Stress, Rest and Recovery Tips for Moms (Part 1)

Megan Dahlman
February 15, 2016

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​Momma, you need rest. (Cue the incredulous laughter…) We know it is so essential, yet we have completely forgotten what rest even means. As moms, we usually are the ones to solve the midnight issues, wake up before the rest of the household, toil all day long without taking a breath, and finally fall asleep after everyone else. We feel lucky if we get to sit down in the evenings (which is probably why we feel we “deserve” that evening treat…whew, what a day!).

When I was a new mom, I carried a lot of rest-resentment. “Why am I working so hard without ever catching a break?!”

Of course, the Proverbs 31 woman slapped me in the face again. “She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household…Her lamp does not go out at night…She looks well to ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.” (Proverbs 31:15, 18, 27) All of her hard work was noble, and she delighted in it. She did not carry bitterness or jealousy towards those who were able to sleep more and take more breaks. She went about her job, working as for the Lord.

Well, that sounds all fine and dandy, but that is far from reality most of the time. We can easily run ourselves into the ground, physically and emotionally exhausted from everything. What then? Do we crumble apart? Do we run away? Believe me, the thought has entered my mind, as I’m sure it has entered yours. We need regular rest and recovery.

Unload. Without unloading, our bodies clearly emotionally suffer (breakdown anyone?), but the physical effects are just as bad. When we harbor gobs of stress and anxiety, our blood pressure increases, our ability to heal and stave off illness decreases, and our body’s levels of the hormone cortisol increases. Increased levels of cortisol in the body can have a big impact on whether you store excess fat or not. Ugly, ugly cortisol.

In this two-part post, we're going to tackle stress management. These are real, actionable steps that you can take to lower your stress levels, ensure that you have adequate rest, and provide opportunities for your physical body to recover and regenerate as it should. 

First, let's discuss the importance of a good daily routine with consistent exercise and sleep habits.

Have a Daily Routine. One of the best ways to manage your stress, rest and recovery on a daily basis is to create routine. Strive to wake up at the same time every day, eat healthy meals at regular intervals, schedule breaks into your day to ensure you don’t get wound up for too long, and go to bed at the same time. 

I'll use myself as an example, although this has taken me several years to figure out. I feel like I have a really good routine in place for now, which keeps my stress levels pretty low…not too bad, considering I manage two separate training businesses from a household that I keep in check, all while my two little boys are running around me.

Here is my normal day right now:

  • 5:30 wakeup, drink water, peel open my eyeballs, get ready to workout
  • 5:45-6:30 workout
  • 6:30-7:00 devotions, Bible study, prayer, coffee!
  • 7:00 kids get up, make everyone breakfast
  • 8:00-12:00 preschool, work, training appointments, clean house, etc.
  • 12:00 lunch
  • 12:30-2:00 run errands, clean house, more chores, computer time, more training appointments, etc.
  • 2:00-4:00 Kids’ naptime/quiet time, my teatime and power nap for 20-30 minutes, more work
  • 6:30 Dinner
  • 7:30 Kids’ bathtime/bed
  • 8:00-10:00 Adult couch time (usually TV and pinterest, yep!)
  • 10:00 Bed time and read a book
  • 11:00 lights out

With this routine, I can usually handle a full day of work and household duties without getting too worn down. It ensures that I always have my own workout time that won’t get sabotaged by kids or work commitments (remember, it's a non-negotiable!), and I prioritize lots of downtime (morning quiet time and prayer, afternoon quiet time and a nap, and evening adult couch time).

If my day deviates from this routine, I can usually handle it, but I don’t feel quite as clear and fresh. However, if I have several days off of this routine (even if it’s a vacation!), things really start to boil inside.

I use myself simply as an example of what works well for me. Your own routine may look very different, and it will most likely change from time to time based on your season of life.

What’s important is that you create a daily structure, prioritizing times of rest. Design aspects of your day that never change (like your wakeup and bed times, workout time and your downtime/devotions). These are constants that you can rely on and find comfort in, despite the inevitable chaos that swarms around you as a mom.

Exercise. Of course, exercise itself does wonders to lower stress and all of its effects. One workout here or there is not enough to see a big impact on your stress levels, but working out consistently over a few months will certainly make a change.

Building regular exercise into your daily routine is essential. As we talked about last week in How to Find the Time to Workout, exercise should be non-negotiable. These workout plans will help you put this into practice. Try to pick a consistent time that you usually workout. This helps a lot.

Sleep. Are you a good sleeper? Your body repairs and heals itself during sleep, so if you are sleep deprived you are way more susceptible to illnesses. Even your muscles will have a harder time recovering after workouts. Talk about unnecessary soreness and missed strength gains!

Learn from professional athletes: they train very hard for several hours a day, but they sleep even harder, usually 8-10 hours per night. Sports psychologists help them create a bedtime routine that includes relaxation techniques and visualization.

Sleep is important. However, as a mom I certainly don’t have to tell you how important sleep is. You might be going through a stage with little ones where sleep is hard to come by. It won’t always be like this, I promise.

But in the meantime, learn to nap. If you know me at all, you know I'm a napper. Every afternoon at about 3:00 you can find me on the couch with my tea, dark chocolate, and a good nap. Research has shown that you can successfully supplement any missed nighttime sleep with a good nap. The best time to nap is right after lunch. Most likely your kids will be napping around then too, so you can join them for a little bit of shut-eye. If your nap occurs too late in the day, though, it can really mess up your ability to sleep at night. Nap earlier if you find yourself dozing on the couch around 7:00.

It is recommended that you shoot for 6-9 hours of sleep every night. Six hours is stretching it a little thin, though. If your circumstances only allow for 6 or less hours of sleep at night, you may need to utilize that nap. Listen to your body. If you feel dozy, are prone to colds, and you’re always sore from your workouts, it’s a good sign your amount of sleep is not cutting it. 

Don't Neglect Rest, Momma. Learning to rest well is so often overlooked, especially as moms. Remember that everything else you attempt to do will suffer and fall short if you’re not refreshed. In addition to eating well and exercising regularly, get your stress under control with a good daily routine and do your best to sleep well.

Other stress reduction and recovery strategies include incorporating massages, foam rolling, stretching and breathing exercises, which will further alleviate the tension that you may harbor. Stay tuned for the next post that will cover these action steps. 

Now, put your phone, tablet or computer away and go take a nap!

Hey, guess what? You can start showing up for your body in simple ways, right now.
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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
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