Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. -Unknown
Being a stepmom can be stressful for a variety of reasons, from figuring out your stepmom role to navigating holidays in a stepfamily to learning how to handle your response to your stepchildren’s high-conflict mom. We know that stress can affect our overall physical and emotional well-being, leaving us vulnerable to illnesses and burnout. In fact, increased cortisol levels due to chronic stress leads to many medical conditions. Stress is linked to coronary heart disease, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Type 2 diabetes, just to name a few.
So how can we build our resiliency and manage our stress response so we don’t feel run-down, tense, anxious, or exhausted all the time? There are many techniques that we can use to self-regulate our response to stress, but I’m going to focus on a couple of techniques that are easy to implement and not time-consuming.
Self-Regulation Techniques to Manage Stress
Tactical or combat breathing is one way you learn to stimulate the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the body’s largest nerve, and it acts as your body’s brakes system when your body’s security alarm system is activated. Through breath work, you can stimulate the vagus nerve and slow your heart rate.
With tactical breathing, you take a deep breath in through your nose for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for four seconds. So it’s easy to remember – you have counts of 4-4-4. You can use it throughout the day to slow your heart rate and to increase your self-control in difficult situtions.
Body Scan or Muscle Relaxation
Ever notice yourself tensing up throughout the day when you’re at work or dealing with a stressful situation? With this technique, you take a few seconds throughout the day to do a quick body scan and stop clenching the muscles in your body. You can go from head to toe or vice versa, but you slowly relax your muscles as you go, letting your arms and legs hang loose. Be sure to loosen tension hot spots, such as your jaw, neck, and shoulders. The important thing is that you proactively do the body scan throughout the day, not just when you’re feeling tense.
This simple technique made a big difference for me. Last year I was working from home exclusively during the pandemic, while my husband was also working from home, and my stepdaughter was attending school online. Being at home all the time with everyone without a break was stressful to me, and I was unconsciously tensing up throughout the day. I ended up with a pain in my neck, literally, and I had to go to a chiropractor. After that experience, I have been more aware of my body’s response to stress, and I make a conscious effort to perform a quick body scan throughout the day to relax my muscles.
Control Your Response
These two techniques will help relax your body’s security system, creating a sense of calmness and safety, which will allow you to have a healthy state of mind that supports rest and recovery. Even though we may not always have control over our environment, we can control how our body reacts to the environment, and that’s where our power lies. If you would like more strategies and techniques to build your resiliency and support you in your stepmom role, look into our resources.
About the Author
Elizabeth Mosadis is a Certified Resilience Professional through the Trauma Institute International. She is also a Stepfamily Foundation Certified Coach and an author. Her books are available here.