Girl Planting seeds

Take a Vacation From Stress

yoga_relax_cropBy Deirdre Imus-July 2016
Summer evokes a sense of nostalgia in most of us: carefree days and nights spent on the beach, chasing lightning bugs in the yard, licking melted ice cream off sticky fingers. The weather was warm, time was irrelevant, and homework non-existent. It was all so exciting, and full of possibility.

Fast-forward a few decades, and summer is much different. Sure, it’s still warm outside and the general pace of life feels a bit more leisurely, even if you are stuck behind a desk in an office cubicle. But as a parent, your mind is never totally at ease, in any season. Life sometimes feels like a perpetual calm before the storm. It is a disquieting feeling, but one to which we adjust in order to exist in a world separate from our children.

Not all stress is bad, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In some instances, stress is an automatic, life-saving response that prepares animals to face a threat or flee to safety. The functions of survival – quick pulse, fast breath, tense muscles – kick in, and sometimes the immune system even gets a little boost.

Chronic stress, however, affects the body quite differently. Immunity is lowered, and digestive, excretory, and reproductive systems stop working normally. Stress has also been linked to cancer, heart disease, and asthma flare-ups. These symptoms may occur together, separately, in different combinations, or not at all.

Stress presents differently in each of us, and it’s important to consider your own body’s indications. Are you running to the bathroom more than usual? Have you lost your appetite, or are you overeating? Do you find yourself constantly battling a cold? Chances are your body is physically manifesting the stress in your life, whether from work, family obligations, or an overdose of childcare.

One of the best methods for battling stress is exercise, which numerous studies have pointed to as a stress reducer and mood enhancer. Along those lines, spending time in green spaces has been linked to significant and sustained improvements in mental health. Even if you’re not feeling particularly stressed out at any given moment, odds are you’ll feel even better after a trip to the park, or even to your own backyard.

As with anything, consistency is key. Create a workout schedule (and follow it!) so that everyone in the house knows when and where you’ll be exercising each day – even if it just means a walk around the block.

It’s not surprising that what you eat and drink also impacts your state of mind.  Psychology Today notes that even small amounts of caffeine have been associated with anxiety, panic attacks, and increased feelings of nervousness and irritability. Similarly, the dehydrating effects of alcohol may increase anxiety, even though it is commonly consumed to help people relax.

Research has also linked gut bacteria to brain health. Studies in mice have shown that changing their gut bacteria made bold mice more timid, and aggressive mice calmer. Probiotic supplements have numerous health benefits, and fermented foods like miso, sauerkraut, kimchi (a Korean cabbage), and the increasingly popular strained Greek yogurt are all probiotic powerhouses. If you can’t get your family to eat these foods, probiotic supplements are a great option too.

Other foods may also keep stress at bay, according to The Calm Clinic, a website devoted to helping people overcome anxiety. Whole grains are rich in tryptophan, which becomes serotonin, a calming neurotransmitter. The antioxidants in blueberries may help relieve stress, and zinc-rich almonds are key for maintaining a balanced mood.

Taking care of children while also taking care of yourself is a huge and overwhelming responsibility; it’s perfectly normal to feel at your wit’s end all year round. The best gift to give your kids is a parent of sound mind, who feels capable, strong, and in control, even if you’re not. After all, isn’t that the secret of all parenting?



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