How to De-stress and Achieve Balance

eing a mum has always had the potential to be either a genuinely fulfilling, or an incredibly stressful experience. But being a 21st century mum is even more difficult as so many women try to balance the demands of parenthood with a challenging job. Dr Rick Norris offers some advice below.

I’m twenty weeks pregnant and have found myself getting continuously stressed. What can I do to ensure that I alleviate some of these stresses to keep me and my baby happy?
It’s important to understand what we mean by the term ‘stress’. Stress is our body’s response to a threat or challenge. The response is both psychological and physical. The psychological response includes feelings such as anxiety, an inability to concentrate or relax, feeling irritable or frustrated. Typical physical responses are associated with ‘fight or flight’ – increased blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature which are designed to help us meet a physical challenge that we can literally fight or run away from. Anxiety is in fact a protection mechanism that helps us to focus on our fears so that we take action to deal with the problem effectively. So try to change your perception about anxiety: mild to moderate anxiety is a normal, and even healthy, response because it helps us to concentrate on dealing with our fears. Try to establish the cause of the stress. Lots of practitioners routinely recommend relaxation or yoga as a way of dealing with stress. Whilst these activities might be good at dealing with the symptoms i.e. they help us to reduce our physical responses, they may be ineffective at dealing with the cause of our stress. Ask yourself what you’re anxious about. It might be that you’re worried about not being a good mum, or you’re anxious about the baby’s health. You may be concerned that you’re not going to cope with sleepless nights or you’ll find breastfeeding difficult. Write down your worries and then next to each worry note what sources of help and support are available to you. Your partner, friends or family may be able to support you practically or emotionally. The NHS is still excellent at helping new mums, your GP and community midwives are there to help and advise. The internet has lots of free help and advice; and you can take advantage of virtual support groups on the internet or real life support in the shape of local mums and toddlers groups.

After a long day at work, I find that I’m snappy towards my children and partner. What de-stressing techniques would you recommend?
There are some well-known techniques that work. Try to make sure there is a break between work and home life. A lady recently told me that although she finds it’s easier to take the car to work, she finds that if she uses the train, the journey home helps her unwind better. Perhaps going for a coffee or a glass of wine with work colleagues before heading home, or stopping off at the gym on the way home might help compartmentalise work and home life rather than allowing it to ‘spill over’. Many working mums have such a tight schedule that they leave no room for a buffer. Finish work, dash back to collect the kids from school en route home, cook a meal, help the children with homework, bath them, read a bedtime story, make lunch boxes and then collapse. If you recharge your batteries first, the rest of the family benefit from a fully charged mum. So don’t feel guilty asking someone else to look after the kids for 45 minutes whilst you go to the gym or soak in the bath.

Since having children, I’ve been working part-time. Although this helps me get some of my house jobs done, I really struggle with my time management. How can I get a good balance?
Good time management is about prioritising. Lots of busy mums just launch into the chores and try to cram everything into the limited time available, with the inevitable outcome of feeling disheartened because they were unrealistic about what could be achieved in the first place. House jobs are never completed, because as soon as you ‘finish’ you have to start again, so it’s important to redefine success. Write down a list of your jobs and decide what is most important, and what can be achieved in the time available. Prioritise these jobs and stay focussed, don’t be tempted to stray off the prioritised tasks for something that’s easier! Success is completing the tasks that you prioritised, not completing the whole list. It’s worth remembering that the world will probably still turn, even if the shower didn’t get cleaned today.

Dr Rick Norris is a Chartered Psychologist and a Visiting Consultant at an NHS hospital, who uses a cognitive behavioural approach to help people with stress, anxiety and depression. Rick is a frequent media contributor on matters of psychological interest. He has written three books: Think Yourself Happy: The Simple Six Stage Programme to Change Your Life from Within, The Promised Land for Children: How to Improve Children’s Confidence and Raise Their Self-esteem, and The Water Carrier, a novel for teenagers and young adults. For individual advice you can contact Rick direct at:
Speak to me on 0800 063 1532
Consultations priced from £15 for 10 mins