*Guest Article*: Five steps to improve your mental health in motherhood
This is the third in a series of posts dedicated to mental health at different stages of motherhood. We’ve covered pregnancy, the first 12 weeks after your baby is born, and this post focuses on when your baby is growing older and towards toddlerhood. The NHS promotes the ‘five a day’ for mental health; five evidence-based steps everyone can take to improve our mental well-being. Let’s look at these and see how they can be applied in motherhood.
Stay connected with your tribe. It can be tricky when people start going back to work and getting into their own routines, but try and stay in touch with the parents you connected with during the early days. They are going to hit the same milestones and challenges around the same time as you and it can be so validating to share your experiences. If possible, having a few local friends within walking distance or a short drive can be a sanctuary on a tricky afternoon when you just need to get out of the house and have a chat over a cup of tea.
It’s common to get to the end of the day feeling exhausted after chasing after a toddler all day. This doesn’t usually give the same satisfaction as the endorphin-boosting benefits of exercise though, does it?! Of course, finding time for formal exercise can be really tricky. Getting outside every day is a great start, having a walk around the block, through the park or around town with the buggy. Can you find a fun exercise class you can get to at a time your partner or someone else can babysit? Or pair up with a friend and arrange a regular time for a walk or jog once the kids are in bed?
Learning new skills can give you a sense of achievement and confidence. With limited time, perhaps it would be more achievable to reconnect with a hobby you have neglected since becoming a mum? Audiobooks, podcasts and YouTube videos are great ways of learning and/or entertainment and easy to listen to or watch whilst cooking dinner or in the shower (waterproof speakers are a game changer!).
Give to others
Naturally, mums give an awful lot to others already! However, perhaps this can be related to making sure you are nurturing your relationship with your partner. You need each other in parenthood, perhaps more than ever before. Are there little things you used to do for each other that you have stopped doing, in the whirlwind of parenthood? Small gestures like offering a cup of tea or a foot rub can make a big difference and help you feel closer, as can spending a few minutes at the end of the day listening attentively to each other about your days without distractions.
Mindfulness encompasses being more aware of the present moment, including your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you. There are plenty of simple ways you can integrate mindfulness into your day, but as a busy mum perhaps the most realistic way to start is by taking a few slow, deep breaths, focusing on how it feels to breathe in the air and breathe it out. Or take a few moments outside, on your own if possible, and try to notice the sights, sounds, smells and sensations of nature, even if it’s just outside your front door for a moment before the baby wakes up.