Relocating your family across borders. Selling your house in a down market. Job hunting. Managing a long-distance marriage. Pregnancy. Starting a new job. Finding a new place to call home.
All are stressful events on their very own. When they come together at one time, the results can be catastrophic.
A month before my daughter’s first birthday, my partner announced a new job opportunity. It sounded wonderful for him and the career path he was carving for himself. The catch: it was in our hometown of Toronto.
Our extended family was in Toronto, but our life was in New York. My job was in New York. My daughter’s daycare—her home away from home—was there, too.
We made our decision, and I placed on my shoulders what I thought was a doable level of stress: I’d be a single, working mother as my partner settled into his new job. I’d also begin looking for a new job back home, taking it slow until I found the next move for my career.
As hectic as my life was, I felt I couldn’t let my manager know about any of it. I had taken maternity leave for the birth of my daughter earlier that year, and I had finally settled into working motherhood. Plus, I had no idea how long my job search would take and I very much needed a stable job.
Things weren’t easy, but for the most part, I felt like I was managing things relatively well.
That was until life happened.
In the words of John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I learned I was pregnant.
My stress levels skyrocketed. But now that my health could impact the baby's health, too, I knew I had to better manage my high levels of stress despite everything that was happening in my life.
If things are getting hectic at work or in your life, take time to destress. Here are 10 stress-reduction techniques that will keep you healthy in mind, body, and spirit throughout your pregnancy:
1. Manage your commitments.
At some point, pregnant women have to share the baby news with their boss. If you aren’t ready to do so, you’ll want to manage your commitments. Pregnancy is often a time when women are at risk for facing unconscious bias that can impact their long-term career path. So, if there was ever a time to under commit and over deliver, it’s now.
Managing your commitments doesn’t mean you have to say no to everything. Instead, you want to be sure you’re saying yes to things that you can realistically deliver by the set due date. What’s more, you want to take on those things that will best leverage and showcase the value you bring to your team.
2. Write out your task list.
From setting up your registry to researching the best car seats and more, there’s a lot to do before baby’s birth. And that’s on top of everything else you have going on at work. It’s likely you’ve got a list of to dos that are constantly running through your mind. No surprise, then, thanks to the hormones and chronic stress and anxiety, your sleep is suffering.
The solution? Get your thoughts out of your head and onto a piece of paper, in a bullet journal, into Evernote, or whatever method will work best for you. Here’s a tip: Keep a notebook and pen by your bedside, so as new ideas or tasks pop into your head, you can write them down.
3. Get organized.
Now that you have a list of tasks to accomplish, your next step will be to get organized so you can get them all done. Make use of your calendar to stay on top of appointments, project deadlines, birthing class sessions, team meetings, and more. Be sure to add these events to your partner’s calendar, too.
You’ll also want to take time to schedule out any key tasks you have to accomplish. This can be during the work week or on the weekends. Make a plan as to when you’ll focus on the set tasks, so you don’t deviate your attention during working hours.
4. Take microbreaks in your day.
Want a break from the stress and anxiety you’re feeling? Then actually take a break. Science continues to show us that the best way to be focused, more productive, and happier is to take breaks throughout the day.
With everything on your plate, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to take extended time out of your workday. So, look for brief moments of time when you can stop what you’re doing. As your computer comes to life in the morning, close your eyes, and do nothing for a moment or two. Before leaving the bathroom stall, take a five deep breaths before opening the door to wash your hands. Or use your commute time to go completely tech free and zone out.
Stress and pregnancy are two common disruptors to regular sleep patterns. So, when you’re experiencing stress during pregnancy, catching some zs is near impossible. Yet not getting enough sleep will increase a pregnant woman's already high levels of stress. Plus, lack of sleep during pregnancy can impact both your physical and mental health, as well as the baby's health.
So, you need to get some sleep. Establish a relaxing evening routine that will signal to your brain that it’s time for bed. Create a routine that works for you. Here are some best practices: Set a consistent bedtime, avoid screen time two hours before lights out, turn the lights down low in your home, and take a bath, read a book or find another relaxing activity before you get into bed. You’ll also want to avoid eating heavy or spicy meals and reduce your liquid intake as you near the end of your evening, so you can stay asleep longer.
Exercise is another stress reducer for your body and mental health. It boosts our energy, improves our mood, and often times, can shift our perspective. And during pregnancy, exercise is especially key.
It may not be time to start a new vigorous workout regime as a pregnant woman, but finding ways to keep your body moving during the day is critical. You can take a few extra steps in your day by visiting the bathroom on the other side of your office floor. Take the flight of stairs instead of the elevator. Or stand up when talking on the phone or checking your social media feeds. Whatever you do, just move. Bonus points if you can move outdoors, so you can catch some essential Vitamin D.
7. Fuel your body with good food.
Studies show that stress affects our preference for foods that are high in fat, sugar, or both. It makes sense, because these foods allow our brains to forget—at least for a short time—that we are stressed. However, fatty and sugary foods have other long-term effects that can increase our stress and deteriorate our health. Those who eat these foods generally sleep less, exercise less, and gain more weight, which can increase your risk factors for high stress levels.
8. Breathe in. Breath out.
Breathing is the most natural way to relax the body’s response to stress. By just breathing we can decrease our heart rate, reduce blood pressure, equalize breathing, and loosen muscle tension. The best part is that we breathe all the time without thinking about it.
So, take a moment or two in your day to intentionally and deeply breathe in and out. And, when you're faced with especially stressful events, breathe then, too. Feel the stress melt away.
9. Ask for help.
Too many of us—pregnant or not—think we have to be superwoman. That is, we have to do it all. Guess what? We can’t do it all on our own, and that’s especially true when we're working mothers. So, get into the habit of identifying where you need help and asking the right people to support you. As you do, be clear what you need help with, but do so understanding that everyone has their own way of doing things.
10. Practice wellness.
Taking time out for ourselves every day is critical to reducing our stress and maintaining our physical and mental well-being. Taking care of ourselves can mean different things to different people.
It can be meditating, journaling, practicing yoga, or trying acupuncture. All of these activities have been shown to reduce stress and keep pregnant women healthy in mind, body and spirit. So, find the one—or two or three—that work best for you, and get to it.
So there you have it, 10 ways to you reduce your stress during pregnancy even when things are hectic at work.
Lisa Durante is committed to helping working mothers thrive. She delivers workshops and other resources to help working moms manage the transitions that come with parenthood. Her latest workshops helps moms-to-be prepare for maternity leave. Learn more: http://bit.ly/MatLeaveWorkshop.