Stress. It's something that we live with daily. There are times our stress levels are within our control. And sometimes, as life has shown everyone this past week, the stressful events in our lives are out of our hands.
Pregnancy in and of itself is a stressor. The changes one's body undergoes, the impending life changes, and potential concerns over the health of mother and baby can be very large and very real worries. However, experts tell us that too much stress can actually become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Excessive stress in pregnancy can lead to potential problems with the pregnancy.
Some studies are suggestive that stress in pregnancy can cause certain hormonal changes that can impede the growth of the baby or bring on preterm labor. This might mean a low birth weight baby born at term, or worse a preterm birth for some women. These studies point out that are many factors at play, including socio-economic factors, health risks like smoking during pregnancy and others, but stress is definitely a factor. One study even talked about women who rated their job stress as high having a higher miscarriage rate than others.
Taking control over what we can, like a proper diet, plenty of rest, exercise, and proper health habits we can help combat stress-related problems.
Here's how the folks at Arnot Ogden Medical Center reflect on stress: "Stress is like body temperature: if it's too low or too high, you can't survive, but the right balance can keep you going strong. It makes sense to use stress energy positively, to meet life's challenges, experiences, and goals. Stress is not all bad. In fact, positive stress can make life both rich and satisfying."
Your first reaction is probably one of tension when someone says to you, "Just relax!" And understandably so. Even when someone is trying to be well-meaning the thought that one can simply "relax" is preposterous. Relaxation takes skill, thought and a lot of practice.
There is wisdom behind the sentiment. If you are willing to take the time to practice, relaxation will come to you and thus help reduce your stress levels. Relaxation can be practiced alone or with a partner. Here are some different forms of relaxation to help not only with pregnancy and labor but life as well.
This is simply an exercise to allow you and your partner to see and feel the difference between relaxed muscles and tense muscles. The body observation is very important and will become second nature the more you practice, even doing other techniques.
Start by getting in a comfortable position, where your partner can see the majority of your body. Use pillows to get comfortable and prevent unwanted tension. Start by having your partner tell you to tense a particular part of the body and then feel that part of the body for the feeling of tension.
Then the partner will say, "Relax." Try to say this in a very soothing voice. Now feel the difference in the relaxed muscle.
Go through each muscle group at least once, and preferably in order from head to toe or toe to head. Once you've finished spot check for areas that you know are prone to tension, the shoulders, the neck, the brow, the jaw, whatever is the place your partner hides tension the most.
Once you've worked through this exercise just lie still and focus on the in and out of your breath and make note of how your body feels when it is completely relaxed.
This technique simply starts with a relaxed position and you will have your partner slowly go through the muscles groups, like in the tense/release relaxation, and consciously relax each part of the body.
Using a soothing voice as you instruct her to relax each part, you can also incorporate touch into this technique. As you remember the feel of the relaxed muscle and the tense one, gently touch or stroke the area of the body that you are trying to get her to relax.
Once you've gone through all the parts of the body, start over and go through them again. Have her focus on releasing any residual tension. Reinforce her efforts with praise and encouragement. And ask for feedback.
If you are wanting to try this relaxation alone, it is definitely a good one to try! Simply do self talk either aloud, on tape or in your mind as you work through different areas of the body.
By trying to control the factors you can influence and practicing stress reducing relaxation techniques, one can significantly lower their stress levels.