By DONNA G. BREELAND, M.D.
May is the month in which we celebrate mothers. The original topic of this column was about health screenings recommended for women; however, a quick trip to the computer for an Internet search can provide anyone with lists of the appropriate tests suggested for each age group. Unfortunately, health screenings rarely address the issue of STRESS, which many agree is ultimately responsible for more than 90% of visits to doctors’ offices. Stress upsets the normal balance and equilibrium in our lives; and, therefore, impacts us not only emotionally, but also physically. Mothers of all ages are especially vulnerable to this silent culprit.
Never before have there been so many women in the workforce of our country. Distance also often separates us from extended family and other sources of assistance and support. This leads to women trying to balance responsibilities at work with the care and needs of their families. One of the main stressors that I encounter with patients is the constant need to multitask while always performing at a top level. This leaves mothers feeling as though they are a “jack of all trades, but master of none” and that they are not doing the best job possible because there are simply too many jobs to do. This situation can be described, as “keeping your nose above water, while the rest of you is far from afloat.”
How do we slow down and take the time to care for our own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs so that stress cannot take its toll upon us? The answers may be different depending on the stage of motherhood in which we find ourselves; however, we can all benefit from learning to delegate responsibilities. As mothers, we all know that no one else is going to do the job just like we would, but we must get past that and learn how to divide and conquer. Realize that it is OK for you to ask for help and also be willing to accept assistance when it is offered. Just as importantly, we must not allow feelings of inadequacy to creep in when we practice this.
Mothers of all ages can also benefit from learning to pronounce the two little letters N-O. One of my mentors and partners, Dr. Freda Bush, is probably the busiest woman I know. She is a mother, wife, physician, author, friend and serves on numerous boards and committees. We once stood in the hallway outside her office and practiced the polite pronunciation of this word. “I already have too much on my plate and simply cannot accept another helping of anything—even if it looks and smells like dessert.”
We must also make time to exercise. This sounds like just another responsibility to add to our already long “to-do” list, but this should be a 30-45 minute commitment performed four to five days a week. Use this time as an opportunity to empty your mind of all that needs to be done at work and home, and instead focus on simple pleasures. Take a brisk walk and admire God’s bright blue sky or the beautiful climbing Lady Banks Rose in your neighbor’s yard. Enjoy the strength of your own body as you improve with each week of exercise. But, do not approach this as a time to strategize and plan out the rest of your week. This is your time to pray, put on some headphones, turn off the cell phone, and revel in God’s creation.
Do not set yourself up for failure with unrealistic goals. This may be the year that you let those flowerbeds rest and allow someone else to win the Yard of the Month award. You may need to consider hiring someone to come in and help with housework two or three times a month. If this would free you up for more quality time and laughter with your family, then it would be money well spent. During times of stress, do not be the one who volunteers for every signup sheet in your children’s school. There are lots of other mothers in those classes who can fill those needs. Do not feel guilty for sneaking an extra hour or two of sleep on weekends. Adequate rest is a vital ingredient in our battle with stress.
There are special needs for specific times of life. Mothers of newborns and young children deal more with physical exhaustion and dramatic change to the lifestyle they have known prior to bearing children. It is important that they not feel isolated. Seek out other women in similar circumstances, form playgroups (code words for “mommy support groups,”) hire babysitters and go on date nights with your husband, sneak a nap in whenever possible. Know that these sleepless nights will not last forever and before you know it your baby will be graduating and heading off to college.
Mothers of teenagers earn stars in their crowns everyday. Those beautiful, soft, sweet babies have turned into sarcastic mini grown-ups who prefer their friends to you anytime. These are the days when laughter is so important. Make those precious family times fun. Forget the housework—play games and cards, and listen to their stories. In the words of the infinitely wise Dr. Seuss, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”