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Working mom to-do item: Breathe into your belly

Categories: Balancing Act, Your life


woman_meditating.jpgI went to a new doctor yesterday. This doctor is an MD, but focuses on alternative medicine in his practice. For someone who has had almost no experience with alternative medicine — and frankly, who thinks of herself as too left-brained for it — I was a bit hesitant before I went. But what he said and how he said it made so much sense to me that I couldn’t find anything to argue about.

The appointment was just a regular checkup, but the doctor quickly zeroed in on my stress level. It’s high. Well, that’s a lie, it’s HIGH. And while I know that a consistently high stress level can have negative — and serious — health consequences I’ve chosen to be in the mindset of “It won’t be like this forever so I’ll just push through.” But as the doctor asked me some questions I realized that this might be a really stupid idea and that some of the consequences might already be here.

He asked about my energy level, which I quickly answered was great, I am always hyper energetic. He said “OK, but if you stop what you’re doing and just sit down on the couch, how do you feel?” I had to be honest and say that I’d feel extremely tired, exhausted. Do I get sick more often than I used to? Yes, actually, and it’s taking me longer to get better. Trouble sleeping? Yes. Random low blood pressure? Yes. Add to that a whole bunch of other indicators and the verdict isn’t tough to guess: This level of stress is already not something my body is handling well.

And (here’s the dreaded how-do-I-do-this part….

I need to find a way to be less nuts. (I am paraphrasing, of course, but the essence is the same–slow down or else. And the “else” is not pretty.)

I wasn’t surprised with what I heard but I was honest in my confusion about what to do. I went on a 5-minute emphatic tirade, telling the doctor about this great company that I am building, the new career that I started as an entrepreneur, how it is completely and utterly impossible for me to slow down as the main family breadwinner, as the company’s CEO, as a mom, wife, daughter…. The whole notion of work-life balance was on trial here - how can a crazy-busy working mom slow down?

“I want you to start by breathing”, he said.

I got so happy–all I had to do was breathe! But he didn’t just mean take regular breaths.

“For every hour that you work I want you to spend 2-3 minutes taking very deep breaths, without expanding your chest, and then exhale deep into your stomach. Eyes closed, no music, no computer. And if you skip an hour, you have to do a double doze the next hour.”

Being an annoying must-know-all that I am I asked a ton of questions about why breathing makes such a difference. Apparently it does and it’s not just in your head–there are some fancy medical sounding reasons for taking time to breathe deeply and doing it frequently (words like adrenal glands came up often in the explanation) .

I am going to start tomorrow and give it a try. I am sure I will fail miserably at being consistent but I am going to try and get better. I know this is not the whole solution, and frankly, I am skeptical about my ability to slow down. But I am considering this as a small but important step for reducing the stress in my life and I am writing about it here because I hope you’ll consider doing it with me. (If you are already meditating daily, you rock!)

What things do you to reduce stress and stay healthy? Do you breathe, meditate, do yoga, go walking, stand on your heads, run around singing 80s pop? Share your tips in the comments and maybe we can all learn something from each other!

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7 comments so far...

  • Ouch, whataslapindaface. OK, not really, but definitely a wake up call and I bet many of us who read this can relate! I was checking off the ‘me too’ box with most of this. Except the “Being an annoying must-know-all that I am I asked a ton of questions” and then I thought you could be my husband (I go with the flow…he has to constantly know why he’s going).

    I have serious stress issues right now, too and I keep thinking it’s not stress, I have it under control, it’s just a bit of anxiety, etc, etc. WRONG. Trying to be the person who does it all, especially as we get older and have more responsibilities - um, being mom-, really takes its toll. And I’m not old! How to deal?!!?

    Love that he told you to breathe. Breathing is something we have to remind ourselves to do. I’m good about the breathing. My yoga students love that I remind them to breathe. It’s the taking TIME to do it. I remind myself several times a day but I don’t spend several minutes doing it. This is yet another good reminder to take the TIME. Priorities. Our own mental state should be a priority. It’s so easy to just think we’re going to get to that. TIME to get to that.

    Thanks for sharing this, Nataly. I hope you do take the steps. Try it for two days, see how you feel. I’m currently doing that…when I had a daily yoga practice (and it was only 40 minutes) I was never stronger, more confident or able. I’m working on getting back to it and decided that this time I didn’t have to do it alone. Today I checked out and WOOHOO, clicked on one of their hour long sessions and it was great. I won’t use it every day b/c they aren’t exactly the kind of teaching I like but it was a great start. I’ll need to do it again tomorrow. And hopefully the day after. And it goes from there. I need to make this a priority for my health, my sanity, my children and my husband.

    Oh, and my big thing is to set an intention. It’s different every day but start the day with an intention…some days it’s that I’m going to color with Maggie or keep the counters clear or do all of the laundry or make a doc appt or give myself a facial. It’s not a checklist so it doesn’t feel daunting (and I’m a list maker). At the end of the day, if I haven’t accomplished it I look at why but don’t stress over it. Acknowledge then let go. Maybe set it again the next day.

    OMG, I didn’t mean to ramble so long but right now this is so close to my heart. Sooo what i need to deal with. Perhaps we should have another group - the beat stress group. Every hour we get an email that reminds us to take 5 and just breathe!!! Good luck Nataly.

    Mandy at Dandysound  |  October 31st, 2007 at 8:36 pm

  • Great advice!! I want to try this too. I don’t consider myself highly stressed (except maybe this week in particular), but I bet all of us can ‘prevent’ if we don’t need to ‘manage’ the physical manifestations of stress.

    Breathe in, Nataly! Good for you, seeing that doc!

    Lee Thrash  |  November 1st, 2007 at 9:06 am

  • Nataly and Mandy! why didnt i read this before i posted my member note? OMG i so needed this! i am instituting breathing RIGHT NOW! Thank you! and i agree with Mandy - we need a ‘beat the stress” group!!! also thanks for the site! going to check that out tonight

    Kate  |  November 1st, 2007 at 9:08 am

  • Is this the culprit you were teasing me about yesterday?

    Jen  |  November 1st, 2007 at 12:00 pm

  • Great post, great timing - and great suggestion from Mandy about the hourly e-mail reminders to take a break and breathe! (But would knowing those were coming every hour be a source of MORE stress?) I’ve tried that sort of breathing - yes, it really does help, so I should make it a regular practice, but sometimes I get stressed and forget! :-) But getting a handle on stress matters so much to our health; I’ve had issues with my weight and my blood pressure, among other things, and it’s definitely a factor. I start every morning with a short workout, and my best de-stressing activity is walking my dog. (Actually, if you like animals and don’t think caring for one would make your life MORE stressful, pets have been shown to be great stress reducers!) Writing helps me unwind, too.

    Florinda  |  November 1st, 2007 at 12:41 pm

  • What a FANTASTIC doctor you’ve found! I’m bowled over by the time, the attention, the GREAT questions, the advice. Wow. Does he have a friend who works in Ottawa? Because my doctor is strictly a mechanic. I want more.

    I do the breathing, but nowhere near as often as once an hour. I am TOTALLY going to do that. I’m not feeling particulary stressed right now. Well, okay, a little anxiety about a few things that comes and goes in waves, but no constant, consistent stress. However, I also find that taking the time to breathe energizes me. This may not be something YOU need, but it works for me!

    MaryP  |  November 2nd, 2007 at 7:19 am

  • Geez, my doctor doesn’t even bother to bring me into the office until I’ve spent an hour and a half in his waiting room, and then he says “You look pretty healthy” before shoving me back out again. Maybe I need to come up to Boston for my next check-up. I’m pretty sure I haven’t breathed that deeply for at least a year! ;)

    Mir  |  November 2nd, 2007 at 12:55 pm