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Long-Term Stress Relief

Cultivating Positive Experiences
In addition to taking in the good experiences that come your way in the natural course of life, you can create new sources of positive experiences.

A regular personal practice. The options include spiritual or inspirational reading, meditation, yoga, prayer, writing a poem, attending twelve-step meetings, knitting, art, crafts, exercise, a peaceful walk with the dog, or simply a long bath. Whatever form it takes, a personal practice creates an experience - often a profound one - that routinely nourishes you. Perhaps you had a practice that fell by the wayside once children arrived; if so, it could be time to take it up again or find something else that's doable in the life you have today. And if you've never had a personal practice, we strongly suggest you develop one that works for you.

Rather than taking on something too ambitious that fades out in a few weeks, it's better to have a modest practice that you can stick with most days. Some mothers wake up a little early in order to have a quiet time to themselves in the morning, and that might mean making sure you get to bed at a sensible hour the night before. Your partner may be willing to take care of the kids at a regular time while you do your practice; you could exchange the favor, or he might simply be happy to support you in this way with nothing wanted in return. Or you could trade with another mom to watch the children.

Once you start raising a family, you have to make your practice a priority, or it will be pushed aside. Finding other people with a similar interest - such as in a church, reading group, or art class - is a good way to help yourself stay committed, plus it enriches the whole experience. But they need to understand that you've got other commitments as well, and there may be times when you can't join them.

Reaching out to others. Studies have shown that one of the most powerful ways to reduce stress, especially for a woman, is to have the experience of feeling connected to another person. If you don't have them already, try to form friendships with people - especially moms - who you'd be comfortable talking with when your stress meter starts redlining. Perhaps you could think of someone who's called you during a hair-on-fire moment; she would probably be understanding and supportive if you gave her a ring when you're feeling frazzled. You don't even have to talk about whatever it is that's stressing you - just being able to chat will probably help you feel a whole lot better in a few minutes.

Since raising a child today is often quite isolating, especially if you're a stay-at-home mom, it can help to think systematically about how you could connect with other people. An obvious place to start is with your relatives; for example, having a baby brings many women closer to their mothers. On the other hand, relatives can also meddle and criticize. Paradoxically, knowing that you can close the door to unwanted comments or advice enables you to open up to relationships with your family and in-laws. If someone starts saying something you'd rather not hear, remember that it's your child, that you understand him or her better than anyone else in the world, and that it's all right for your parenting values to differ from those of the other person.

Neighbors are another good source of companionship and practical support. If you're not meeting people in the natural flow of your day, you might need to go out of your way to strike up a conversation. You could invite neighbors over for a casual meal, or see if there's a neighborhood association.

Playgroups, babysitting co-ops, and mothers' clubs are great ways to meet other parents. To connect with one of these, ask around, look in the phone book - or start one yourself! Nursery school parent associations, sports activities (e.g., soccer, T-ball, gymnastics, martial arts), or youth groups such as Tiger Cubs are similar opportunities to get to know new people.

Of course, you can meet people in situations that don't have anything to do with parenting. These include religious and civic organizations, charities, environmental groups, and so on. Fundamentally, whether you're shy or outgoing, there are many ways develop a greater sense of community with others.

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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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