One in five women will experience mental health issues pre or post birth - you are not alone.
Becoming a mum can be a rollercoaster ride. Add a global pandemic to the mix and, well, it’s not surprising new mums’ anxiety levels are high.
Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, according to the Maternal Mental Health alliance, is ‘a week-long campaign dedicated to talking about mental health problems during and after pregnancy.’ The aim is to raise awareness of perinatal mental health problems, and make sure families know that the information, care and support they need to recover is available.
This year, the awareness week will run from Monday 3rd to Sunday 9th May.
To mark the week, we asked Anna Mathur, psychotherapist and best selling author of Mind Over Mother: Every Mum’s Guide to Worry and Anxiety in the First Year, to give new mums her advice for restoring calm to their anxious minds during this difficult time.
“If you’re finding yourself battling thoughts of worry, fearing illness more than normal, or playing the ‘what if’ game and catastrophising constantly, you’re certainly not alone,” Mathur, a mum-of-three, tells us.
“Mums are are comforted by familiarity and predictability. With so much in a state of flux in our world, and so much change in our homes, uncertainty prevails. Anxiety and worry are fuelled by the fear of the unknown, but don’t despair. While we cannot calm the world, we can absolutely find ways to tame the fear and calm our minds.”
“The below may seem like little steps, often that’s all new mums have got headspace for. I can assure you; these little steps have the potential to slowly make big changes in the way you feel. Keep at them, keep talking, keep kind (to you).”
Here are Anna‘s top tips to ensure a calmer mind, this week and beyond.
Maternal Mental Health week 2021: tips for safeguarding your mental health
1. Be kind to you
We know to be kind to others, but how kind are you to yourself? It’s absolutely vital to bring compassion into how you are feeling at the moment. You are being stretched in so many ways, so it’s a tall order to expect yourself to function to the same speed and standard as normal. Cut corners where you can, and accept support when it comes your way, be it practical or emotional.
2. Let mixed feelings be
There is so much joy and gratitude that comes with having a baby. Joy can sit beside harder emotions like overwhelm and grief even though they seem contradictory. Remind yourself that it’s okay to grieve for the fact that this precious time with your new baby isn’t how you’d hoped, or you quite frankly miss the freedom and support you find in normality.
3. Don’t play emotional top-trumps
Have you ever felt that you couldn’t find something hard because someone else you know had it harder? There will always be someone who has a bigger struggle or an easier ride of certain things, but your emotions are utterly valid regardless. Feelings are feelings regardless of someone else’s circumstances and they deserve to be felt regardless of what your friend may be going through.
4. Keep talking
Ensure that you have people who you can be open with about how you are finding this time. Make time to talk to them or have an emotional-check-in phone chat while out on a walk. While the practical help available may feel limited at the moment, having your feelings acknowledged means that they are less likely to come out in a tearful meltdown later. You may prefer to type into a forum to gain confidence if speaking openly to a friend feels like too big a big step right now.
5. Make space
It’s so important for your mental wellbeing to find ways to rest and refuel. You can create a sense of space and separation by going out for a walk, or listening to a podcast with headphones on. Find small ways to engage in the things that make you feel like yourself. It may take some extra logistics at the moment, but prioritising this will pay off.
Do note here: our guide to self-care ideas might help.
6. Curb overthinking
Put a halt to exhausting ‘what if’ games where you find your mind considering all the things that could go wrong.
Overthinking fuels anxiety like a petrol bomb thrown onto a fire. Use a distraction technique to quickly occupy your brain, such as counting back from a hundred in threes. Then use a simple breathing technique to calm any physical feelings of anxiety. Spend a moment breathing in for four and out for six and notice your shoulders relax.
7. Have an attitude of gratitude
In challenging times, we so often focus on the things that could go wrong, or the difficulties we face. Gratitude simply turns on the light in a darkening room, reminding us that whilst things are tough, there are also many things that are good and going right in our lives. When you feel negativity and fear winning the battle, list three things you are grateful for in that moment.