Generally, I hate to generalise, but in this instance I’m going to. Pretty much whatever angle I look at it from, being a Mum is HARD! I hear from others that it’s hard, I read in blogs and social media that it’s hard and it’s my lived experience so far (nearly 6 years in and counting). But I’ll be honest, when I had my first I seriously wondered why everyone else was finding it all so easy. Turns out that they weren’t but who knew?!? Not me.
If this is not your experience then fantastic, I’m hand on heart happy for you (and desperately want to know your secret!!!!) , but for a huge proportion of Mums out there, they are doing it tough and are often in our western society they are doing it tough in relative isolation, especially compared to many cultures around the world.
However we, as individuals, have found motherhood overall, there are times when things can really get on top of us. Often we pretend that all is fine, especially to other people and sometimes even to ourselves. We ignore signs that everything is not okay for us, and additionally, if we do acknowledge it, then we often beat ourselves up about it and think that, at least on some level, we are a failure. The way society responds can often magnify that feeling, sadly.
If you are currently in a place where everything is really not okay, then I urge you to reach out to someone near to you, or if that feels too scary then consider reaching out to any local support organisations or to PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) which has a national helpline (alongside some useful info and support).
www.panda.org.au 1300 726 306 9am – 7.30pm Mon – Fri (AEST/AEDT)
I’m a firm believer that there is no one ‘right’ way of addressing issues with our mental health. It’s about finding what works for you. For me actually acknowledging my problem and seeking support in the shape of Psychosynthesis Counselling made the world of difference. Over the years I have become better at seeing the signs when things are not going that great for me, as well making sure that I am getting my needs better met than they had been in the past. There are many, many ways we can look to bring about a positive change in mental health. Back in my university days, some 20 or so years ago I experienced how Dance was successfully being used to support people with mental health issues, there’s art therapy, counselling, medication, animal assisted therapies, expressive therapies, diet. So many options open to us but first we need to recognise that we are not ok.
I started writing this on World Mental Health Day but I left it unfinished to get a decent night sleep, whereas previously I may have stayed up late to finish it off. I struggled with finding the right words and rather than criticising myself for not being able to express myself I put it to one side and came back to it when I was ready. All small things but things that make such a difference to my self talk, my wellbeing, my ability to show up as the parent, partner and individual that I want to be.
As we all know, mental health is still not fully understood. Far from it. But my experience is that the small steps I can take every day to protect my mental health and wellbeing make a difference. What is important, in my book, is tuning in to those things that work to support my mental health and trying to ensure that I have plenty of those things woven through my day to day. It isn’t always that simple. I still often drop the ball on this. But ensuring our wellbeing is at the forefront for us is certainly a good start. As a mum that can be a struggle as we tend to put others needs first. The idea of putting myself first has never sat too well with me, which gave me little hope once I became a parent!!!!! but the concept of ‘Me Too’ which I increasingly see talked about in relation to Motherhood, is an idea I can hang my hat on.
I’m no expert on mental health, but I am becoming a bit more of an expert on MY mental health and I thought I’d share with you the top 5 things that make a difference for me, in no particular order.
Sleep!! Who knew getting your Zzzzzzz’s was so important?!?!? Not me, for quite some time. But it is! and having come out of too many years of not getting enough I’m now REALLY noticing the difference in how I function and how I feel when I take the steps to get a better night sleep. I understand that as mothers we are not fully in control of whether we get a good nights sleep (yes, I had one of those children who woke every 30-60 minutes through the night for over a year), I also understand the draw of staying up for that extra hour once baby/children are in bed. But I also know that, on balance, I get more from a good nights sleep than I do from that extra hour of staying up.
Connecting with friends. Great friends. We are social creatures and motherhood sometimes can feel anything but social. Even when we are being social we often don’t get to finish a whole sentence without interruptions whilst kids are around (though I recall it being a little easier with newborns as long as you could talk and change nappies, feed or rock bubs to sleep at the same time). Some days getting out of the house just feels like too much hard work. Sometimes it IS too much hard work. If you are not a total extrovert it can also be draining to socialise with people you don’t know too well at mums groups and the like. But spending some time with good friends, friends who don’t care that you are covered in baby spit-up or haven’t done your hair, or have worn the same clothes two days in a row, and certainly don’t care that your house isn’t tidy. For me, time with those kinds of friend is GOLD. PURE GOLD!
Getting outside, preferably in and around nature. It’s cliched but there’s something about being out in fresh air in contact with the earth that rejuvenates me. Despite living in NZ for 6.5 years, I haven’t quite adopted a full barefoot policy but where possible I like to throw off my shoes or wear minimal/barefoot shoes. (There are heaps around these days. Vivo and Merrell have some great options for a more classic shoe but for me they don’t compare to Five Fingers for feeling that connection with the earth!) I don’t know about you but when I’m barefoot (or wearing my fives) I just feel I have a more playful quality and feel more energised. I’m not surprised to read of all of the benefits coming out through research around being barefoot on natural surfaces in helping to reduce inflammation, improve sleep and increase antioxidants.
Food. I do love food, but my love of food has changed over the last few years. I’ve become more aware of how food makes me feel, how it affects my mood and it’s impact on my energy levels. My food principles haven’t changed much over the last 10 years but I’ve certainly started to fine tune what fuels me best and become acutely aware of how the wrong foods can quickly turn me in to an impatient, exhausted human, which is little use when you are trying to raise your kids the best you can. As well as feeling me food has to also be delicious (I’ve talked before how important it is to enjoy your postpartum food and I feel much the same about every day food) and I actually enjoy finding ways to make the foods that work best for me in to delicious combinations. If I ensure I eat a rainbow of veggies (thanks Helen Padarin’s 9v9 programme for helping me realise this - details can be found at https://bit.ly/2NOiXaM. Her next round actually starts Monday 15th October 2018), a decent amount of good fats and a small amount of protein then I tend to be all good. I’m a fan of organically and bio-dynamically produced food where possible. I also love sourcing my food locally where possible and making meaningful connections with the people who are involved in producing my food, whether it be at the local farmers market or the local butchers. I try and avoid sugar these days for all sorts of reasons but it’s no coincidence in my mind that my 12, yes 12 episodes of mastitis occurred when I was especially run down and, as a result, was relying on or falling back on sugary foods to give me a boost. Without sugar I find myself much more balance in terms of both mood and energy.
Coming back to my breath. Be it a yoga class, specific pranayama practice or just lying down, sitting or walking mindfully and focusing on my breath, I’m always amazed at the difference conscious breath can make. I often remind myself of the words of Una Dinsmore-Tulli who wrote “Learning full yogic breathing reminds your body how to breath effectively. It brings conscious awareness back to a process that can be so deeply unconscious that you may not even be aware of how inadequate to your needs, your breath pattern is.” Encouraging conscious attention to the natural rhythm of the breath can have such an impact on energy levels, immunity, stress, sleep, sense of balance. It’s such a simple thing to do yet something so often ignored when we think about improving our wellbeing.
The challenges of being a mum are some of the best kept secrets in the world, until you are one and you find out first hand. As mums we need all the help we can get to navigate the transition to motherhood and the continuing challenges as our darling children grow. I share my personal top 5 wellbeing lessons with you here in the hope that it’s of some help to you. Everyone is different, though I suspect that good sleep, nourishing food and conscious breath is pretty universally beneficial, even if they don’t currently sit high on our priority list. I urge you to take a bit of time to work out what fills your cup and if those things are missing in your life right now, look for ways to change that for the better. I’d also encourage you to consider whether you are open and honest about any struggles you have around motherhood, and if not, perhaps consider how you may better acknowledge those struggles to others, for your own wellbeing, but also in the hope that in doing so, you encourage others who feel alone in their struggles to speak out too.
Until next time…
I’m Anne, Mum of two, Postpartum Doula and Yoga Teacher specialising in Pregnancy and Postpartum Yoga. I run Postpartum Preparation Workshops and Yoga Classes on the Sunshine Coast alongside In-home Postpartum Support and Yoga for new mothers who don’t want to settle with exhaustion and overwhelm being their introduction to motherhood. You can contact with any questions or book my services by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or click below: