You can't let yourself crack
In a perfect world, you would automatically be granted an exemption from stress for the entire nine months of pregnancy, but since that's not likely to happen any time soon, you're going to have to come up some strategies for managing stress. Here are your five best bets.
1. Hit the gym.
According the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, exercising during pregnancy helps to reduce stress, improves your overall health and fitness, gives you a much needed-energy boost, and can help to ward off a smorgasbord of different pregnancy-related complaints. Of course, you'll want to ensure that your workout is pregnancy-friendly. That means avoiding high-risk activities that could result in injury or a lack of oxygen to your baby. Your best bets? Walking, stationary cycling, aquafit, stair machines, and low-impact aerobics.
2. Line up a pregnancy "mentor."
Much of the stress of pregnancy comes from being unsure about what's normal and what's not during this weird yet wonderful time in your life. In addition to turning to your doctor or midwife for support and information, you might want to take the advice of Jennifer Louden, author of The Pregnant Woman's Comfort Book (HarperCollins) and line up a pregnancy mentor -- a woman who is either pregnant herself (ideally a few months ahead of you) or who has recently given birth. Having someone to turn to for from-the-trenches advice can help to alleviate a lot of your anxiety. (Check out, Breaking the silence on prenatal depression.)
3. Learn how to meditate.
Studies have shown that meditation can help to reduce stress, relieve pain, lower both your blood pressure and your heart rate, and improve the quality of your sleep. When you're ready to meditate, simply find a comfortable, distraction-free place to sit; set a timer for five minutes (you'll gradually want to work up to 20 minutes); place your hands on your belly; close your eyes; and focus on the sound of your breathing until the timer goes off. That's all there is to it!
4. Practice your relaxation breathing.
Speaking of breathing, it's also a good idea to practice your relaxation breathing (a.k.a. "labour breathing") on a regular basis. Not only will it serve you well on "labour day": it can also help to keep your stress level down while you're still pregnant. Simply put one hand on your abdomen and practice breathing all the way into your abdomen so that your hand rises and falls while you breathe. Once you've mastered that, try breathing deeply and pausing slightly before you exhale. Then, as you exhale, slowly count to four. After five to ten minutes, you'll find that your breathing gradually slows down, your body starts to relax, and your mind begins to feel calmer.
5. Go for a massage.
Not only does having a massage help to relieve backaches, leg cramps, headaches, and other pregnancy-related aches and pains: it also soothes and relaxes the nervous system by releasing endorphins into your body. So if you've ever needed a reason to book a massage or hand that bottle of massage oil to your partner, you've now got the perfect excuse: motherhood!
Ann Douglas is the author of The Mother of All Pregnancy Books, The Mother of All Baby Books, and numerous other books about pregnancy and parenting. You can contact Ann via her website at www.having-a-baby.com.