Easing Stress

By Jennifer Bright

September 24, 2019 5 min read

Studies rank pregnancy at No. 12 on the list of life's most stressful events. Parenting isn't even on the list — perhaps because it's off-the-charts stressful!

Stress affects every single part of your body. It can cause practically every unpleasant symptom known to woman, including chest pain, fatigue, headache, low libido, muscle tension and pain, stomach upset and sleep issues.

Mommy M.D.s — doctors who are also mothers — certainly aren't immune to stress. Here are some of their tips for how to cope:

"Meditation is a huge part of my life," says Nancy Rappaport, M.D., a psychiatrist in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "It gives me a buffer from reality. I have a fairly intense life, and I do a lot of listening. Sitting quietly in meditation allows my brain to rinse out like clothes in a washing machine. The chance to sit quietly and learn to be an observer is a helpful skill in parenting. It helps you to be more receptive to what your kids are trying to say."

"Having a little time to myself is the best stress reliever for me," says Elissa Charbonneau, D.O., medical director of the New England Rehabilitation Hospital in Portland, Maine. "I make time to exercise every day, even if it's just taking a walk or doing yoga. It's very relaxing for me."

"It's amazing that something as simple as breathing can calm you down and ease your worries," says Jennifer Hanes, D.O., an emergency physician and author of "The Princess Plan." "Here's one breathing technique that you can use twice a day, or even just when you find your mind dwelling on upsetting thoughts:

"Sit in a comfortable chair. Place your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your abdomen. Take a deep breath in through your nose. You should notice that your hand on your abdomen is rising higher than your hand on your chest. Slowly exhale through your mouth.

"Next, take a slow, deep breath in through your nose. Hold it for a count of 7. Slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. Gently contract your abdominal muscles to get all of the air completely out of your lungs. This is the key to this exercise: exhaling all of the air out of your body. Repeat the cycle four more times."

Dr. Rallie's Tips

I try to prevent stress whenever possible. One thing that always helps me keep it at bay is tending my little herb garden and the indoor plants in my kitchen. It only takes a minute or two to take care of them: pinch off dry leaves, give them water and rotate them in the sun.

My plants give me hours of viewing pleasure (especially my African violets, which bloom year-round). Pinching a pleasant-smelling leaf and sniffing it is also calming. Plus, I can use fresh herbs such as basil and spearmint in my spaghetti sauce or tea, whether hot or iced (tea is energizing and relaxing at the same time).

The herbs are also good for my family's health. They improve digestion and have antimicrobial properties. Several recent studies have shown caring for plants to be really therapeutic in terms of reducing stress, improving cognition and providing a sense of accomplishment, which is especially important when you've got a thousand projects going on at once and none of them seem to be nearing completion. Time spent in my mini-garden is very healing.

When I'm really feeling stressed, I take five- to 10-minute breaks whenever I have the chance. I sit in a sunbeam or under a bright light, which has been shown to improve mood. I've created a little "timeout" corner for myself, which I have come to associate with "me time."

To create my timeout corner, I put a really comfy chair beside a window. In a bright wicker basket beside my chair, I keep a few books that I enjoy reading in five- to 10-minute snatches, as well as my knitting. I never bring my cellphone or work to my timeout corner; it's just for relaxing. I don't spend much time there, but when I do, the break is energizing and relaxing. — Rallie McAllister, M.D., MPH, mom of three, nationally recognized health expert and family physician in Lexington, Kentucky

Jennifer Bright is a mom of four, co-founder and CEO of Momosa Publishing and co-founder of the Mommy MD Guides. She lives in Hellertown, Pennsylvania. To find out more about Jennifer Bright and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: 1388843 at Pixabay

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