I always knew I wanted to be a mom. I imagined the joy of guiding a little one to be their best self. The satisfaction of continuing my family tree. The reward of unconditional love. But, what I didn’t anticipate is the mom guilt.
The thought never crossed my mind. I’d done my mama research. My friends, family, and co-workers filled our home with all the must-have baby contraptions. I’ve got this!
Then, your sweet child arrives in your arms and all hell breaks loose.
Your little one takes a nap. You tell your exhausted self, “Oooh, I need to do the laundry.”
Your toddler prefers mac & cheese over veggies. – You tell your foodie self, “I’ve failed to nourish my kiddo.”
There is a work project to finish. – You tell your hardworking self, “I really should be playing with my kids / cleaning the house / exercising.” (you get the picture)
OMG, I’ve faced each of those… and more on a seemingly daily basis. Worst part is all of this mama guilt starts to pile-up. For me, it got to the point that I didn’t even realize I was swimming through it, trying to catch my breath.
OK, girly… this has to stop.
As women, we’re already hard on ourselves. With self-deprecation and criticism a part of our culture, the last thing we need is to layer-on a bunch of mom guilt as we enter our new life stage.
The worst part? 99.999% of this mom guilt junk is self-created. Yup. We’re the ones telling ourselves that we’re not doing enough.
It’s time to make it all stop and give ourselves the big, fat break that we all deserve.
You Shouldn’t Have to Deal with Mom Guilt
Trust me, I’ve been a sucker for mom guilt just as much as the next gal. Yet, as I’ve gotten through a few years of motherhood (now, with teens and a 5yo), I’m learning to let-loose of the mom guilt noose.
Based on my own experience and talking with tons of moms, here are the top three mom guilt traps that I want to help all of my mom friends escape.
Trap #1: You’re not using your ‘free time’ the right way
This happens so often! Mama finally gets a break: little one napping, older kids at school, a teenager at soccer practice. Yet, instead of taking that window of time to do something for yourself, you feel the need to check-off a chore from your list. That’s mom guilt sneaking-in.
If it’s mentally easier (aka: the guilt load is lighter), plan ahead for your ‘free time’ in advance. Sure, nap time could be for laundry, school time could be for work.
Yet, when soccer practice rolls around, bring an indulgent book and read it in the car. (NO, I didn’t say grab your laptop and clean-out your work email.) If you’ve got a littler one to watch while an older sibling is at practice, bring along something to keep them entertained in the car while you zone out in your book.
Even better, you can designate a block of free time for yourself in each day. Get up 30 minutes earlier, stay up a tad-bit later… your call. Heck, you can even add 15 minutes to your ‘running the errands’ time to sit in your car outside of Target and just scroll through TikTok without guilt. (been there, done that)
Most importantly, find 15-30 minutes per day that will work for you and make it a non-negotiable. It’s going to happen. Your kids and/or partner should know how important this time is and be able to support your break.
Trap #2: Flip-Flopping Priorities
When you’re working, you feel guilty not being with your kids. When you’re with your kids, you feel guilty about not working. Sound familiar?
This challenge is even worse during the summer months or, during a pandemic quarantine. Everyone is around all-the-flipping-time. Then, mama is expected to be cook, entertainer, laundromat and diplomat 24/7. (oh yeah, and finish that big work project)
Plus, feel guilty when you can’t actually do all-the-things all-the-time.
This is where time blocking comes into play. You want to segment your day into specific activities. Work time, play time, cooking time, chores time and of course… mama ‘free time’ that I mentioned earlier.
Since all of this mom guilt stuff is likely coming from your own head, establishing boundaries will help you give yourself grace.
“No, Mama can’t play right now, this is her work time. See this other block on my calendar? That’s when we get to play together… now scoot and find something to do.”
By providing yourself these blocks of times, you’re less likely to feel guilty because you’re doing what you’re supposed to do at any given moment. Plus, it gives your family phenomenal training on how they can plan their own days. (My 5yo is now enjoying her self-proclaimed ‘princess time.’)
Trap #3: “I’m not doing enough.”
My overachieving single-girl self entered motherhood with all engines blazing. Then, I soon wore myself out by trying to be super mom, super wife and super entrepreneur.
I kept thinking that the house had to be perfectly organized, dinner needed to be well-balanced and birthday parties should be flawless.
Do you know what I eventually realized?
My kids didn’t care. My husband didn’t notice.
I’m the only one that established ridiculously high expectations for how I managed our home and lives. I’m the only one that piled-on the mom guilt when I didn’t meet those expectations.
Now, I’m the only one that can release myself from this cycle of mom guilt; allowing myself to simply be content and happy.
Let’s Stop All This Mom Guilt
Please, please, please… consider these common traps and solutions the next time you get a weight of mom guilt in your stomach. It’s crazy how common it is to feel guilty that you’re not doing enough. Just remember that your family simply wants you. The real you. The happy, healthy you.
Shove mom guilt aside and just be you. That’s the BEST thing you can do for your family.
No matter how you define it, these terms are becoming a regular part of our daily dialog. Especially after becoming a parent. Regardless if we’re working, with family or online, being stressed out has become a standard part of our daily schedules. Unfortunately, many of us lack the critical stress management activities needed to manage the stress in our lives.
Ironically, while we’re mom bragging about being so stressed out, we are also linking our wellness activities to stressful moments. “OMG, I’m freaking out about how overwhelmed I am right now. Oops, gotta run… yoga starts in 15 minutes.” Or, on the other hand, I’m so stressed out that I’m going to hit the Rosé a bit earlier today (aka totally avoiding what’s bugging you).
Either way, we’re masking the root cause of stress with temporary fixes or total stress management avoidance.
Making a Change in Stress Management Activities for YOUR Good
Instead of masking what’s bugging us, we need to change the way we approach our lives with intentional stress management activities. It is so easy to avoid our reality by scrolling, binging, and ‘detoxing.’
We often use wellness practices to temporarily fix our long-term stressful lives. Essentially, that matcha coconut milk latte is the lipstick and your lack of sleep due to stress is the pig. Oink. Oink.
I like good matcha as much as any other health nut. In fact, when I was at my most stressed the last couple of years, I was in phenomenal shape and had a fantastic eating plan. However, I wasn’t fully connected to my emotions and stress levels. It had been a crazy few years, but I pushed through with lots of ‘lipstick.’ I didn’t have any stress management activities to help myself heal.
When we tragically lost our home in a wildfire (11/9/2018), I didn’t have enough of an emotional foundation to protect myself from the stress that flamed through my body. I totally lost it and ugly-cried in a dark corner of my sister-in-law’s backyard, heaving from stress and overwhelm.
What followed? A spiral of unhealthy eating, lack of sleep, 24/7 anxiety, and plenty of fear. What stopped my stress cycle and started me on my path to healing? Taking control, gosh darn-it!
This post focuses on three stress management activities that I’ve used during various stressful times in life. Check-them-out, give them a try and see what works best for you.
Activity #1: The Head Dump
It all started with a notebook. As I sat there in our vintage trailer (we evacuated with our trailer) surrounded in our meager remaining possessions, I decided it was time to stop spinning out of control.
I grabbed a notebook, cracked open the fresh binding, and began to write. I started multiple pages:
Head Dump – a list of what was freaking me out & keeping me up at night
Do Now – what urgently needs to be taken care; essentially the high priority items from ‘Head Dump’
Do Later – things I want to remember, but not urgent from ‘Head Dump’
The Plan – an outline of how I’m going to start moving forward
Right away, it was as if the clouds parted and the sun came out for the first time in days. My brain no longer spun around in uncontrolled stress and fear. I knew what the heck was bugging me, I prioritized all of that junk and then made a plan of action for how I could make an impact.
From that moment on, I took that notebook with me EVERYWHERE. It rested next to my bed at night, it came with me to our son’s rugby practices. If something came up and started to freak me out, I captured it in the right spot of the notebook.
All-of-a-sudden, I had a whole new emotional attachment to the word ’The Notebook’… emotions that were as strong as those I experienced while watching that darn movie, yet a whole lot closer to home. My notebook saved me.
Activity #2: Prioritize & Control
Since going through the ‘Head Dump’ process (above) back in November 2018, I have also found a quick on-the-spot stress management activity. Whether starting a new project or trying to crack a stressful situation, taking myself through the steps below has been valuable. If you like this one… check-out the free “Understanding What is Stressing Your Out” workbook that I have linked at the bottom of this post.
Brainstorm – I start by making a list of what is bugging me. Often, I break it down by area of life: work, family, and personal. Write down everything you can think of right now… what is stressing you out or causing you pressure?
Prioritize – Once you see a physical list of all of your challenges, it can be a bit overwhelming. Don’t worry. Now, you get to go back to the list and circle the issues that are most critical right now. They could be the most stressful, or most urgent.
Once you’ve circled those, pick your top ten and rank-order them from 1-10. Any that you chose to not list in the top, you can keep for later in a ‘parking lot’ note so you know to reference them later. Who knows, if they’re not that big of a deal, they may sort themselves out while you tackle the top 10.
Control – This is when you get to really dig in and figure out how to get a handle on your stressors. Ask yourself:
– WHY is it stressing you out? – WHAT can you do about it? – HOW can you take control?
The answers you get will give you a clear pathway to take clear control of your stressors.
Activity #3: On-the-Spot Re-Frame
Ok, this one is super quick. Sometimes, a stressful moment will come out of nowhere and take you off-guard. If you address a stressful moment or experience right away, you can often reduce the impact of stress.
The process of re-framing how you view a stressful moment is called ‘cognitive re-framing.’ Here’s how it works:
Recognize – once you start to feel the rush of stress coming on, call-it-out as what it is: simply how you are reacting to something that’s happening to you.
Challenge – take control and realize that YOU control how you react to stressors.
Re-Frame – you can tag this stressful moment as an opportunity to grow. Or, perhaps the hard-work uphill ride that leads to a super fun downhill ride to come afterward. Either way, you are the one that owns the situation.
Here’s an example of how cognitive re-framing can work:
Recognize – “OMG, it took forever to get everyone out of the house and we’re going to be late for our appointment.” Take a deep breath and realize you are now in the car and cannot control how fast you’ll (safely) get to your destination.
Challenge – Call the office/person you have an appointment with and let them know you’re running a bit late. By doing this, you completely diffuse the stressor by facing it head-on.
Re-Frame: Blast the music in your car and have an in-seat dance party with your kiddos. Likely, your stress has stressed them out a bit. Time to show them that you rock and just enjoy this time together.
Not to stress-you-out, but I’ve given you three simple stress management activities to help you get through various stressful situations. You don’t need to use all three. Simply pick one that you think fits your situation the best. Heck, if you simply start looking at stress in the face and say “I see you and I’m not going to let you get to me,” I’d be thrilled. Because… with control comes peace… trust me.
Interested in more stress management related posts? Check these out:
Lucky me. I have a handy little signal to let me know when too much stress has triggered inflammation in my body. The challenge was that I didn’t know how to fight inflammation naturally.
My inflammation signal is psoriasis. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder where your immune system over-responds to inflammation. Basically, your immune system thinks your skin is under attack because of active inflammation and tries to repair it by creating excess skin cells; eventually leading to red, scaly patches.
When I’m overly stressed and not taking proper steps to fortify my body against that stress, my psoriasis flares-up. Heck, I see the signs within a day of not taking proper care of my reaction to stressors.
The Signs of Inflammation
How can you know if you have inflammation? Well, that’s not such an easy answer. (wow, finally a perk to having psoriasis!) For some, inflammation can show up as pain, redness, immobility, swelling, or heat spots. For others, you see it with fatigue, mouth sores, abdominal pain, rashes, or joint pain.
Yet, you can pretty much bet you have some level of inflammation if you’re suffering from ongoing stress, have indulged in a high sugar & junk food binge, haven’t exercised regularly, or have midsection/adipose fat. Heck… there are times in life where many of us could pretty much check off all of the above risk factors for inflammation. Right?
But if you have inflammation, how do you fight inflammation naturally?
What Causes Inflammation?
You’re almost always going to have some form of inflammation within your body. It is a key defense mechanism that helps trigger your valuable healing process to threats. However, stress can initiate this defense mechanism via the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
These small proteins are secreted during the initial stress response and continue throughout chronic stress conditions. The initial flow of cytokines is intended to support your flight or fight response. Yet, if your stress ’switch’ remains triggered, your body produces excess cytokines, which increase inflammation.
Why should you care? Chronic inflammation has been shown to be a common factor in many diseases. Including cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and arthritis. Got your attention?
How to Fight Inflammation Naturally
Good news is there are some super simple steps you can follow to help make a positive impact on your levels of inflammation.
1. Control: Get a Handle on Your Stress
I have to state the obvious here. Stress is a major driver of chronic inflammation. In order to positively impact your level of inflammation in the long run, you must begin to manage the level of stress within your life. Finding a sense of control over what’s happening ’to’ you is a major step in the right direction.
My favorite way? Here’s a process that helps me get a grip on my key stressors:
Grab a piece of plain white paper (NO fancy journal or Trello board… keep it simple so you reduce the stress of the process)
On the top of the page, write down the top 3–4 things that stress you out right now (I call it my ‘What’s Bugging Me’ list)
Under each stressor, list: (1) WHY it is stressing you out, (2) WHAT you can do about it, (3) HOW you can best approach it
Once you’re done, you’ve uncovered what’s stressing you out and given yourself a clear pathway to address it.
Now, set a plan of action around all of the ‘HOW’s you listed. Sounds simple, but by facing these stressors/fears, you gain tremendous power.
2. Nourish: What Foods to Eat and Avoid
How do you feel when you eat a bunch of sugar or overly processed foods and wash them down with too much alcohol? Bloated, sore and tired? Well, you can blame the highly inflammatory nature of these foods. Removing these from your diet can be one of the easiest ways to fight inflammation naturally.
If you want to help avoid increasing inflammation in your body, you want to avoid the lot of them. To nourish your inflamed body and build resilience to inflammation, you should focus on increasing your intake of vegetables, fruits, good fats, green tea, turmeric, chocolate, and in moderation, red wine.
3. Recharge: Sleep Walking
You’ve got to snooze and move when battling chronic inflammation. Regularly getting a good night of sleep will help your body simmer-down the flames of inflammation via your natural restorative cycles. Late nights binging on Netflix will only increase the levels of inflammation in your system.
Exercise is key to your overall wellness. When it comes to fighting inflammation, simply walking for 30 minutes a day can make a positive impact. Think of it as a way to work those nasty inflammatory cytokines through your system via movement. Walk, listen to some good music, and enjoy some fresh air. Ahhhh…. can’t you just feel the flame of inflammation extinguishing itself already?
4. Grow: Lighten Up
Consistent with what I said up above under ‘Control,’ reducing your levels of stress helps calm inflammation. One of my favorite ways to do this is to make sure to laugh throughout the day. Laughing has been shown to reduce stress hormones and, in turn, fighting inflammation.
Shorting out your stress cycle will also reduce levels of inflammation. Go to a show, listen to a funny podcast, play with your kid. Overall… just lighten things up and don’t take everything so seriously. Learning to laugh throughout life and yes, even at yourself is critical. As is often said, ‘Laughter is the best medicine.’ …..
OK, you’re pretty much stuck with some level of inflammation on an ongoing basis.
Once I realized how detrimental to my health inflammation could be, I knew I needed to find ways to make a positive impact. My psoriasis signs were bad enough… knowing that diseases like cancer and heart disease were also on the table made matters even more urgent in my perspective.
You’re not going to be perfect every day, but knowing what can cause inflammation while understanding how to heal it can help you fortify yourself. Facing your stressors, eating right, walking regularly, getting enough sleep and learning to lighten up are just a few of the things you can try to fight inflammation naturally.
Stress has been an integral part of life since I can remember. Do you know how to reduce the impact of stress so it doesn’t cause long-term damage to your body and mind?
As a kid, I suffered from intense social anxiety, which turned into plain old ‘life anxiety’ as I got older. Little did I know back then, all of the constant stress in my system was causing havoc on more than just my mindset. How often do you tell yourself that you’ll get to decompress once a particularly stressful time is over?
That became my rallying cry for years. “Just get through this big project and I’ll let myself recover,” I’d blindly proclaim. Yet, that promised recovery time never materialized and chronic stress started to take its toll. I developed ulcers. Psoriasis became an issue. I gained weight. I simply couldn’t relax. Even worse, I would hide my anxiety with a mask of “no worries.” Cool as a cucumber on the outside; frazzled like frisée on the inside.
In the past few years, the impact of stress was magnified by multiple miscarriages, early menopause, and losing our home in a wildfire. It was time to face it head-on and proactively heal my battered self. My propensity to hide the weight of my stress was the worst thing I could be doing; as it simply exacerbated the physical impacts that I was suffering.
Here’s How Your Body Responds to Stress
Did you know that upon the initial onset of a stressful event, your body responds with an instant surge of adrenal hormones? We’re all familiar with the raised heart rate, sweaty palms, and pumping blood pressure that stress hormones adrenaline and nor-adrenaline give us.How aware are you of the aftermath of this surge of power from your stress response?
This reactionary process triggers the production of inflammatory cytokines in your system and then reallocates your resources by shutting down digestion. Fine. The stressful moment passes and you’re ready to move on. Yet, your stress system isn’t done with you yet.
Once your system is ready to turn your digestive system back on, it tries to counteract energy depletion with increased cravings and a reduced metabolic rate. (Hello couch time with ice cream and fried food.)If left unchecked, your stress-related binge eating can lead to an increase of dreaded tummy/adipose fat. Other than giving you a dandy muffin top, adipose fat also secretes more of the cytokines I mentioned before… increasing inflammation further.
WARNING: The onset of adipose fat is even worse if you’re a 40+ woman. Charming, right? (There is a long chain of reactions related to continued inflammation… I’ll get into that on another post because I want to shift the focus to the impact of perpetual stress.)
Chronic Stress? Negative Health Impacts Multiply
If your stressful ‘event’ continues longer than 10 minutes, your body signals to the endocrine system to kick-in. Your HPA (Hypothalamus Pituitary Adrenal) Axis is the part of your endocrine system that begins pumping out the hormone cortisol. This hormone is designed to produce the energy you need for the ‘flight or fight’ mess you’ve gotten yourself into.
You can thank cortisol for increased blood pressure, boosted blood glucose, and reduced sex drive. Fun stuff, right? Can’t get off the stress train? Well, your body keeps cycling through this process. Chronic stress keeps your HPA Axis switched on; depleting dopamine, reducing immune function, increasing oxidative stress, heightening inflammation, introducing the risk of disease, triggering weight gain, and opening the door for depression.
Basically, chronic stress can wreck nearly every aspect of your health. I can personally vouch for most of its impacts.
What the Heck Can You Do to Reduce the Impact of Stress?
So great, I’ve basically told you’re outta luck if stress is a part of your life.
Since stress is an ongoing part of everybody’s life, we all have to keep an eye out for detrimental impacts. Thankfully, you can activate a host of tools to help you fortify against stress and its unhealthy implications. The process that has worked for me involves four steps: control, nourish, recharge and grow:
Step 1: Control Your Situation
Taking control of a potentially stressful situation gives you confidence, which helps reduce the reaction phase of the stress cycle. Have a problem? Face it head-on and organize the crap out of it! Kinda like facing the monster under your bed when you were a kid.
Step 2: Nourish Your Body
Through your encounter with stress, the foods you choose have a big impact on how your body reacts and heals. Likely, you’ll get stressed and increase inflammatory cytokine production and enter a phase of cravings. Choosing anti-inflammatory ingredients and healthier comfort food options can make a big impact. There is also a big play for increasing adrenal health, anti-oxidant, gut health, and dopamine-boosting ingredients into your diet.
Step 3: Recharge Your Wits
One of the best ways to battle the impacts of stress is to consistently get 8 hours of sleep. This is the time for your body to recuperate from the day and rebuild resources. If you shortchange this precious cycle, then you’re not maximizing your stress resilience. Simple steps such as reducing screen time, trying mild sleep aids (I love tart cherry juice) or using earplugs can make a bit difference.
On the opposite end of sleep is another form of recharge: movement. Simply walking for 30 minutes per day or engaging in a yoga practice can help your body reduce inflammation caused by stress. An added perk is the feel-good hormone dopamine, which your body gets to enjoy after a daily exercise routine. You don’t even have to complete the 30 minutes all at the same time.
Step 4: Grow Your Foundation
When we’re overly stressed, it can be easy to neglect the things that help ground ourselves. Quality time with family, chilling with friends, or simply finding mental peace can be priceless. Each of those activities can help to diffuse the power of stress and give us much needed relief.
Try scheduling just 15 minutes in your busy schedule to do something creative. Watercolor has always been a fav of mine. I set-up a travel watercolor kit (with a self-contained water brush because it’s cool) so I can chill-out whenever necessary. Because it is easy to set-up and clean-up, there are no excuses.
Reduce the Impact of Stress in Four Steps
Face it, you will have to face various levels of stress throughout your life. Yet, simply having the confidence to know how to fortify yourself against the impacts of stress is my kind of winning. To recap:
Control Your Situation
Nourish Your Body
Recharge Your Wits
Grow Your Foundation
Please don’t stress about doing all-the-things all-the time. Simply be conscious to incorporate a few of the above tips into each day. Next thing you know, you’ll have an upper hand on how you react to and heal from stress. No worries, right?