you to try a couple and see if you can improve your day, starting now.
Tip 1. Exercise
Take the stairs two at a time.Get yourself a little out of breath. On a low day you feel even less like going to the gym, but small ways to get the blood flowing can help too. There is a mountain of research evidence to show that exercise gets our bodies sending feel good chemicals to your brain. But you don't have to climb that mountain to feel the effects. So run up those stairs or do a couple of star jumps in your office (when no one is looking). If it doesn't work it's because you are not working your body enough so pick up the pace when you take your dog for a walk. Get out of breath. The effects are almost instant so get going now.
Tip 2. Music
While you are doing that, play some music. Carefully select the happiest tunes that cheer you up. Music has a powerful impact on mood and emotion. It's a great way of drowning out the sound of our own worries for 10 minutes. So get yourself a Happiness playlist and turn up the volume on the commute to work.
Tip 3. Kindness
For an immediate feel good factor, do something for somebody else. It doesn't need to be a grand gesture. No need to devote your life to charity (although this would be wonderful). Small acts of kindness help you to feel good straight away. Helping that mother get her pushchair onto the train, helping someone with their work, always pass on a compliment. They'll feel better and so will you.
Tip 4. Gratitude
Grab a pen and write down three things you are grateful for today. Low mood can cause our mind to act like a sieve, filtering out the positives in life and leaving us with just the negatives. This short exercise can help to bring back a broader perspective and lift mood. If you find this helpful you can make even more use of this by making it part of your daily routine. When you get into bed at the end of the day, make a short list of things you have enjoyed, moments when you have felt close to someone else, and times you felt you have done well.
Tip 5. Nutrition
The food you put into your body has an impact on your mood and wellbeing. Today, try adding a banana to your breakfast. Firstly, having breakfast is important for waking your body up, fuelling your brain ready for action and reducing cravings for sugary snacks that give you dips in mood. Secondly, bananas have been shown to help produce those happy chemicals in your brain. Thirdly, it gets you closer to your five a day. So if you do nothing else today, eat a banana.
What pushes your buttons? Is it a noisy neighbour? Maybe when you have too much to drink or someone said something? Maybe a series of small things happen to build your frustration through the day until you explode when your partner forgets to do something? Whatever leads to a rise in anger, lashing out does nothing to improve your life. In fact, it does the opposite, leading you to hospital, prison, or unemployment and leading your partner out of the relationship.
People often get angry when they feel they are losing control of a situation. It has been said that taking a stand shows strength. But in reality, the person losing their temper is the one who loses control and gets into trouble. People avoid them and they often end up alone. Holding on to your temper, holding on to calm and control, holding on to your family and friends has a much better outcome for your life. But it requires much greater strength than anger. If you want to better understand and control anger, follow this short guide to anger management. With practice, these techniques may help you keep your temper.
Step 1. Know what makes you angry.
The best racing drivers in the world would not race on a track before getting to know, in painstaking detail, every tight bend and slippery surface. Similarly, understanding inside out the people, places and situations that always seem to push your buttons enables you to do what you need to do to stop them being pressed and taking you by surprise. Don't just think about it for a moment. Take a seat and write down all the things that have ever made you feel angry. Then go through your list and consider ways to avoid or better handle those situations before they arise.
Step 2. Get familiar with the early warning signs.
Heading for a bend in the road, a good driver can judge if he is going too fast to handle the corner well. The signs can be subtle but crucial. If missed the results can be lethal. Losing your temper can feel like it comes out of nowhere. In fact, there are many small changes in how you feel before you explode with anger. If you spend time getting to grips with these and examining your own unique process with the precision of the driver getting to know his track, you can't go wrong. Specifically, look for physical signs. Your shoulders may tense up, your breathing might change, you may start clenching your jaw. Another area is to examine the changes in your thought processes. You may start to have overly critical thoughts of someone else, or yourself. You may think you are being ignored or insulted. Any signs that warn you of building anger are useful in your mission to keep your cool. They are the voice in the drivers ear describing the corner ahead. They give you the chance you need to put your plan of action in place.
Step 3. Have a plan for emergencies.
Top drivers gain experience of reacting quickly in dangerous situations to steer themselves safely through hairy moments. You need two or three crisis plans that will get you out of trouble if you have missed those early warning signs. Some people immediately get themselves outside and away from the situation to allow them to calm down safely. Others have a certain word or phrase to say that helps to defuse the situation and reminds them of how they want to deal with things. Counting to 10 can also allow time to consider the best way to handle things rather than react on impulse. Other options include stopping in your tracks to hum your favourite song. If you are humming, whistling or singing it is harder to shout or act out. It buys you time to slow things down and change direction. Smiling is another one. There is plenty of research to show that smiling works on a biological level to influence how you feel. It also helps those around you to calm down. A great de-fuser.
Planning to manage your anger in great detail, writing things down and sharing them with loved ones, all helps to increase your ability to use these strategies. When you successfully control your temper, give yourself credit for being strong and keeping control. The more you practice, the easier it will become. For those who need a more structured and supportive approach, working with a therapist on this may be the best option.
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