Exercise and Stress Relief
Exercise has always been a great way to deal with stress. Not only are there the obvious physical benefits of exercise, but now we are starting to recognize the stress-relieving benefits as well. In fact, many health-care providers recommend exercise as the number-one method of stress relief.
Distraction techniques do just what they promise — they distract you. The best pregnancy based example I can offer is patterned paced breathing for labor. By focusing on your breathing rather than contractions, you use your mind to focus on something other than the contractions and discomfort.
When practiced diligently it works really well, but practice is the key. This type of relaxation is beneficial for you if you harbor fear or tension related to a process or if escape is a common coping technique for you in life, in general.
Using exercise to help your body rid itself of physical tension is an easy way to deal with stress on a simple level. Even on days you don't feel well, simple exercises can help you feel better by elevating your body's natural levels of endorphins and other pleasant-feeling hormones.
The breath focusing of patterned paced breathing is used in many forms. One technique is to focus on the in and out breaths as you breathe. You can do this easily by slowly counting to ten and breathing in through your mouth. Hold that breath for a few comfortable seconds and then release your breath to the count of ten through your nose. If you find that ten seconds is too long, or too short, feel free to alter this number to whatever works well for you. Some also find that they prefer mouth breathing or nose breathing, so use whatever method of breathing feels natural to you.
This is but one example of a distraction technique. There are many others that you can use to help aid in relaxation throughout life. Some require even less thought than breathing, like listening to music, or watching movies or television. Many times you become so familiar with whatever method you choose that when a stressful situation comes up you do not even realize that you have reverted to doing your distraction technique.
Internal Focus Techniques
Through internal focus, you can directly address concerns about your body by using your mind. The benefit of using an internal focus can be that you are able to focus directly on your situation. Many of these techniques are used in childbirth classes and include focusing on the thoughts associated with the processes you are going through. These techniques work really well for you if you are fact-focused and interested in learning everything you can. This can also help alleviate fears associated with certain processes.
Although it sounds like something you would know not to do, be very careful about using relaxation tapes of even soothing music while driving your car. Much like the warnings found on narcotics, keep in mind that these exercises can have a powerful effect on your reflexes and alertness.
Mental imagery is simply defined as the ability to “see” images or scenes. This practice is used as a coping mechanism that can either be distracting or an internal focus. These techniques are used by many athletes before competition to improve performance.
Labor, birth, and parenting are no less of a performance and using these techniques can greatly enhance your coping mechanisms. The techniques can also be used in conjunction with nearly any type of birth experience and do not depend on your physical status.
Common types of mental images used in birth are those that are open and flowing. You can use waves to imagine a contraction pattern. You might use the image of a flower opening, like a rose bud, to imagine what your cervix is doing during labor.
The Perfect Memory
Many people choose to use a time and place that they have actually experienced to aid them in their relaxation. Using this mental imagery is very beneficial. You can choose any time or place that provides you with a positive memory. Be sure to recall as many physical and emotional details as possible. Things to remember include what you were wearing, who you were with, who said what, what smells were around you, what time of day or year it was. Was it a special occasion?
By using the mental images of winning a competition or even competing, it can actually reduce the tension and stress felt when the competition arrives. People who do public speaking also use similar techniques to help reduce anxiety about their performances.
You can choose a variety of situations, like your most romantic memory, a great vacation, a family getaway, and so forth. Is your memory perhaps merely a favorite place? A childhood safe haven or vacation home often works well. The key is to choose something or someplace that makes you feel good and safe.
The Birth Exercise
Using mental imagery to conjure up the birth of your baby can be a valuable tool. Simply use techniques to picture what you would like to happen during this special time. You might incorporate some of the facts you've learned about your body and childbirth in general to help you imagine your baby's birth. This also gives you the ideal time and place to work through your fears and concerns.
Touring the hospital or birth center you intend to give birth at can greatly reduce your levels of fear and anxiety associated with birth. It not only allows you to actually see the facility and learn about their procedures and protocols, but it can also enable you to rehearse mentally how everything will happen once it's your turn to give birth.
To do this exercise, get in a relaxing position and set the mood with music and lighting if desired. Start with how you imagine your labor beginning and slowly proceed through the birth as you see it happening. If there is something or someplace where you get “stuck” and can't envision, do not panic, move on. It will come. You can end at any point. Some end their imaginings with the birth of the baby, so you might choose to end there or a bit further postpartum.
This mental rehearsing is a great way to prepare yourself for the experience, even though it is not likely to go exactly as you have imagined it. It will also help reduce your prenatal anxiety and the stresses you feel once labor has begun. You can also do this with your husband or partner. Allow him or her to tell you the story of the birth while you focus on the physical relaxation. This can help you work through differences the two of you have in philosophy or experience. Don't hesitate to say how you imagine it all working out.