If you are pregnant or have had a baby in the past year (or know anyone who has), please read on! After working for many years with pregnant and postpartum women (and their spouses) in individual therapy, support groups, and in couples counseling, I have seen firsthand the incredible, beautiful, messy, and exhausting transition it is to have a baby. Whether it is your first, second, or fourth, bringing a new life into your family is hugely significant. I have had the honor and privilege of working with women and men seeking support in this adjustment period as well as with those in the depths of depression, anxiety, discord, and despair.
The one tool I offer to ALL regardless of their level of “need” is SELF-CARE. For most women, especially new moms, when I suggest that it is necessary for them to take care of themselves, you would think I just asked them to go live in outer space for a year. They cannot fathom taking time, never mind having any energy to do something for themselves.
New moms are typically feeling overwhelmed physically, emotionally, and spiritually and truly believe that there is no time or energy to even think about themselves. However, I can safely say that it is critical for new moms (and any other woman for that matter) to engage in self-care. There is something magical and powerful that happens when a woman makes the conscious decision to do something for herself. She is essentially telling herself that she is worth it. I have personally witnessed women be transformed physically, emotionally, and spiritually with the commitment of one week of self-care every day.
I can always tell if a woman has taken the self-care challenge as soon as I see her the next week in the waiting room. After a week of self-care activities (we will talk about what this looks like later), there is almost always a marked difference in the way she looks. She is brighter, more relaxed, has calmer energy, and exudes feeling more “put together.” Together we look at what has happened, and they inevitably show fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, have more of a desire to do things, are sleeping better, feel more joy and are able to engage in relationships more freely with others (particularly with their husband or partner).
So what does self-care mean? For one, it does not need to cost any money at all (unless you want it to!). It doesn’t have to take longer than a minute (unless you want it to). And you only have to do it once a day (though feel free to do it more). It can be anything from getting a massage, to going for a walk, to simply lying on your bed and staring at the ceiling and breathing after putting your baby down for a nap (before going on to the million things you tell yourself you need to get done). The possibilities are endless. And the trick is to make the conscious decision to do at least one thing for yourself because you deserve it (even if you think you don’t) and it is necessary. You cannot take care of your baby, children, spouse and other loved ones if you are not taking care of yourself on an ongoing basis.
And here is another tip – the first, second, and even third time you “decide” to do self-care, you will probably feel horribly guilty and selfish (uncomfortably so). Just acknowledge the feeling/thought …….. and then take care of yourself anyway. And then make the decision the next day, and the next, and the next. You will see that you will actually start looking forward to your time! You will not want to live without it. You will depend on it! And, best of all, you will feel lighter, brighter, happier, calmer, and with more energy.
The Self Care Challenge
So the challenge for you is to commit to one self-care activity every day for one week. Try it! It can be transforming for you, your baby, your partner, and your life!
Here are just a few ideas for self-care: Lotion feet (mindfully), light candles, take a long shower or bath, listen to music, observe nature, use relaxation or guided imagery audio, yoga, paint, color, hula hoop, dance, get some exercise, watch waves, people watch, play with animals, watch fish in an aquarium, fly a kite, get a massage/manicure/pedicure, go to a movie by yourself, draw, follow an ant (love this one!), write, bake, design your dream home, list where you would like to be in 5, 10, 15, 20 years, use positive self-talk, have a friend(s) gathering, make mud, stand in the sun/rain, rearrange the furniture, look out a window (and see something different), pray/meditate, blow bubbles, play with clay or playdoh, go skating, hike/explore, camp (even in your own backyard), garden, watch wind blow through the leaves, smell flowers/plants, count stars, take deep breaths in the night air, volunteer, take a different route somewhere, eat mindfully, make a collage.
Again, the options are endless. Discover what you like! If it works, keep it. If it doesn’t, let it go! And remember, the more you take care of yourself, the more everyone around you will benefit!
If you or someone you know needs more one on one support or a depression or anxiety assessment, and you are interested in working with Rachael Stracka, LCSW, please look here for more information. For more information on Postpartum depression, anxiety, and other disorders, please visit Postpartum Health Alliance and Postpartum Support International.