Pregnancy can be a double-edged sword of an experience. The emotional high of knowing that you are carrying a new life is balanced with the less-than-glamorous woes of morning sickness, potential complications and strange food cravings. Combined with other daily stresses, it can be overwhelming, but whatever it is that you are experiencing in your pregnancy, here are some tools to help you cope.
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One of the quickest ways to relieve stress and boost your mood is to start moving around. It can be as simple as taking a brisk outdoor walk, dancing or weight training. Swimming or other water-based activities like aquatic aerobics are an especially suitable, since being in water will help you more weightless. When pregnant, be sure to avoid high-risk stuff that might have you falling down or being hit in the stomach (say no to horseriding, soccer and so on).
Another great stress reliever no matter your age or condition is getting out in the backyard and growing some plants, be it flowers or food. The point is to get some fresh air and sunshine and getting back in touch with the growing, living things of nature (much like your baby!). Even if you’re short on outdoor space, container gardens out on a balcony and even a bunch of potted plants on your windowsill can do wonders to soothe frazzled nerves.
3. Prenatal Yoga
Yoga, when practiced mindfully and gently, has many stress-alleviating and physical benefits for pregnant women. To get an idea of what prenatal yoga looks and feels like, there are many introductory videos on the internet, though it’s probably best to find a prenatal class near you. Not only will you get more hands-on, personalized instruction, there’s also the added benefit of connecting with other moms-to-be.
Whether done alone or partnered with a yoga practice, there are many scientifically-observed benefits to meditation. It’s been proven to lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system and reduce stress and anxiety by bringing adrenaline and cortisol levels down, while also elevating levels of melatonin and endorphins (those yummy pain-relieving hormones needed for childbirth).
To start, find a comfortable seated position or lie down, in a quiet room with no distractions, if possible. Begin to consciously relax all parts of the body, starting with the toes and moving all the way up to the top of the head. Bring your full awareness to your breath as it flows in and out, for at least ten minutes.
Affirmations are little nuggets of positive thinking or encouragement that can be said out loud or silently to yourself, and could be a good way to end a meditation session. They work by reinforcing a chemical pathway in the brain, and when practiced consistently and regularly, increase the chances that the same message will be sent between neurons again. Think of it as a invisible vitamin supplement for the mind.
For first-time pregnant women facing the unknown territory of birth, affirmations can be especially helpful in strengthening your self-confidence and self-care. You can create your own affirmations, and they can be as simple as these from yoga teacher Barbara Burgess: “I am a mother. I have a healthy and able body. With each breath I take, I am supplying energy to my body for building and air to my baby for growth.”
6. Vocal Toning
This is a technique from natural birthing where you sound out the vowels A,E,I,O,U in long exhalations, the vibrations of which will register on a subconscious level with the body, telling it to relax areas of tension. To start, find a comfortable seated position, and sound each vowel consecutively to the length of your exhalation. Notice which parts of the body begin to relax, and send a gentle message to any tense areas to relax.
During labor, this technique also helps to keep the mouth area relaxed, where women may unknowingly hold tension. This ties in with the so-called “Sphincter Law” of natural birthing where in order to ease delivery, all openings (eyes, oral, rectal, cervical and vaginal) must be relaxed — and vocal toning will ensure that they will remain so.
A great tool for instant relief of pregnancy-related aches and pains, self-massage can be easily integrated in daily routines like bathing, where you can use an exfoliating sponge to increase circulation all over the body. You can also lie down on your back, with knees to the chest, rocking from side to side to give the entire back a massage. Or, if that isn’t comfortable for you, you can try massaging your feet by rolling tennis balls under them; there are a plethora of acupressure points that culminate in the soles of the feet. Other trigger points to gently and firmly stimulate are under the hamstrings, neck and shoulders, between the shoulder blades, on the lower back and under the buttocks.
In a nutshell
No matter what calming methods you choose, the most important thing is to take time for yourself and your unborn baby. Ensure that you are getting adequate sleep, are eating a nourishing diet for two and incorporate some gentle exercises (like walking) to help you cope with your body’s changes. Really take the time to slow down and enjoy your pregnancy, no matter the circumstances — it’s a special time in life that you’ll remember years later, and it’s ultimately up to you to create a positive experience.