Everyone knows that stress is bad for us, but why? Did you know that stress causes spikes in cortisol, the stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands? That's okay if you're grabbing your kid away from the side of the pool, but chronic high cortisol levels are bad for your body. Among other bad effects, elevated cortisol can interfere with your body's progesterone production and throw all your hormones all out of whack. Some symptoms of chronically elevated cortisol and out-of-balance progesterone include:
Try a two pronged approach: Strengthen your body so you can parent with more energy and calm, and pare down the stressors in your life.
Eat right. Think protein at every meal and for snacks. (That doesn't necessarily mean meat. Try beans, tofu, nuts, dairy, and fish.) Five to eight servings of whole fruits and veggies (not juice). Healthy fats are fine in moderation (olive oil, nuts, avocado) but hydrogenated oils are really dangerous to your long-term health. Sugar and sweet treats are just that -- occasional treats -- and should not be part of your regular diet. Limit carbs except for whole grains. Carbs throw off your blood sugar and hormones, make you tired and moody, and put on weight. And make sure you take a multivitamin and a calcium/magnesium supplement, unless you're sure you're getting enough.
Half an hour of sweat inducing activity daily will cut cortisol levels, boost progesterone, and burn fat. What more incentive do you need? Turn on the music and get your kids dancing with you!
This is the hardest one by far for mothers. Get enough sleep, even if it means napping when your kids nap.
Pare down your schedule. Prioritize your kids and your relationship. Then drop anything else you can. Your house can stay a mess a little longer. Serve scrambled eggs for dinner. Just say no. You'll thank yourself.
Pay attention to breathing, calmly and deeply, as often as you remember, all day long. Feeling stressed out? Breathe. Kids just dump their toys in the toilet? Breathe. This will change your life.
Count your blessings and cultivate optimism. Every time you start to feel negative, find as many things as you can to be grateful for, and really feel that gratitude.
Cut your kids some slack. Kids aren't bad, they're just young. The fact that Michael clobbered his playmate or Jillian smeared poop on the wall doesn't mean they'll be psychopaths. When they're hardest to love is when they most need our love and understanding.
Cut yourself some slack. There are no perfect moms, and there are no perfect people. Practice positive self-talk. Find ways to nurture yourself. Loving yourself -- really feeling your love for yourself -- is the single most important thing you can do for yourself, and for your kids.
Life is too short for you to be stressing over bad relationships. If you're feeling stressed about your relationship with your husband or partner, make working things out a priority. Go to counseling if necessary. If you need more support in your life, find other moms with whom you feel comfortable and start building new friendships.
Find spirit in your life. This doesn't have to mean a higher power, although it might. For some of us, it's as simple as a walk in the woods or gazing at the stars. Your kids benefit from quiet time in nature too. We all need to reconnect regularly with the miracles that make life worth living.
Dr. Laura Markham