Controlling Mental Load Relies on the Strength of Our Mind-Body Connection
Women are naturally multi-taskers, and this innate skill ramps up significantly after they become parents. Constantly trying to remember things that need to be done, people that need to be called, appointments that need to be booked, decisions that need to be made… just to feel like they are in control of their lives and are always ahead. As parents, we depend on our brain power a lot!
All these thoughts going around and around and around in a parent’s head are what is called ‘mental load’. It’s invisible, exhausting work that never ends. It is the constant worrying about daily activities. It is stress.
All parents want to be a ‘Supermum’ or ‘Superdad’ (although maybe not necessarily called that). Able to handle anything that comes their way, always in control, feeling cool, calm and collected. We see another parent out there that appears to handle the mental load of parenthood well and think “I can handle it all too!” Or a parent starts to feel inadequate by thinking things like “She has 3 kids and they always arrive to school on time in clean, ironed clothes and a homemade, nutritious lunchbox packed; I struggle to do those things with one child! I’m never going to be as good a parent as her…” But that comparison stuff is toxic.
The reality is, our bodies simply cannot handle this type of pressure, physically or mentally. That other parent may be very good at hiding the strain of their mental load, or has found effective ways to unload it.
Have you ever noticed that when there is more going on in your life, and your mental load has increased, that you suddenly start to feel ‘off’? Maybe you catch a cold, a sore throat, you feel more anxious or down about things that don’t normally bother you, your neck or back start to feel sore or your legs begin to cramp. Stress is stored in the muscles of our body, including the brain muscle. It is therefore unsurprising that mental load, or stress, can lead to a breakdown of our immune systems and open us up to a variety of physical and mental illnesses.
Understanding the complex interrelationship between our mind and our body is a critical part of starting the process of destressing and controlling our mental load.
Our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and attitudes can affect our biological functioning in both positive and negative ways. This whirlwind of things going on in our minds can be a positive force in our bodies that gives us the confidence, clarity and motivation to be that ‘Supermum/dad’. On the other hand, this same cocktail of emotions can leave us with one hell of a hangover! Either way, our mind can have a profound effect on how healthy our body is.
In reverse, what we do with our physical bodies can impact our mental state; again, positively or negatively. What we eat, how much we exercise, our posture, our quality of sleep… all of these physical actions can control the release of hormones and other chemicals in our brain that effect our sense of calm and pleasure, alter our mood and reduce our experience of pain.
To explain this effect further, let’s take a look at the science of it all – our brain has a characteristic known as ‘neuroplasticity’. This is how it adapts to the world based on our lifestyle, physiology and environment. We are literally forming and re-forming our brains based on the choices we make and the habits we build on a day-to-day basis. If some of these habits involve activities that strengthen the connection between our brain (mind) and our body, we are essentially teaching our brain how to care for our body, and our body how to look after our brain. All of this co-nurturing increases our resilience to stress and the ability to bounce back from excessively stressful events, when our mental load would normally overload.
There are many different ways we can release the stress built up in the muscles of our body and increase our resilience to mental over-load.
8 Effective Approaches to Strengthening the Mind-Body Connection
- 1. Yoga and Tai Chi; these gentle exercise techniques create a focused, yet relaxed, state of being
- 2. Creative Arts; immersive engagement in sketching, sculpture, painting, music or dance puts us in a meditative state, which increases the integration of brainwaves and creates a feeling of contentment
- 3. Breathing; focusing on our breath and taking regular deep breaths encourages the release of long-held tensions and unnecessary stress build up
- 4. Progressive Muscle Relaxation; involves the tensing and relaxing of specific muscle groups in our body, one at a time, to assist in the release of stress build up within our muscles, and to force our mind to focus on something other than our never-ending thoughts
- 5. Massage; a form of touch therapy that assists with the release of emotions stored in the muscles of our body to increase self-awareness
- 6. Meditation; a state of restful awareness in which our body is resting deeply while our mind is awake, though quiet
- 7. Hypnosis; inducing the body into a relaxed state, thereby lowering the levels of stress in our body and mind, and enhancing our capacity to handle stress through increases in white blood cells
- 8. Gratitude and Kindness; practices that increase the production of serotonin in our brain, which is a naturally occurring neurochemical that has a calming, mood regulating and anti-anxiety effect
Not all of these approaches will suit everyone, so it is important to give each one a try over a few weeks in order to find which ones work best for you to assist in unloading your own mental load and building resilience.
If you need any help with reducing stress for your employees, or would like to know more about our parent support programs, then please give us a call today on 0402 294 953. We’d love the opportunity to help!