As a student yoga teacher, I was recently invited to consider and reflect upon a time in my life when I was stressed and how the stress affected me. It struck me that there have been many times in which I've felt stress and thrived off it.
I've always had jobs that relied on deadlines and found that under pressure my fight-or-flight response sharpens my mind and gives me the energy I need to complete the task at hand. These situations put me at my optimum stress levels.
For me, stress becomes negative and overwhelming when it involves an emotional connection to those I love.
That is what happened when I became a first-time mother. To begin with, my baby's cries elicited a normal maternal response. However, she was a restless, colicky baby and after a couple of sleep-deprived weeks I found the first squeak of a cry sent me into a state of flight or fight.
I felt overwhelmed and combined with the physical exhaustion that looking after a newborn brings I moved into a permanent state of stress. In fact it has been said that stress "…in addition to being itself, was also the cause of itself, and the result of itself."
The stress made me feel that the demands my daughter put on me outweighed my ability to deal with them. I was tearful, irritable, anxious and unable to cope with simple tasks. I found that I couldn't sleep, even when my baby wasn't crying, as I'd anticipate when the next cry would be. My state of mind deteriorated and after four months I reached total burnout and sought help.
I now realize that the stress was causing me to react to my daughter instantly and aggressively as if she was a threat. Once I learned to relax, I was able to give myself space to reflect on my daughters needs with wisdom and understanding. As children learn from and mimic their parent’s moods and actions, she in turn became a calmer and more contented baby.
The lessons I learned (listed below) helped me to remain happy and calm during the newborn months with my second daughter, to look after myself so that I could look after her.
1. Practice deep relaxation.
Not just chilling on the sofa watching television or reading a book relaxation but proper deep yogic relaxation. Allowing yourself 10 minutes once in a while will reduce stress levels and activate your relaxation response (in addition I found night feeds were an excellent time to practice Pranayama).
2. Guilt is not your truth.
When you start to feel guilty or pressured about decisions surrounding your newborn, take some deep breaths, working towards lengthening the exhale, ignore influence and connect to what your truth is. (This is especially relevant when it comes to the emotive subject of breast feeding).
3. Treat baby milestones with rational discernment.
These imposed ideas of what every child should be doing at a specific age drove me bonkers! Your baby will not grow up to be socially inept because she can't drink water from a sippy cup at six months.
4. Find a mentor who has done things the way you'd like to do them.
If there's no best friend or family member suitable, then midwives, doulas, pregnancy yoga teachers, masseuses and therapists can all be valuable guiding lights.
5. Try not to get drawn into a 'does your baby sleep through the night?' conversation
It will only make you crazed and take it from me, most people fib about this.
6. Laugh. Lots. Because it really does help.
When my eldest was a week old, I handed her naked to my husband to cuddle because it was so cute to cuddle her when she's so small and naked.... so cute for a second, until she did an enormous mustard coloured poop all over his lap. In my darkest moments, this still makes me laugh.
7. DO YOUR PELVIC FLOOR EXERCISES no matter how tedious they may seem.
This isn't strictly stress-related, but having to cross your legs when you sneeze and eyeing trampolines with fear is no fun, no fun at all.
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