Sunday, September 2, 2012

Moms: Lower those High Stress Morning Hormones!

Whether you're a mom of one or a mom of seven, like me, you're probably facing several different factors that contribute to stress on a daily basis. Deadlines, appointments, traffic...and add in the complaints and early morning fussiness and battles with the children...and that stress could hit ultimately high levels, bright and early in the morning. highlighted a study the other day that talked about cortisol levels in moms, and how, when stress increases, cortisol levels (a good indicator of stress) increase. According a study on working mothers that was conducted and published (by Purdue University authors, Leah Hibel, Jill Trumbell and Evelyn Mercado) in the Journal of Family Psychology:

  • Cortisol levels were higher in working moms on weekdays than on weekend days.
  • Working moms who reported that they experienced a high amount of pressure and strain at work in addition to a high amount of stress as a parent demonstrated much higher cortisol levels on days that they had to work.
Past studies suggested:

  • Women maintain higher levels of cortisol that men, in general - possibly stemming from the everyday demands of balancing work and family life.
  • Having children, high levels of stress from family life, and the added demand of household chores are factors that were associated with increased cortisol levels on workdays.
What's the Big Deal About Cortisol Levels?

Why worry about cortisol levels? Why are these studies so important?

Cortisol is a crucial hormone in the human body which the adrenal glands produce. This hormone plays a valid role in inflammatory response, immune system, glucose metabolism, circulatory system, and stress response.

It has been proven that high cortisol levels can lead to the following issues for moms:

  • Exhaustion
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Suppressed thyroid fuction
  • Decreased bone density
  • Decreased muscle tissue
  • Mental/physical health problems
Although the Purdue University authors focused on working moms for their study, we can assume that stay-at-home moms are also at risk for these issues. Stay-at-home moms also face high stress and pressure to handle children all day, attend appointments, fight traffic, and deal with unbelievable amounts of stress and pressure on a daily basis.

Results of the Study

Let's take a look at the not-so-surprising results of the study, based on the (morning time) cortisol levels of 56 working mothers with jobs outside of the home, and children aged 2-4. Saliva samples from the mothers were taken and compared, consisting of samples from two weekday mornings and two weekend mornings.

Some interesting conclusions:

1) Working moms got about and hour more of sleep nights before non-working days than on nights before working days. (Just the opposite of what they really need!)

2) Working moms who reported high amounts of parenting stress demonstrated higher levels of cortisol on weekdays than they did on weekends. However, the moms who reported that they did not have high levels of stress, as a parent, did not demonstrate a difference in cortisol levels.

3) Moms who reported both high parenting stress and high stress at work demonstrated significantly higher cortisol levels on workdays than on weekend days.

Lower the Stress - Lower those Risky Cortisol Levels

Laurie Tarkan, health journalist and author, suggested the following ideas to lower that morning stress, and reduce the cortisol levels:

1. Get organized the night before.

The morning rush and stress can be greatly reduced by preparing for the next day the night before. Pack lunches and backpacks, line up school clothes and shoes, and also work clothes, jewelry, and other essentials. This way, you can avoid the time it takes to hunt down matching shoes and socks, and other stressful issues, in the morning.

2. Delegate some things to Daddy.   
There's nothing wrong with expecting Dad to handle a task or two in the morning, so delegate clothing the children or packing the lunches the night before to Dad.

3. Focus on the moment.

Rather than worrying about the approaching workday, focus on the moment, getting ready for the day, and ensure that everyone gets a fresh start. Hibel made a good point, “I think it is important for moms to stay mindful of the ‘here and now’ and try to only tackle one issue at a time. Worry about work once you get there, for now, focus on the kids.”

4. Determine morning stressors.

What are the major stressors of the morning? Are there specific issues that occur on a regular basis that cause conflict or stress? Tarkan suggested that you tackle each issue separately. She explained that if you find that your kids need to be repeatedly reminded to do menial tasks, like brush their teeth or get dressed, make a morning list, and use images from magazines if your children are younger.

5. Realize You Can't Control Everything.

According to Hibel: “Stress tends to arise when we feel out of control but our natural response might be to desperately try to regain control." Realizing that letting go of some control in the morning can help to reduce levels of stress. Tarkan suggested that #2 (delegating to Dad) and #4 (letting your child have some control over their morning with lists) can help to reduce the amount of responsibility you hold yourself up to.

It's okay to leave the morning breakfast mess behind, and handle it in the afternoon when you get home, if that's what you have to do to reduce some stress and that need for control.

6. Use weekends to recover.

If your daughter takes dance class early on Saturday mornings, try to find an afternoon class she can attend instead.  Give yourself a break on weekend mornings, and use this time to recover from a long, hard workweek.

We all know that stress can lead to other health issues, and as busy moms, whether we work or not, we have to take care of our health, so we can take care of our families.

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