5 Tips for Mental Health Self CareNov 18, 2022
It goes without saying that Mum’s are time poor, and on top of that there are huge physical and emotional changes that are experienced for you (and those around you). Routines go out the window, everything is dictated by your baby, infant or child.
If things become a struggle, a brutally honest conversation can be had with your doctor, who can support you, but there’s also a few things you can do to care for yourself to prevent any major mental health issues, such as chronic stress and PNDA rearing their ugly head.
Frankly speaking, becoming a mum is messy, painful, identity-altering, imperfect, and exhausting. But it can also be magical, exciting, beautiful, and amazing too.
Forget the breakfast, lunch and dinner routine - that’s likely going to slide a little and it’s best to just accept it. If you’re feeding around the clock, days and nights can seem to merge.
Make sure you have loads of healthy snacks and fruit on hand to keep fuelled, and try 4-5 mini meals a day. Think cereals and yoghurts, eggs or beans on toast, smoothies, canned tuna or salmon with cottage cheese and crackers. Quick meals like pasta with frozen vegetables, baby tomatoes and passata, or omelettes with mushrooms, spinach and feta cheese.
It's tempting to grab what’s handy when you’re bleary-eyed and time-poor (I know - I’m still working on this!), so ensuring that you have healthy food that’s easy to grab and throw together - quickly - will keep you nourished, and it’s great for your mental health.
Rest and Sleep
The old adage that you sleep - or at least rest - when your baby sleeps should rule the first few months of new motherhood. It works. Make sure your room, or a spare room is set up for daytime sleep to trick your brain into thinking it’s night. Heaters, air-conditioning, eye masks and ear-plugs, soft background music or sounds can all aid in relaxation and rest or sleep at odd hours.
Getting enough sleep, while difficult, ensures you are able to think clearly, make good decisions, and care for your child. It’s also important for your sanity - being over-tired never does anyone any favours when responsibility is forefront.
Prioritise your sleep and rest over housework - it’s not going anywhere.
Social Connectivity (not Media)
Any life change - such as starting a new job or moving to a new place - comes with feelings of loneliness, isolation and disconnection, and giving birth and becoming a parent (especially for the first time) is the same.
It’s critical for your mental health, as you begin to feel physically stronger that you maintain contact with the outside world. If you were working before you gave birth (or adopted or fostered), you may experience the lack of social-time even a little more sharply.
Talk to friends and family - have them visit you if you’re not up to venturing out. Make phone calls, join a parents group, take a stroll to the park, and say ‘Hi’ to people - random strangers even.
A smile begets a smile - and it will get those happy endorphins flowing through your blood and brain, and it boosts your confidence.
Staying connected also gives you a baseline - to remember you aren’t alone, to talk about anything (and everything), to know when to ask for assistance (even if it’s to come over and vacuum your house and a cup of tea).
Take small steps if you must, but make it enjoyable and make it regular, and in no time you’ll be back to your new self, doing many of the old things, albeit perhaps a little differently.
Exercise & Physical Health.
The benefits of exercise for our mental health and emotional wellbeing are widely known, but going back to 3 hours training per day for that marathon won’t happen overnight if you’re a new mum.
Physical activity - even mild - will improve your quality of sleep, while it releases endorphins, dopamine and serotonin - all the feel good chemicals - to boost your mood and happiness levels. .
Start with the pram walk, and make it brisker. Walk up the stairs instead of using the lift. The level of exercise and the time frame in which you increase it will be governed by your prenatal fitness. Experts recommend starting with light exercise that will target the pelvic floor, abdominal muscles, upper-back strengthening and your mobility. A steady increase in fitness also offers more energy and strength to keep up with your baby as they get older and more active
If you were super-fit pre-pregnancy and birth, the best thing for your mental health is to get back to it when your body permits, don’t rush it. And remember, your body will look and feel different - it’s completely normal.
We all need it - alone time, downtime, quiet time, couple time, me time.
And when you’re a new parent - it’s even more critical you have time outside of being a ‘mum’ to get intune with your own needs, and to relax and be you. Have your partner or a family member sit with your sleeping baby and take a walk, a bath, go for a swim, read a book, watch a movie, write in your journal, sit in the sun - it’s not a luxury - it’s a necessity for your mind.
Brainstorm with your partner about ensuring you both get breaks, alone and together where possible, as time and assistance with babysitting allows, have regular couple time or dates.
Don’t lose touch of who you are, and who you are together - it will make for stronger bonds, and a healthier family relationship, both mentally and physically. It may even seem they are getting the better deal with continued sporting activities, regular life and more sleep, but pushing through resentment, and having those conversations, ensure they are your best support.
We are all human, and our needs are as diverse as the people we are. Outside of these four critical factors to great mental health to weather the mayhem, yet beauty of parenthood, I wanted to list a few other things that I found useful.
- Stay away from, or minimise your use of social media (and the news too - it’s mostly all bad anyway)
- Give yourself affirmations and engage in positive self-talk
- Do not compare yourself to other parents
- Listen to your favourite music/band, and dance around your lounge room.
- Have a shower and get out of your PJs - as much as you can
- Get dressed up and do your makeup if that makes you feel good
- Experiment with different relaxation techniques. Find what works for you.
- Leave your pram ready at the door with supplies, ready to go for a walk when you can.
In other words, do what you can to help you relax, decrease the stress, and even bolster your energy levels when you can.
The more you attend to your basic news, take time to relax, and avoid negative messaging, the better you will feel about yourself, and your new life as a parent.
Finally understanding the signs of mental health issues is a must. If you are struggling, if it’s all too much, and even getting out of your PJs is hard, it can be an indication that you may need to speak to your doctor.
If that’s the case, don’t delay, no-one should suffer in silence, and it will give you the best chance to enjoy your experience.
It’s a ride like no other, so always remember to be kind and compassionate to yourself.