When we surveyed 23,000+ women, over 70% of those who responded told us that their number one problem was stress and overwhelm.
In our work, we’ve learned that when women have high stress in pregnancy, it tends to carry on through the year after delivery and beyond. Without support, many women continue to have high levels of stress… for a long time.
But did you know that not all stress is bad for you?
Good stress is: manageable, low in intensity and brief.
Bad stress just the opposite: it’s out-of-control, unmanageable, high in intensity and long-lasting.
Good stress is meant to challenge you to reach the next level in your game – solving a problem at home, meeting a personal or professional goal. When you view something as slightly stressful, your brain sends chemicals and hormones surging throughout your body to make you more alert and ready to face (fight) or run (flight) from your stressor. In other words, stress is supposed to protect you from situations that may hurt you.
The problem is that most of our modern-day stressors are not physical in nature – for example, dealing with the possibility of giving birth without your partner during this pandemic can be very stressful. Watching the news and feeling helpless about how to help end racism can also take a toll on our health. Our stress levels stay high for a long time. Our bodies don’t get the chance to recover from a stressful encounter the way they should. That’s bad stress.
The Fight or Flight Response Made Harder in a Pandemic Context
During this pandemic, unless we are front line workers, the best thing most of us can do to help our communities, families and ourselves stay safe and healthy is to stay home.
This can increase bad stress as it makes it harder to process stress. E.g. both the stress – news – and coping strategies – staying social online – are taking place on a computer at home. This makes it difficult to disconnect completely and get away.
Be Kind to Yourself
When worry gets too much it becomes anxiety. Learn to identify the physical signs of anxiety such as muscle tension and aches, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems and fatigue. Try reducing your anxiety by:
Practice determining if your worries are real or hypothetical (imagining worse-case scenarios):
E.g. Real problem worries may be, “My due date is in two weeks and I need to find out how my birth plan may be affected.” Hypothetical worries may be “What if I run out of toilet paper and I can’t find any in the stores?” If you catch your mind focusing on a hypothetical worry, you can press pause on that and focus on something else – a real problem you can take action in solving, such as doing an inventory of what you have and what you realistically need on your next grocery run.
The battle of anxiety is won (or lost) in the mind:
While you can’t control the COVID situation, you can control your mind. A good habit is to identify when you are focusing on a worry and flip it around to a point of gratitude. It’s tough at first, but as you start to use new brain pathways it will get easier. Imagine if you came away from the pandemic with a healthier brain!
Be gentle with yourself. It is okay to feel like you’re still adjusting to your new routine:
It’s okay to feel a variety of emotions. It’s okay to feel like you don’t ‘have it all together’ with your new routine just yet. Take it slow. Designate ‘no COVID-19 conversation’ times with a friend or your partner to support each other and take a mental break.
Look for the helpers and remember the kindness you see around you to gain perspective:
Together we can flatten the curve with social distancing, but out of these hard times come extraordinary stories of ordinary people stepping up to help each other.
Finally, if nothing else seems to help, sleep. Even if it is a little catnap:
Rest. Everything else can wait. In the midst of just trying to cope with feeling continually exhausted, you may not realize that part of the emotional toll of coping with stay-at-home mandates is a result of poor sleep. Sleep can do wonders for your emotional wellbeing. And when you are feeling well, you can feel energized (or at least rested) while caring for yourself and your baby.