How to stop relying on stress to get you through the day and to start listening to your body.
The challenge: Mama life never slows down. This can quickly bring on mental overwhelm and physical depletion.
The thing to remember: It’s easier to keep a calm mindset turned on than it is to shift from stressed to calm.
The practice: Incorporate simple self-care practices throughout your day, every day, that keep the calm turned on.
I’m not sure how we’re going to make the school bus this morning but I’m sure I can squeeze in one more thing. So I’ll start washing the dishes. Wait, I can start this load of wash too. Does she have her shoes on yet? What time is it? Maybe I can also start prepping tonight’s dinner…
And there it is, that familiar buzz…
…that false sense that I really can get all of these things done. I may feel productive at the moment but I’m really just over-extending my nervous system to power through. Plus it feels good to have that little extra buzz when, more than I like to admit it, I’m pretty tired and overwhelmed.
This is my Superwoman moment…
…aka I’ve just turned on my stress response. And now that it’s on, it will color the rest of my day, perpetuating the cycle of overwhelm and depletion in which I seem to be stuck.
Ultradian Rhythms: Nature’s Water Cooler Break
It’s easy to develop a habit of relying on stress to get through the day. And, as many mamas discover, it’s also a sure path to burnout. So why do we do it?
We’ve forgotten our cyclical nature.
Human biology runs on cycles. You’re probably familiar with sleep cycles, circadian cycles, and menstrual cycles. These are the natural rhythms by which our cells metabolize energy and detoxify; the rhythms that mark activity and rest; the journey from fertility to gestation or your monthly cleanse.
We’ve also all had the experience of trying to override these necessary rhythms (staying up all night, am I right?) only to be left feeling sluggish. Maybe once or twice we can get away with it but not much more than that and for only a very defined period of time.
One rhythm that may be new to you is our ultradian rhythm. These are the rhythms that happen during a 24 hour period, usually in 90- to 120-minute cycles. This is the sleep cycle – those 90 minute periods of active sleep balanced with 20 minutes of restorative, deep sleep. This rhythm is active during your active hours also.
And this is exactly why, mama, you need to take a break.
As I stated above, overriding your natural rhythms ONLY leads to depletion. You can not go full force all day long and expect to feel satisfaction and joy in your life. Allowing yourself periods of activity balanced with periods of restoration is the only way you will truly shift from overwhelm to living a life that feels authentic and true.
And this is where our addiction to stress comes in. Without these natural restoration breaks – nature’s water cooler breaks – we seek out what Lisa Grace Byrne calls “energy crutches.” Basically, these are habits we develop that give us a false boost of energy by tapping into our stress response.
…of the times during the day when you impulsively reach for your phone to scroll through social media or check your email. How many times to you mindlessly reach for food? Call a friend, not for support but to gossip? Plop down and watch reality tv for much “just a few minutes?”
Do these activities ever really make you feel better? More like yourself? Or do they, as Byrne states, “dim your light?”
If you’ve been tapping into that stress drip for a long time now there are two easy ways to know when you’re body is moving into a natural restoration break.
You’ll have the urge to pee.
Remember, this isn’t just a nice idea or a luxury for Pinterest-perfect moms; no, this is your body’s natural rhythm of integrating and eliminating. Your cells need to detox and your body needs to clear waste. On the same rhythm are your brain and nervous system’s need to slow down and take a break from productivity. So, when you need to go to the bathroom take it as a signal that your body and your brain need a break!
Another signal your body will give you is that your thinking will get foggy. Take a break. Or, if you’re in the habit of using energy crutches, this will be the time you find yourself mindlessly reaching for that crutch.
Even if you catch yourself after you’ve used the crutch, take a break. Your body and brain will thank you with calmness, motivation and an overall feeling of satisfaction.
Again, overriding these natural rhythms communicates to your body that it is in danger and to turn on stress until you communicate that you are once again safe. If you never take a break your body thinks you are under non-stop attack. I don’t know about you but that sounds miserable!!
Something else to consider – if you’ve been depleted for a long time – hello early motherhood! – or you’ve had a stretch of extra stressors, then you may need to build up your reserves. During these periods even 90 minutes may be too long of an active phase. I find that even starting with 45 minutes of activity balanced with 20 minutes of downtime can feel really nourishing. It’s not forever and it’s like putting a little extra money away in the bank for an upcoming vacation.
Mamahood feeling like a vacation? Well, maybe I won’t go that far but I do know it can feel great once you start feeling great again! Take a break mama!!
Make sure to check out the following post. I’ll give you 3 really do-able self-care practices that even the most depleted mama can do! Read it here.
References: Lisa Grace Byrne “Productivity and Well-Being: Ultradian Rhythms: The Peaks and the Troughs.” – here