Written by Erika Bloom | Photographed by Eric White | Styled by Lynn Levoy
Balancing stress is vital in the path to creating healthy lives for ourselves and our children. Stress is a chemical cascade in the body caused by mental or physical demands. Therefore this balance begins and ends with addressing the pharmacy already inside of our bodies.
Our stress hormone, cortisol, regulates and modulates many of the changes that occur in the body in response to stresses. Produced by our adrenals, it ensures homeostasis and many other functions that contribute to our bodies feeling good, looking good, and thriving. Its wide ranging influences include immune responses, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, inflammatory responses, metabolism and central nervous system function. The level of “stress” that we are experiencing in any given moment, regardless of the stressor, has to do with the amount of cortisol created by our bodies.
While it is one of nature’s most brilliant achievements, the hormone is now being called to manage all forms of stress for which it was never designed, from an argument with your spouse or child, to a malfunction of your computer. It is activated so often that the body does not always have a chance to return to normal. This can lead to health problems resulting from too much circulating cortisol and/or from too little cortisol if the adrenal glands become chronically fatigued. Abnormal cortisol levels can make you tired, fat, sick, and depressed.
Our focus on regular, moderate exercise and healthy eating can be undermined by not managing stress. Every choice we make informs the direction of our nervous system and our corresponding cortisol levels. Everything from how we think, to the quality of our sleep, to the people we surround ourselves with, matters. Inversely, physical stressors, such as aggressive exercise and unhealthy eating habits can cause us more stress.
However your stress is brought on, chronically marshaling extra energy for the immune fight or flight response tends to undermine your overall health and vitality. As a mom, I know that my stress level affects my children both in how I engage with them and how they respond. Our children feel our stress, regardless of how we are behaving, and it can affect their ability to learn and feel good.
Every moment you spend with your child, you are either stimulating healthy chemicals in your child’s body and brain, or you are stimulating unhealthy stress chemistry. Moms and dads can sometimes unintentionally cause an increase in their child’s unhealthy stress chemicals, which can contribute to learning, behaviour or mood problems. Therefore, reducing your stress level and increasing the healthy chemistry flowing through your body and brain is a major parenting responsibility.
There are many healthy rituals we can instate as a family to help manage stress. When it comes to creating a balanced, mindful life for ourselves and families, the question becomes “What are we prioritizing?” For my own family, I have daily rituals and tools on hand to help us slow down, find moments of calm, and bring us back into balance.
Tone up and tune in with conscious, challenging movement you enjoy to help lower your cortisol, blood pressure, and heart rate.
Practices such as Pilates, yoga, walking, and swimming help you connect your body to your breath. With these disciplines, you’re working smarter not harder to strengthen and align the body, as you effectively calm the mind.
Sleeping and waking at the same time every day is ideal. Aim for at least 7 hours.
Experiment with a digital detox before bed. Remove all electronics from your room and limit your exposure to blue light in the evening. Create a bedtime routine for the family to transition into relaxation and a sweeter slumber. Brush teeth, put on pajamas in a natural fabric, place a drop of lavender essential oil on the soles of your and your children's feet and give them a foot massage, and read relaxing books.
Let thy food be thy medicine.
Start your day with a big breakfast such as eggs, spinach, avocado, and a piece of gluten free toast. Eat regular meals throughout the day to balance your blood sugar. Swap stimulating coffee for green smoothies or Tulsi (Holy Basil) tea for its calming effects. Moderate your alcohol, dairy, gluten, and refined sugar.
Negative thoughts or imagined threats can have the same harmful impact as real threats. By turning moments of stress into calm responses, we are able to recognize that we are the chooser of our thoughts. Instead of our usual stress reactions, we can start to move in a direction of elegance and positivity.
Take time daily to list what you're grateful for.
Think about what brings you pleasure and find even just a few minutes a day to set aside time for you.
Take a break to drink tea, meditate, chat with friends or organize your desk. Try techniques such as dry-brushing, hot epsom salt baths, acupuncture and massage. They help to increase blood flow and stimulate dopamine to lower cortisol.
Spend time with family. Activities like cuddling, reading books. singing songs, listening to music, free movement, dance parties, art projects, cooking and playing with pets all stimulate feelings of happiness.
Be creative. Every time you laugh with your kids, play a fun game or participate in an entertaining activity, you are stimulating neurochemicals that improve your children’s ability to be happy.
Also, spending time outdoors has the power to heal and restore us. When we walk through nature, breathe fresh air, and take in Vitamin D, we feel calmer as it boosts our sense of wellness and supports the immune system. In fact, in Japan, it’s called “forest bathing.” Head out and explore, even if you're in an urban setting. Getting out early in the morning even helps reset healthy circadian patterns.
As modern mamas living in the over information age, (where everyone is an expert and parenting opinions are shared as freely and easily as an Instagram post) it can be tough to filter through the white noise to find the facts. Naturally, we’d love to consider ourselves wise in all sorts of ways, but the truth is sometimes we’re scrawling SOS in the sand. Good thing we’ve got the guidance and expertise of our own personal rockstars: the people who inspire us on the daily. Our rockstars (our flock) are enthusiasts, professionals and influencers in the fields of wellness, travel, education, style—the list goes on. Each one brings a profoundly different perspective to the table, one informed by their own experiences and outlooks. And that perspective is priceless.
They say it takes a village…we say it takes a flock.