Psychiatrist Judith Orloff offers six tips for combating the stress, worry, fear and anxiety that come from being a supermom and caretaker.
LIMIT EMOTIONAL VAMPIRES
Emotional vampires are people who sap your energy and leave you feeling fatigued, agitated or craving comfort food. Emotional vampires come in all forms, from needy children and critical spouses, to unpleasant coworkers and nagging parents. When you're around people who drain your energy, practice saying no, politely excusing yourself, or communicating your limits clearly and calmly.
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When you feel yourself being overwhelmed by responsibilities, deadlines and pressures, don't catastrophize. Instead, keep your mind focused on the present moment only. Don't let it wander to worst-case scenarios. Stay focused on the positive changes you can make and the practical steps you can take today.
LAUGH IT OFF
Mothers are great at changing direction. They're used to making last-minute changes due to a sick child, a snow day, or a babysitter who doesn't show. Next time you're stressed out because things aren't going your way, find something humorous about your current situation, and write an inner comedy sketch about it. Searching for humor in a situation immediately counteracts stress.
EVALUATE THE ANXIETY
Thoughtfully consider if a real threat exists or if you're blowing things out of proportion. You can ask questions such as, "What's the worst thing that could happen?'' Or, "Will anyone die, go hungry or be harmed?'' Go through this mental exercise to bring stressors back into perspective.
CHANGE YOUR STRESS CHEMISTRY
5-HTP is a plant extract that converts into serotonin in the brain, gently reducing anxiety and improving sleep. Kava-kava, from the root of a South Pacific plant, promotes relaxation, improves sleep, and relieves muscle tension. Calcium/magnesium, minerals that are depleted by stress, are calming and promote rest. Vigorous aerobic exercise stimulates feel-good endorphins that counteract stress.
One of the quickest ways to defuse stress is to take a breath and make a mental list of five things for which you are grateful. Not only does this activity distract you from obsessive worries, but cultivating positive thoughts has an immediate calming effect on your neurochemistry and will help you relax and unwind.
Judith Orloff is a board-certified psychiatrist and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA. Her new book is "Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life" (Harmony Books, 2009, $24.95).