As a therapist, my NUMBER ONE recommendation for any of my clients’ first sessions is usually this:
MAKE. SELF. CARE. A. NON. NEGOTABLE.
Cliché, I know. I feel like there is so much out there across all media platforms about “self-care”, and how moms in particular, need to be doing it. And on the flip side, there are a million posts and articles about how moms don’t have the time, or the resources, or the energy. I know. I get it. I’m a mom too! But follow along with me for a minute while I explain some math…and a little imaginary/visualization exercise…
OK. I explain self-care using a cup. Usually, it’s my Starbucks cup that’s sitting next to me in my comfy office (I’m a therapist for MOMS and my office is directly next to a Starbucks AND a Target…how GENIOUS?!). OK. Back to my lesson…
SELF-CARE IS WHAT FILLS OUR CUPS. It doesn’t have to involve a 6-figure trip to the spa, or a vacation! It can be FREE, and only last 5 MINUTES! Self-care is anything that brings a smile to your face, a breath of fresh air into your day, an “aaahhhhh’ kind of moment. It can be a leisurely walk or a hard run. It can be 5 minutes of peace and quiet (maybe you have to lock yourself in your closet…you do what you can!) or a phone (not text) convo with your college bestie. It can be a mani or pedi, sure, or a date night! It can also be saying “no” to something that feels like an obligation and “yes” to yourself. See where I’m going with this? All of these “little” things, can add up, as they drop more into our cup. Lots of little droplets CAN ADD UP to having a full(ish) cup!
When our cup is FULL (ish), we are happier, more patient, show more compassion and grace, yell less, laugh more, have clearer minds and hearts, love harder, feel refreshed/rejuvenated (don’t go TOO crazy, we’re still moms…we just feel more refreshed than maybe newborn stage of mommin’??), breathe easier, work harder….do you feel me? Does anything resonate with you about feeling like your cup is FULL? It feels pretty darn awesome.
Here’s the flip side. THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS IN A SINGLE DAY THAT TAKE FROM OUR CUP. POURS OUT OUR FULLNESS. OUR SENSE OF CALM. Rushed morning routine, meltdowns before 8am (yours or the kids...), email blowing up before you get into the office, kids arguing because one looked at the other, you didn’t sleep well last night, no coffee in the house (the WORST). And this can all happen before 9am! All of those “stressors”, we’ll call them….pour more and more from your cup. Take from your reserves. Little by little, or in full-on spill the whole cup on the floor.
Now, when our cup is EMPTY (or on fumes), we can feel anxious, even depressed. We tend to be more irritable, less compassionate, more exhausted, yell more, laugh less, worry more, sleep less, feel burnt out, have a harder time joining in, connect less, argue more. Not. Fun. Right? Anyone know the feeling when their cup is empty?? I do. It’s not pretty. Ask my husband! OR my kids…
REMEMBER I said it was a simple math equation? Or would this be a math manipulative? I don’t know….
SELF-CARE > LIFE STRESSORS IN ORDER TO KEEP SOMETHING IN YOUR CUP. So, not an “equation” but more of a word problem? Whatever. Read that again and take it in. If you have a TON of life stressors, add more self-care. If you do one thing for yourself and think “I’m good! I’d be selfish to do more!”, look at your life stressors again. And adjust. Am I making sense?
Self-care is NOT SELFISH. It is NOT a luxury (remember, it can be free and only take 5 minutes???). Self-care is a NON-NEGOTIABLE if we want to make it, mamas. Or ANYONE! Dads, millennials, single Gen Z-ers, baby-boomers. Anyone! And if you feel guilty taking care of yourself, or time away from the kids or family, that’s a WHOLE other blog post, so stay tuned ;-)
This is how the initial phone call typically goes:
Caller: “Yes hi, I was hoping to set up an appointment…I had a baby xx months ago, and had some anxiety here and there, but it’s gotten worse/hasn’t gone away/interfering with my normal functioning…My OB said I probably have “postpartum”, but I’m not sad. I’m not depressed. I’m not, like, crying…”
Mamas…sound familiar? I can’t TELL you how many calls I get like this. Women who are struggling to find answers. Women who are tired of their brains racing all day, worrying about “what-if” scenarios relentlessly. Women who are afraid of their own thoughts because they seem so “out there” or disturbing. Women who can’t seem to sit still or sleep, despite utter exhaustion. Women who are postpartum, but do NOT FEEL DEPRESSED.
Here’s the thing. As a mental health clinician who specializes in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (more on what THAT mouthful means later), I see more women in my practice who experience pregnancy or postpartum ANXIETY, not DEPRESSION. While I am extremely pleased with more providers recognizing when a mama is struggling, and recommending they “take this Zoloft” or “go talk to this therapist”, I think some women feel misheard or misunderstood when this idea of “postpartum depression” is delivered to them. If it doesn’t fit their symptoms, I’ve had a lot of women wondering what in the WORLD was happening to them. Unsettling, right?
Postpartum Anxiety (PPA) actually occurs in more women than postpartum depression. 1 in 7 women will experience postpartum depression, yet 1 in 10 women experience postpartum anxiety. In many cases, women report beginning to feel “on edge” shortly after giving birth. It is marked with constant worry or racing thoughts that do not diminish. Many times, PPA has physical symptoms including shortness of breath, elevated blood pressure, dizziness, numbness/tingling in your body, rapid heart rate. While some worry after bringing a new life into the world is completely normal, after a couple of weeks, mama should be able to dismiss the worry as irrational or almost like mental noise. If this is not happening, if the thoughts/worries stay “stuck”, mama, REACH OUT. There is help!
Like postpartum depression (PPD), there are recommended outlets for mama to begin to feel better. First, let your “person” know that you are struggling. You do NOT have to go through this alone. Sometimes, even the act of sharing some of your thoughts is enough to alleviate the intensity of the anxiety. You can also reach out to your OB, pediatrician or trusted medical provider. Here is what you say…”Hi I had a baby (blank weeks/months/a year!) ago and I am struggling with what I think is postpartum anxiety. Do you have a list of providers (counselors, chiropractors, support groups, psychiatrists) that deal with this?” See? There you go. There’s a script that is simple, and let’s them know what you NEED. That can take the hesitation to call and try and explain something that doesn’t feel explainable down a notch, a little, right?
I will say, it is often a combination of support, therapy to learn coping skills to manage the distorted thoughts that come with anxiety, and sometimes medication is involved. And guess what guys?? MEDICATION IS OK. Not everyone needs it. Not everyone wants it. But there ARE medications that can be safe during pregnancy and for nursing mamas and babies. And if you begin taking something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will have to take it forever. If you begin taking something like an SSRI, it also doesn’t mean you are “weak” and “can’t handle” the stresses of motherhood. Mamas. This is MORE than stresses of motherhood. This is biochemical and hormonal in nature. If you need medication for postpartum anxiety, it’s the same as needing insulin for Diabetes…your brain needs help regulating chemicals like serotonin, like your pancreas needs help with insulin production. (Is it your pancreas?? I think so…whatever, you get my point?).
If nothing else, learn more and feel more validated by checking out these 2 great resources: