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Moms & Stress: Reprogram Your Stress Response

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July 5, 2011

In our Moms & Stress series, Lea Curtes-Swenson talks with leading experts on stress management and life balance. She brings you tips, tricks, and advice for understanding your stress and getting it under control—so you can enjoy your time with your kids and teach them to live stress-free too.

We’ve already talked about modeling stress management for your children. But what if your family is already over-scheduled, stressed-out and nearing the breaking point? How can you take control and change the family dynamic? The key may be to reprogram your stress response.

Begin by recognizing your own unique stress response, says Dr. Lynne Kenney, Psy.D., author of “The Family Coach Method,” and practicing pediatric psychologist in Scottsdale, AZ.

Everyone is different, and sometimes stress manifests in unexpected ways—like memory problems, an inability to concentrate, seeing only the negative in things, physical aches and pains, nausea, dizziness, diarrhea, a change in eating habits. (A more complete list of stress warning signs is available at Helpguide.org.)

Once you know your stress response, be ready with a list of new thoughts, words and actions for managing your stress, says Dr. Kenney. You can stop and close your eyes, take deep belly breaths, repeating key words or phrases to yourself—a mini-mantra. Or you can step outside to take in fresh air, or pick a flower. Whatever your new tactics are, practice them so they become automatic in the heat of the moment.

The final step is to maintain a sense of calm. Dr. Kenney encourages her clients to write and post a “Be Calm Promise” as a visual reminder of how you want to handle stressful situations. Even if it’s just a sticky note, the Be Calm Promise “helps you stay mindful of how, when you do handle stress well, everything just goes better,” she says.

Motherhood as a Career

In her coaching practice with moms and families all over the country, Dr. Kenney says women also respond well to the idea of approaching motherhood as a career.

“Like any job, motherhood requires certain skill sets, like organization and time management,” says Dr. Kenney. “But there’s also planning for stressful situations, and preparing for how you’ll deal with them.” Dr. Kenney says that many women find themselves unprepared for this aspect of their new ‘careers,’ and are hesitant to ask for help.

“You would ask your boss or supervisor for help in your job,” says Dr. Kenney. “Moms should know that there are resources available for them in times of intense stress.”

Whether you’re reprogramming your response to stress, or making a plan for dealing with stressful situations—stress management is key to taking a calm approach to parenting and motherhood.

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