Our Mommy MD Guide’s reply: During my pregnancies, I tried to reduce stress whenever possible. One thing that always helps me to keep it at bay is to tend the indoor plants in my kitchen. It only takes a minute or two to take care of them—pinch off dry leaves, water them, and rotate them in the sun. But my plants give me hours of viewing pleasure (especially my African violets, which bloom year-round), and pinching pleasant smelling leaves, such as from a lavender plant, and smelling them is very calming and relaxing. Plus, I can use fresh herbs such as basil and spearmint in my spaghetti sauce or iced or hot tea (tea is energizing and relaxing at the same time), which adds great taste. The herbs are also good for me and my family. They improve digestion and have antimicrobial properties. Several recent studies have shown caring for plants to be very 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.
Whenever I can, I love having fresh flowers in my home. I’m always delighted when someone sends me flowers for Mother’s Day or any other occasion so that I can decorate the house with beautiful arrangements.
Also, when I was pregnant, to try to reduce stress, I took five- to 10-minute breaks whenever I had the chance. I’d sit in a sunbeam or under a bright light, which has been shown to improve mood. I’ve created a little “time-out” corner for myself, which I have come to associated with “me” time.
To create my time-out 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 cell phone or work to my time-out corner; it’s just for relaxing. I don’t spend much time there, but when I do, the break is energizing and relaxing.
Another technique I used reduce stress even in pregnancy is to journal. It’s very healing and calming. Putting stuff down on paper is an excellent way to release stress. It gets it out of you and onto the paper. Sometimes I vent, but I usually try to write about what’s going right more than what’s going wrong. Studies have shown that writing down the things you’re grateful for at least three times a week can significantly improve your happiness. As a bonus, while I’m writing, I often “stumble” upon solutions to problems and occasionally, a really brilliant idea!
My journaling isn’t formal at all—I doubt if anyone else could even read some of the things that I write. I just get an inexpensive notebook, write the date on the front of it, and write in it whenever I feel like it. Sometimes I fill up a notebook in a week, and sometimes it takes me a month or two. The other bonus that comes with journaling is that when you write things down, you remember them better—that’s a proven fact. And even if I happen to forget, and I can always look back and find facts that I may have forgotten. Studies show that stress impairs memory, and this is a great tool to reduce stress and improve memory at the same time.
It can be hard to make time for me, but I believe it’s a necessity to recharge our batteries to be there for our kids.
—Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH, a mom of three sons and a grandmom of two, a family physician, and the coauthor of The Mommy MD Guide to Pregnancy and Birth and The Mommy MD Guide to Your Baby’s First Year, in Lexington, KY