Mental health is one of the most polarizing and controversial topics in today’s society. Having a child, especially a newborn, can push you to the limit in so many ways (hello, relationship shifts, lack of showering, and utter exhaustion!) so it is especially important to pay attention to how your emotional status is changing on a day to day (ok, minute to minute) basis. I want to preface the remainder of this conversation with the understanding that every perspective is unique to your own experiences and mental health journey. I am in no way a mental health professional, and these thoughts are simply ideas that I have found helpful and wanted to share with you in the spirit of community!
Talk about it
As someone who has struggled with moderate anxiety for the past 10 years, I was (shocking, I know) very nervous about how becoming a parent would affect my overall mental health. I had just gotten to a point where I was using strategies to effectively cope with anxiety in a positive way, and now I was looking at quite possibly the biggest life change I’d ever undertake...I should also mention I find change (even wonderful, wanted change) very difficult! One thing I found very helpful was talking to my husband and mother about my concerns before the birth of my daughter. I asked them both to be on the lookout for major shifts in my emotional wellbeing and to advocate for me at a time when I might not be able to advocate for myself.
Do some research
Another thing I found hugely helpful was researching the typical symptoms of anxiety, depression, and postpartum depression. I wanted to know what I should be keeping my eyes open for and also what warning signs I should be sharing with those closest to me. I was so surprised to learn that postpartum anxiety can manifest itself as being extremely quick to anger-and man, oh man, did I experience that! The National Institute of Mental Health can be a good starting point and gives quick and clear overviews on anxiety, depression, and postpartum depression that can be useful.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
There is such a stigma surrounding mental health. Our bodies are amazing (hello, creating and giving birth to a HUMAN!), but just like your bones and organ systems, your brain and mental health are susceptible to experiencing difficulty at times and it is so important to take that first step and seek help when you may need a “tune up.” And while I know it’s easier said than done, if you or a loved one suspect you may be suffering, taking that first step and reaching out to a doctor is key. Help also can come in the form of asking for or seeking out other supports. Many moms have found that a postpartum doula has been a lifesaver and other moms struggling with things like breastfeeding have found seeking out professional support to be beneficial for their overall mental wellbeing.
Use your resources
Parenthood puts a strain on just about every resource you may have: emotional, physical, mental, and financial. Making good choices about how you allocate those resources can help ease some of the strain. There’s the old adage, “Sleep when the baby sleeps!” But, if running a load of laundry while you watch an episode of Real Housewives or sneaking out for a manicure is a better use of your “resources” and makes you feel a bit more human, then go for it, mama! My husband and I also divide up household and home maintenance tasks/errands between the two of us and try and squeeze in as many things as we can during the week, leaving us with more time to spend to spend together on the weekends, rather than racing around. We also made a clear plan to give ourselves some independent downtime and budgeted to fund some fun activities. It’s certainly not the same as it was pre-parenthood, but I do find we’re also more appreciative of these things now then we were before, and it certainly improves our overall mental health.
Be kind to yourself
When I first sought professional help for my anxiety, the one thing I will never forget was my therapist saying the following phrase: “You just ‘should’ all over yourself!” Her point was that so many things that factored into blocking my mental wellbeing were things I was putting in place. Once I began to be a bit kinder to myself and not have as many “shoulds” in my mind (“I should be able to handle this…” or “I shouldn’t get this upset over…”), my emotional mental health was in a much better place. So every time you start to beat yourself up...don’t! You are a wonderful and valuable human being, but you can make mistakes and that’s ok, mama!
Parenthood is a tough, amazing, beautiful journey, but we are our best selves when we take care of our mental health. I cannot stress enough that I am not a professional, and that mental health is a deeply personal issue, but I hope that these thoughts have resonated with you! Thank you, as always, for reading!