Stay Fresh when Expecting

Everyday stress can really take its toll on you, more so during pregnancy. Here's how to avoid falling into the tiredness trap

Pregnant womanEven a lifetime of worldly wisdom cannot prepare you for the conflicting emotions and hormone-induced tensions that may course through your body during pregnancy. For most women, this is the phase of life in which the panic button that triggers acute stress is frequently at the surface! If you find yourself choked with nervous tension, overwhelmed while performing even the simplest of tasks, or experiencing a feeling of restless unease throughout the day, then you may be a victim of pregnancy-related anxiety.

Over the years, the negative effects of stress on pregnant women have been effectively documented by scientists. In a study conducted in 1996 by Dr James McCubbin at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine in the United States, it was established that there was a link between stress and pre-term delivery. A group of pregnant women were given a stressful arithmetic task. All women who participated had normal blood pressure readings prior to the task. But, after the task researchers recorded an unprecedented surge in blood pressure. It was speculated that increased levels of stress-related hormones may affect both maternal blood pressure and foetal growth and development. Studies like this one suggest that it may eventually be possible to identify a group of women who are at risk of preterm labour or of having a low-birth weight baby, and provide stress-reduction techniques to help reduce their risk. Other studies found that women who experienced high levels of stress at around 18 to 20 weeks of pregnancy were more likely to have high levels of the corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) in their blood. CRH is produced by the brain as well as the placenta and has been linked with preterm labour.

In such a situation, it is now crucial to provide expectant mothers relief from pressures of every day living. Here are some tips that will help you stave off stress and keep you smiling every moment of those vital nine months.

Identifying the source: All stress stems from a definitive source. It could be an obvious one like that noisy neighbour next door who insists on playing loud records till the wee hours of the morning, or a speeding car manned by an inconsiderate driver. But, more often than not, there is a hidden cause. If you've been feeling upset lately, perhaps you should sit down and think about what is causing all that ill-feeling. Even putting your finger on a specific reason can give you enormous relief. That was the case with Stephanie Gaylie, a 34-year-old software engineer, when she was pregnant with her first child. "Towards the eighth month of my pregnancy, I was touchy and irritable at almost every opportunity," she says. "This was strange, because, normally, I'm such a cheerful person. When my temper really got out of hand, I was forced to do a great deal of introspection. It was then that it struck me that I was so upset because I was scared about being alone. My husband had to spend late nights at the office working on a new project and I had no one else to turn to if my water broke." After she discussed these fears with her husband and he had agreed to make his schedule more flexible, in addition to asking a friend to standby in case of emergency, Stephanie felt her stress literally melting away. If you've been experiencing an irrational anger lately that threatens to overwhelm, sit down in a quiet corner and put your thoughts and innermost fears under a microscope. Then take active steps to remedy the situation.

Confronting those phobias with awareness: The fear of the unknown can often be the greatest of terrors. And for most first-time mothers, this can translate into ceaseless worry. "Six months into my pregnancy, I was a nervous wreck," admits Zeenat Ahmed, a 31-year-old home-maker. "Since I was constantly sick, I worried about whether the baby was getting enough nourishment, about how painful the upcoming birth would be and even whether I would prove to be a good mother." As a result of all the self-doubt, Zeenat was terribly stressed. It wasn't until she received help from a friendly local counsellor that she felt comforted and more like herself. "My counsellor never belittled my fears," says Zeenat. "Instead, she prescribed a complete set of books on pregnancy - right from what to eat, to how to care for the child after birth. As I waded through all that information, my confidence slowly returned. For the first time in months, I felt like I could cope." Her fears addressed, that night, Zeenat slept like a baby. Knowledge is truly power. "If there is a niggling doubt or fear that comes up to haunt you, analyse it thoroughly and you'll find within the strength to face it and overcome your difficulties," says psychologist and counsellor Dr. Usha Ram. Instead of burying your fears and allowing them to fester as hidden stress, make it a point to glean as much information as you can about the situation you are in. While it may not be possible to be in total control, taking active steps will help dissipate tension.

Don't sweat the small stuff: Pregnancy is not the right time to indulge in a battle of wills, no matter how provoked you may be. Learn to ignore the minor hassles, be it an annoying colleague at the office, a demanding spouse, boss or irate family members. For your peace of mind, learn to shrug off the incident and move on. It's also not the time to engage in ego or wage wars. "My husband urged me to ask my boss for a raise, just before I left on maternity leave," says 29-year-old Sara Freder , a sales executive. "Not only was it a bad time to request a pay-hike as I had just haggled with the management over the duration of my maternity leave, but it also left me very worried about my job security and as a result, severely stressed."

As far as possible, stay away from controversies and shortcomings. Instead, focus on your blessings - especially the warm and loving relationships that are part of your world. Flood your being with positive thoughts.

Establish a good support system: Friends are important, especially since they can be your anchor during the emotional see-saw of pregnancy and birth. When you need a shoulder to cry or someone to talk to, there can be no greater comfort than an old pal. Join pre-natal classes where you can befriend other women going through the same experiences. You just might be able to relate to them better and it can be fun to swap stories.

Avoid fatigue by delegating chores: Delegating daily chores to your family may not be easy, especially if you're an aggressive type A personality who likes to be in control and would prefer to do everything yourself. "I've always been rather independent and hated to ask for help," rues 26-year-old Susanne a qualified interior designer. "When I was pregnant, this philosophy backfired on me! At five months, I was prescribed bed-rest because I'd worked myself too hard. I realise now that pregnancy is not the occasion to practise being a super-woman or to demonstrate your impeccable house-keeping skills!" At home and at work, enlist the help of your family and colleagues in order to take some of the pressure off of you. Don't take on any new projects that can sap your energy. If hordes of guests threaten to descend on you, feel free to speak your mind and tell them that it's not a good time. "Few pregnant women are willing to voice their feelings of fatigue because it makes them feel inadequate," says Dr. Pramilla Das, clinical psychologist. "As a result, they're overworked and stressed. Women need to learn that it's perfectly all right to put your feet up and relax, especially when your body is busy with the miracle of birth." So the next time you're out shopping, don't feel uncomfortable about allowing people to open doors for you or assist with heavy packages. Just enjoy the attention!

Boost your calcium intake: As your baby grows, your calcium needs rise as well. If you fail to fortify your diet with calcium rich foods, (at least four to five servings a day), you'll be prone to severe aches and pains. Your body will cull the calcium it requires from your bones, making them brittle and weak. The resultant physical fatigue can dampen your spirits, leading to a great deal of mental stress as well. To combat this, select from a range of foods like broccoli, cottage cheese, dark leafy green vegetables, a cup of skimmed milk, dairy products, calcium fortified biscuits and tofu.

Drink plenty of fluids: In a tropical country like India, heat stress is not at all uncommon. This rapid rise in core body temperature can put you at risk to sun stroke and elevated blood pressure. It can also be very draining. Signs of heat stress can include tiredness, irritability, inattention and muscular cramps. In order to avoid this, don't spend much time in the sun, especially during peak summer and increase your intake of cool (but not very cold) drinks.

Turn a deaf ear, even to well-meaning advice: There is something about having a child that encourages everyone, from friends, colleagues to strangers whom you meet, to offer unsolicited advice. On most occasions, this can be contradictory and confusing as well. Unless it comes from your doctor, learn to gently ignore spontaneous counsel, no matter how well-meaning it may be.

Get a prenatal massage: A prenatal massage can be a soothing, comforting experience. It can also make you more attuned to your body, especially after the numerous changes that have besieged it. Consult a specialist and ensure that the massage is performed in conditions that you are perfectly comfortable with.

Keep healthy snacks handy: A pregnant woman has greater calorific needs. Severe hunger pangs can strike when you least expect it. Keeping healthy snacks handy will ensure that you're never cranky or upset because you're starved. Pack a small duffel bag with your favourite treats and leave it in your car or desk at work, so that emergency sustenance is available around the clock.

Take a luxurious bath: A warm bath is an excellent way to wash out the day's tensions. Make bath-time a ritual you'll look forward to. Have a luxurious soak in the tub, with soft mellifluous music, candles and scented bubbles. Get creative and think of more ways to make it special. You could arrange a potpourri of flowers, treat yourself to fluffy towels or a satin bath mat.

Don't worry about your expanding waistline: Anorexia may be the desired trend on the ramps, but for real women, it can become a curse, fraught with severe health problems and real dangers during child-birth. Let go of antiquated body images. Revel in the changes in your figure. As long as you avoid fats with no nutritional value such as chocolate and chips, you'll soon fit into your pre-pregnancy clothing, so quell those apprehensions about becoming too fat.

Make meditation and prayer your

priority: Empty your mind of clutter each night, just as you would your drawers. A session of meditation and prayer each day can prove to be a powerful combination that can calm you down as well as keep you alert with its wholesome goodness.

Have a romantic night out: A romantic

night out with your spouse can do wonders to elevate your mood. Try to recreate those lovely days of courtship and discuss your future plans. Besides renewing your relationship, your togetherness will also give you a chance to share your thoughts and feelings about the new life that you have created and are about to bring into the world.

Indulge in prenatal yoga: Breathing exercises, gentle stretches and a good muscular workout can do wonders to improve your mood and your suppleness during pregnancy. Don't push yourself too hard and ensure that your teacher is a registered practitioner, well-versed in this ancient discipline.

Use visualisation

techniques: During a quiet moment, dream about your infant. Picture his/her features, the sweet baby scent and the lovely gap-toothed smile. Visualisation will help you bond better with your child and can be an excellent way to relax after a long day. Sometimes, it can be lovely to simply dream.

Treasure these precious moments with your unborn child and revel in your little one's love. And you will agree with us that there can be no greater means to exile stress than to celebrate new life!

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Kamala Thiagarajan
Kamala Thiagarajan is a Madurai-based journalist. Her writing interests encompass a host of genres including travel, health, entertainment and lifestyle. She is a full-time freelance journalist who works from her home in Madurai, South India. With ten years of experience in journalism, she has over four hundred articles in print in leading magazines across the globe. Her writing spans a variety of travel, health, entertainment and lifestyle features read by a diverse audience in over seven count