Mental Health Exercises for Overwhelmed New Mums

by Psychologist Dion Terrelonge

Following Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, Psychologist Dion Terrelonge has prepared some helpful advice for new mums on how to take care of yourself – even if you have very limited time.

After all, happy mum equals happy baby.

Read on for her essential mental health exercises…

As a mother it is important to look after yourself so that you can look after others. A lot of mums experience guilt and believe that taking time for themselves is selfish, when in fact quite the opposite is true. If they become unwell, either physically or psychologically that can create far greater issues further down the line than 15 minutes of self-care would have.

When women become mothers, there is a tendency and an unspoken expectation that their needs will be put aside; however this can lead to women losing a sense of themselves and potential mental ill health.

There are a number of things that mothers can do to promote their wellbeing when they are feeling overwhelmed, such as:

Mindfulness

The good thing about mindfulness is that you can do it during any time you have available, whether that be one minute or one hour. Mindfulness encourages you to pause, focus inwards and be present in the moment; something that is not easy when you feel there is always something needing to be done.

It also encourages those practising to be non-judgemental, compassionate and kind to themselves and is a recommended activity for alleviating anxiety and stress reduction. Here are a few exercises:

Three mindful breaths

Begin by sitting, lying or standing still. Notice how your body feels in that position, how your feet feel against the floor or the sheets on your back. Actively pay attention.

Inhale slowly and gently through your nose, bringing your attention to the sensation of air passing through your nostrils and filling your chest.

Gently exhale through your mouth, again notice the sensations as your breath leaves your body and feel your chest falling. Do this three or as many times as you need taking care to check in with how you are feeling at the end.

This activity can be used as a way to centre yourself or to ready yourself whenever you feel anxious or overwhelmed.

Take a mindful shower

As tempting as it might be to mentally go through the day’s to-do-list, resist. Instead close your eyes, bring your attention to any sound you can hear, the feeling of the water or your body puff on your skin, and any smells. Notice where your mind drifts to and gently guide it back to the moment. 

Mindful movement

This involves moving your body in small or big movements while paying close attention to how each movement feels, how your body feels and what your body does. This could be anything from rocking back and forth from heel to toe while timing your breaths to the movement, swaying your whole body with arms raised or even jumping if you feel moved to do so.

There are a whole range of guided mindfulness movement meditations available online.

Drop the ‘should’

The most common thing I hear from mums is ‘should’ – pressure on what they ‘should’ be doing. Learn to drop the feeling of ‘should’ and think about what’s actually essential for you and your family. What’s the worst that could happen if you don’t do some of your ‘shoulds’ today?

There’s plenty of things parents must be doing including feeding and changing the baby, but equally plenty of things that aren’t that important to be done right now when you really think about it.

Exercise

Exercise is incredibly important for our physical and emotional wellbeing and has been shown to lead to noticeable improvements in mood and confidence, as well as reductions in depression risk indicators.

These effects are even stronger when exercise is coupled with social support such as meeting friends for a coffee, mother and baby groups or accessing support through local children centres. You can also look to combine the two through classes such as buggy fitness and mummy and baby yoga which often include a cup of tea and the chance to talk amongst parents.

Aerobic exercise are activities that get your heart rate up and increase your breathing, such as brisk walking (with or without a pram), jogging, skipping or even crawling quickly playfully after your baby. This type of exercise has been shown to have similar effects to psychoactive medications that inhibit anxiety. Not only this but these effects can last for up to two – four hours after exercise.

Exercise is also a great distraction, it busies the mind, providing an escape or breather from stress and worry.

Get out of the house

It can be almost comical at times trying to get out of the house easily with children, but fresh air has a positive impact on the brain. If you are able to then try to get out of the house at least once a day.

Connect with other parents and exercise your mind

When things feel tricky, it can be easy to feel alone. All of the TV adverts show images of jovial parents throwing their children up in the air, smiling and laughing.

Make sure you connect with reality, meeting other parents and finding out they are in exactly the same boat can be incredibly reassuring and can put your mind at ease.

Dion Terrelonge is a Psychologist with Hoop, the free app that helps families discover what’s on locally for their kids. Downloaded by parents more than 1 million times in the UK, Hoop makes it easy to find 1,000s of local activities for babies and toddlers.

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