We hear the word stress all of the time, but seldom do we stop to think how it really affects us. Stress is often the root of illness, because when our body is in a stressful state our immune system is depressed, and the body is not able to use its resources on healing, but is rather using them on surviving. During pregnancy stress not only affects you, but it also has an affect on your unborn child, so it is definitely something you want to increase you awareness of.
Stress can be defined in many ways, and can impact us on many levels. You may think of stress in terms of how your workload may affect you, leaving you feeling ‘stressed’. But, stress can come in many forms and affect us in many ways. In terms of pregnancy related stress, there are many physical stresses on your body, from hormonal shifts, to an ever changing physical body, changes in sleep patterns, appetite and energy level. These are all changes to your physical experience, but have an impact on you emotionally and mentally as well. Emotionally, you may have an increase in feelings making it more difficult to cope with conflict, be patient, and resilient. Mentally, you may be worrying about the impact of becoming a parent on your life, the changes that are coming, and worries about being prepared.
Typically when we are affected in one area is has an impact on our overall health. For example, if we were feeling stressed about a fight with a loved one, we would be less equipped to deal with conflict at work that day, we may have more difficulty focusing on tasks, may feel tension in our shoulders and neck, and may also experience a decrease in appetite or energy level leaving us feeling tired. All of these examples can be received as stress on your system.
During pregnancy the impact is not only on your body, but also on the body and mind of your unborn child. Studies are being done that are showing the affects, not only on the fetus during pregnancy, but that the baby may be born with lasting affects. Women with higher stress levels are more likely to experience pre-term labour, which often results in babies born with low birth weight. These babies are also more likely to develop chronic illnesses as adults such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease. Although this news is very concerning, remember that there are things that you can do to help manage your stress before, during and after pregnancy.
Massage – There have been many studies that show that massage helps to lower your body’s cortisol levels, which are the stress hormone. The studies often use a test sample of only 10 to 20 minutes of massage to determine their findings, so just imagine how easy it would be to help yourself. Taking even a few minutes each evening to exchange some loving massage with a loved one can help both of you to relax, and the bonus is that even while giving the massage you are benefiting from the healing affects of touch. Another way to bring massage into your life is to book a massage with your favourite Massage therapist. If the benefits start within the first 20 minutes, by the end of an hour long treatment, you will be left feeling refreshed and relaxed.
Gentle Exercise – Gentle Exercise can definitely help you relax your system. Vigorous exercise on the other hand can be recognized by your body as another form of stress, especially during a time when your physical body is undergoing so many changes. Taking a relaxing stroll with a friend, enjoying a quiet yin yoga class, going for a swim, or practicing some tai chi, can be a wonderful way to increase your ‘happy’ hormones, lower your stress hormones, and even enjoy some time with a friend if you like.
Increased Awareness – Often it is just increased awareness that will help us out. If you pay more attention to how you are feeling and respond to this, you will be able to manage your stress more easily. For example, being able to say ‘No’ when you are beginning to feel overwhelmed with a busy schedule. Asking for help when you need it before becoming too tired. Taking a break when you feel that you need it. We are very used to keeping up with busy schedules, but we have to remember that this takes a toll on us over time, and honouring a slower pace during pregnancy if you need to is a good choice.
Creating a good self-care routine – Taking good care of your mind and body is always a good idea, but if you don’t already have a routine, think about starting one now. Some examples that may work for you are; taking a relaxing bath in the evening to calm your mind before bed, turning all electronics off an hour before bed, taking a few minutes on your lunch hour to go outside take a stroll and enjoy some fresh air, calling a good friend to talk when you feel overwhelmed or worried, planning your meals so that you are receiving proper nutrition, getting your ideal amount of sleep each night, taking a few minutes to lie down after work to rest. There are many other things that you can do for self-care, but those examples will help you to keep your health on the top of your mind.
You only have one chance to be pregnant, and understanding the impact you have on your child’s health not only now, but into the future is a big responsibility. These suggestions will not only help you during pregnancy, but will help you once you have welcomed baby into your life, so be sure to take good care of yourself.