5 small, proven everyday ways to treat postnatal depression

Taking the first steps to recovering from postnatal depression can feel like an enormous mountain to climb when you’re already sleep-deprived and exhausted to the bone. Here, five simple ways you can support your own mental health that will give you a much-needed boost on the road to recovery.

Maternal mental health disorders affect approximately 20 per cent of women who give birth. Let’s revisit that again: one in five women will suffer from anxiety, depression, mood disorders and postnatal depression after having a baby. It doesn’t discriminate; it touches the lives of people from all social backgrounds, and can develop whether a person has a history of depression or not.

In many cases, the seed for maternal mental health disorders is sewn during pregnancy. It can often progress to postnatal depression if left untreated in those early stages. So much more more needs to be done to look after and address a woman’s emotional wellbeing during pregnancy just as much as her physical health is monitored as the weeks and months go by, and to reduce the stigma often attached to mental health. It would do us all good to remember, as Amy Poehler once said so succinctly, “It’s never overreacting to ask for what you want and need.”

There’s no getting around it: help from a medical professional is absolutely key to successfully recovering from any maternal mental health disorder. But it’s nice to feel empowered too and, happily, there are things we can do to help protect our emotional wellbeing and get our mental health back on track – during pregnancy, early parenthood and beyond.

The steps outlined here comprise the Five Ways To Wellbeing, a set of evidence-based actions to improve personal wellbeing, which were developed following the UK government’s 2008 Foresight project on ‘Mental Capital & Wellbeing’.

Conducted almost 10 years ago, in the midst of the ‘credit crunch’, its aim was to produce recommendations on improving mental health resources, and self-supporting mental wellbeing through life.

Here are five small, snack-sized, evidence-based actions you can adopt into daily life that can help improve and protect your mental health.

1. Connect

There’s no denying that finding support in successful relationships is one of the major players when it comes to enjoying good mental health and happiness throughout life.

It’s important to nurture our relationships with people we can count on and trust, as well as feel ‘plugged’ into a community that shares similar beliefs, needs and values as our own as we move through the various stages of life.

A Harvard study spanning almost 80 years found that nurturing our relationships is key to happiness. “Our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” said director of the study and psychiatrist, Robert Waldinger. “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too.”

As a new parent, some valuable and simple ways to connect with others might include:

• Talking openly and honestly with your GP or maternal health nurse about how you’re doing.
• Joining a mothers/parents group in your area.
• Catching up with a friend or relative you haven’t seen for a while.
• Swapping an office ‘al desko’ lunch for a half-hour spent with a work buddy.
• Chatting with and getting to know parents at the playground, play group or school gate.

Even on days when you’re at home with baby and have no other ‘plans’, simply saying hello to the person at the checkout or smiling at a stranger can provide a small mood boost on an otherwise socially quiet day.

2. Be Active

Exercise is proven as a safe and reliable way to help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Research shows that regular exercise can be an effective part of preventing mental illness, as well as helping with the treatment of it. It can also be useful in preventing a relapse.

Adding activity into your day doesn’t need to be about taking on a strict exercise regime or having to set aside more time than you can spare – far from it. The important things to note are finding an activity you enjoy and something that matches your mobility.

Some suggestions include:

• Walking the pram to the shops and back, or collecting the kids from school on foot.
• Playing a game with family or friends.
• A few minutes of gardening.
• Clearing a small space in your living area for a few minutes of yoga or Pilates.
• Signing up for a short fun run with friends, or trying the local parkrun event in your area.

3. Take Notice

The idea of ‘mindfulness’ has taken off in recent years, and it seems taking stock of the present moment and the things you can be thankful for can benefit both mood and mindset.

Famously, Oprah Winfrey has kept a gratitude journal – where she writes down five things she’s grateful for every day – for almost 20 years, which she says, “was the single most important thing, I believe, I’ve ever done.”

“The practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects on a person’s life,” says Robert A. Emmons, a US professor of psychology. “Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders ... and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide.”

Other ways to ‘take notice’ in your day might include:

• Sitting down to savour a snack or meal – its textures, tastes and aromas.
• Going for a walk and noticing sights and objects around you.
• Taking a break from screen time to reflect on your day.

4. Keep Learning

As your child grows and enters the school years, it’s all about their learning new things, doing their homework, trying new sports, taking up musical instruments, joining dance classes and so much more. But it’s important that adults continue learning new things and challenging themselves in fresh ways, too.

Learning a new skill not only helps to keep your brain sharp, it can also benefit your mental wellbeing and may help to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.

Don’t worry, there’s no need to sign up for a degree course (unless you really want to!). Here are some simple ways to keep learning:

• Try your hand at a new dinner recipe.
• Ask to be trained in a particular skill at work.
• Borrow a book from the library on something you’re curious about, be it history, politics, food, geography, comedy...
• Sign up for a short pottery course or evening art class.
• Relearn a sport or instrument you loved when you were little.

5. Give

Ever heard of the ‘helper’s high’? There’s no doubt doing a good deed for another person benefits both parties. Not only does a small act of kindness give you a major case of the feelgoods, it can add to your sense of purpose and lead to feelings of satisfaction and more positive mental wellbeing.

Giving some of your time to help someone else also feeds back into Point 1, and allows you to feel more connected to your community. It can be tricky to find spare time when you’re raising little ones, but here are a few smaller ways to pay it forward:

• Write a letter or thank you note to someone.
• Volunteer to help at your child’s school canteen, or on school outings, or attend a parents association meeting so you can learn how to become more involved in a way that suits you.
• Join a community group.
• See if a local nursing home or retirement village has community days you can pop into.
• Cook or bake something simple for a friend with a newborn and drop it to her house.

Sources

https://www.foresight.gov.uk

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/five-ways-to-mental-wellbeing

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/12/exercise.aspx

https://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/medicalcenter/features/2015-2016/11/20151125_gratitude.html

https://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/learn-for-mental-wellbeing.aspx

https://www.oprah.com/inspiration/what-oprah-knows-for-sure-about-mental-illness#ixzz4sgQVPhQF

A bit about Moment Health…

Moment Health is a technology company that aims to prioritise Maternal Mental Health and provide new parents with the tools and knowledge they need to sustain good mental wellbeing – from pregnancy through to parenthood.

The Moment Health app has been developed with clinicians and healthcare professionals. It screens for perinatal, postnatal and associated anxieties, and includes additional features such as a helpful guide to practical and accessible coping strategies.

At Moment Health, our mission is to make maternal mental health mainstream #MakeItMainstream.

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