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11.04.2008

Make Peace with Holiday Stress - November Article

Make Peace with Holiday Stress


Celebration Season is upon us, and if you’re pregnant, now is not the year to worry about creating the perfect holiday for family and friends. Your sole responsibility when pregnant is to take care of yourself so you can care for your growing baby. Every expecting mother has day-to-day stress in her life; when the holidays come around there is a good chance she can up the stress ante two-fold. Reducing holiday stress makes for a happier mom, baby and family. So take off the white gloves and leave the picture perfect holiday behind. This is your only time to be a vessel for your baby, which is more than enough reason to relax and enjoy the season.

Don’t Stress
According to The Guardian, “Stress experienced by a woman during pregnancy may affect her unborn baby as early as 17 weeks after conception, with potentially harmful effects on brain and development”. High levels of stress can also boost your odds of preterm labor or delivering a low-birth weight baby. Since no mom-to-be wants those facts nagging her, it’s time to start preparing to do less during the holidays.

Identify
The first step to preventing holiday stress is to know when you're stressed. This may seem obvious, but often women don’t feel the early warning signs like a clenched jaw, increased heart rate, irritability, and guilt.
Lynette Winter, a development coach, reminds women that, “our bodies can be a great source of wisdom if we slow a bit to listen. The great thing is that it doesn't take a lot of time to hear the messages. In five-minutes we can do a thorough scan of our bodies to see what we need most.”

What does a body scan entail? Ms. Winter explains: “Start with your feet. What sensations do you notice? Are your feet tired? Swollen? Continue to scan upward moving to your lower leg, then thighs, tummy, lower back, chest, upper back, hands, lower then upper arms, neck and finally head. With each body area, simply notice the sensation and if possible, name it (energized, fatigued, warm, cool, green, blue, etc.). If you notice any tension, breathe into that tension. Then ask, what does my body and my baby need most? Is it rest, water, food, to not eat another holiday treat, to say no to another party? Ask how can I best meet that need? Is there anyone else who might support you in meeting this need?”

Familiarize yourself with stress-reducing techniques, such as the one above, before the holidays, and you will be able to access them when you really need to. Just like any skill, you need to practice what it feels like to relax when you are already partially in that state, not when you are on the verge of crumbling under the pressure.

In addition to supporting you through the holidays, the following toolkit will help you and your baby stay healthy during pregnancy and may even come in handy during labor.

Boundaries & Communication
When someone is asking you for a favor or to take on another responsibility, there are three possible answers; yes, no or maybe. Which answer is your usual default? If you're a “Yes woman,” then pregnancy is the perfect time for you to start setting more boundaries. Adding an ‘and’ statement to a “No” answer will ensure the asker feels heard and may provide them with other options.

For example, your boss asks you to stay late to finish a report. You’ve worked way too much already, are tired and have a pre-natal appointment to get to. Rather than saying, “No, I can’t do it” and then feeling guilty, include the ‘and’ statement: “I’m unable to stay late to finish the report AND I know it’s important to you, so would you be okay if I worked on it first-thing tomorrow morning?”

If you’re usually stuck in the maybe category, the ‘and’ statement will still come in handy. For example, your best friend asks if she can invite her out-of-town friends over for Thanksgiving dinner. An easy response if you’re hesitating is to reply, “I’m not sure that I can have two more people over for dinner AND I need to sleep on it before I decide.” Use the evening to determine how you want your holiday dinner to unfold and to take it easy.

Relationships with Yourself and Others
Boundaries and relationships go hand in hand. Your relationship with yourself dictates the type of relationships you will have with others. Be sure to create enough time for yourself by scheduling a vacation day during a week you know your time will be in high demand. If you can't take a full day off, then schedule an evening for yourself. Come home with some healthy take out, draw a bath and relax. Your baby will love spending time with just you.

While you’re sleeping on your friend’s request to invite more people to your Thanksgiving dinner, your body and baby are getting an important recharge. Jodi Mindell, a pediatric sleep expert, notes that nourishing and growing a baby takes enormous energy and sleep is vital to both mom and baby. So go to bed ladies and forget setting the table!

Eat Right, Be Fit
Speaking of takeout, what does healthy food look like anyway? Talk with your Midwife, Doula or health care provider to ensure you are getting the most balanced and perfect diet specifically custom to you and your little one’s needs.

In general, every pregnant women needs to eat a variety of foods that are high in fiber, protein and calcium. And remember to take your pre-natal supplements.

Also, keep in mind that the holidays are not a free-for-all. Overindulgence can lead to more stress, so pre-pack your meals, eat a healthy snack before the cocktail party and keep in mind that your baby needs you to make the best nutrition choices.

A great compliment to a healthy diet is a healthy exercise ritual. If you've been following an exercise routine throughout pregnancy - wonderful. If it's fallen off your schedule, slowly start to integrate it back in with your caregiver’s guidance.

Light exercising, even a brisk 20 minute walk in the sunshine, will give you more energy and stamina throughout your day. Your baby will have a lower heart rate, increased blood flow and will have a happier mom. If you are unable to exercise, try some deep-breathing and visualization practices. Spend 20 minutes a day focusing on your breath and releasing all thoughts from your mind. There are wonderful guided meditation CDs you can purchase or borrow from the library. As a bonus, this practice will help during labor as well.

Be Good to Yourself, Be Good to Your Baby
The holidays are a time of connecting with family and friends. Being pregnant makes this time of year even more memorable and significant. Be sure you create the holiday you want, while keeping in mind the important job you have of nurturing yourself for your birth as a Mamma to a new spirit.

If you are at your max stress load, speak to your Midwife, Doctor or Doula who can refer you to a therapist or coach that will help you with your stress. Sometimes all you need is a 3rd party to listen and possibly offer advice.
Kristen Thompson, a new mother, said it best, “I always thought of what I wanted to give my baby, which was love and peace, and I would go to that place in my private moments during the day when it was just me and the baby growing inside me. No matter what else was going on around us, no matter what was going on with work, bills, relationships, inside the womb there was a calm, warm, protected place for our baby. Connecting to that place was reassuring and had a deeply calming affect for me.”

There are many options for mothers-in-waiting to handle holiday stress. Remember, if keeping yourself healthy during the holidays isn’t reason enough to reduce your stress, always think about your baby.


2 comments:

Delilah H. said...

Thanks I definitely needed to be reminded to control the stress level this holiday. I am scheduled for a repeat c-section the day after Thanksgiving, and, of course, the entire family expects dinner and to bring a friend as well. I have to call everyone and use the "No, AND".
I'm sooo swollen and tired it would be agony, not to mention, not great for my baby, to cook such a huge meal and have that many people over the day before surgery!
I like the exercise you included for listening to your body too. My body is telling me to rest and drink lots of water right now. :)
So that's what I'm going to do!

Courtney said...

Thanks for commenting Delilah. You and your baby should be taken care of before your surgery and not have to worry about anyone else.

Let me know how the "No, AND" statement works for you.