As a therapist to mothers, and a mother of three myself, I have become so aware of how, over the past few years, our attention has been very much focused on battling through the challenges. It’s important to look after your maternal mental health. Mothers have reported feeling more alone and lost than ever, with identities, boundaries, needs and feelings being ignored and deprioritised in order to plough all energy into making sure the kids are okay.
I, myself, have had moments, in the thick of it all, where I’ve fantasised about running away to somewhere quiet, where I am not needed and can simply be. I am not alone in this!
So much of ourselves as mothers, it seems, has had to go on the backburner. So, as life opens up again post-pandemic, as the diaries fill and the parameters of our worlds grow beyond our front doors, how can we reclaim ourselves and our zest for life? How can we seek to thrive instead of just survive?
Looking after your maternal mental health
Here are five tips from the therapy room to promote maternal mental health and to help you feel more yourself in your busy life…
The more you give, the more you need. It’s a simple science we don’t question when it comes to fuelling our cars, but when it comes to fuelling and nourishing ourselves, it’s often as if the rule doesn’t apply. Parenting requires a lot from us, emotionally, physically and mentally. As humans, we are designed to work and function from a place of rest, rather than towards a state of collapse, as we so often do. We hold on, keeping things in until the kids are in bed, and then we flop!
Energy allows us to enjoy the good things in our life, as we are far less able to navigate the daily parenting challenges when we are low on energy and feeling depleted. We need energy to laugh along with our kids and friends (have you felt so tired that you’ve lost the sparkle in your eye and your sense of humour?). We need energy to rationalise thoughts and challenge anxiety. We need energy to respond to our family instead of knee-jerk react.
So, consider how you might get a little more rest. Even when the opportunities seem scarce in the chaos of life, how can you do things a little slower, or cut corners to preserve energy? How can you delegate jobs to another person or another day, or take the opportunities to sit down, or close your eyes for a moment to gift yourself a little nervous system nourishing sensory deprivation? Take all the opportunities for rest that arise, no matter how small they may seem, and know that you are refuelling and recovering. Rest itself is, therefore, productive!
Think of those moments in parenting where you’ve felt seen and understood. Those times you’ve had your feelings or situation validated by an ‘I’ve been there’ from a friend, or a knowing and compassionate look from a stranger in the supermarket as you juggle the kids.
We need each other. It’s not failure or lack of strength not to be able to do everything yourself, but a truth of being human. We can sure give it a good shot, but we will end up feeling burnt out, low and resentful. I encourage you to grow in confidence on leaning on those around you, even if they can’t fix or help your situation. Go beyond the ‘I’m okay’ with those who’ve been historically kind and supportive. Whilst knowing your ‘behind the scenes’ story is a privilege to be earned, it’s important that you have at least two people in your life who know of any challenges or issues you are having.
Nudge the walls of your comfort zone, giving a little more insight each time to someone you trust, to nurture a feeling of safety. Don’t underestimate the feeling of being heard and understood, and the necessity of having our feelings and thoughts validated, especially when we find it hard to offer that to ourselves.
Dust off old hobbies
Flow activities are those things you do where you totally lose all track of time. When did you last do something like that? I don’t mean zoning out and losing yourself in a boxset… I mean the last time you were fully engaged, be it practically, creatively or physically in something you enjoyed?
Engaging in those activities you really enjoy, be it creating or moving in a certain way, are proven to reduce stress and increase general wellbeing. What flow activities have you engaged in in the past that you might be able to re-introduce in a small way? Whether it be buying yourself some fresh paints or signing up to a taster for a class? You are deserving of that time and enjoyment, and your parenting will reap the benefits as you nourish yourself through it.
Dream a little
Consider your future and the future of your family, both short-term and long-term. What differences would you like to experience in one month, in one year? Of course, being realistic helps, but the things you dream of often reflect your passions and desires in some way. Is there a theme in those dreams? Have they been really longstanding? Allow yourself to daydream what it would feel like to see these things come to fruition.
This takes us to the next point, but I wanted to say how so often, in parenthood, our focus switches to the needs and desires of our children. But it’s so important to remember that your needs, desires and passions are important too! Your enjoyment of life and investment in the things that bring you happiness are worthy also. So, taking a moment to contemplate or remind yourself what those are, can bring a fresh sense of direction and motivation to move towards them in time.
Have a habit MOT
Consider your day-to-day life and all of the routines and rhythms within it. Challenging and forming habits as a parent can feel like just another thing that sits on the to-do list, generating feelings of guilt and self-frustration.
But consider what might you tweak, swap or introduce in your daily routine that might move you towards where you’d like to be in a month or a year’s time? What small habits that take a few moments per day, might actually find you in a different place later down the line? Whether you seek to be more hydrated, want to work on fitness, or get through a book that interests you but is gathering dust on the shelf. All a great steps forward in nurturing maternal mental health.
Often the more we task ourselves with, the less likely we are to actually implement it. So how can you cut it down to a minute, a page or an extra water bottle re-fill per day, so that it feels more approachable?
I love the fact that if you nudge the flight path of a plane a single degree, it could end up landing on a different continent altogether! So often we overlook the small tweaks and changes in pursuit of the bigger ones, but I encourage you to not overlook the power of forming small, and consistent habits.
I hope these five tips for maternal mental health inspire and prompt you, and perhaps more have come to mind as you’ve read them. My new book ‘The Little Book of Calm of New Mums’ has many words to help validate your emotions, inspire little changes with big benefits, and bring clarity to the fog of feelings. Most of all, it will help you to cultivate kindness towards yourself. The cost of the pandemic, and all its anxiety, change, loss and burnout, won’t be remedied by a bath or a walk. You need gentleness and to be mothered, by yourself and others.
The Little Book of Calm for New Mums, publishing 26th May (Penguin Life), is available to pre-order now!