I’m taking a huge guess here – but I’m going out on a limb to say that most new mothers have asked themselves this question at some point in the first few years of becoming a mother.
Welcoming a new baby into the world is an experience like no other. Being a new parent brings a whole gamut of emotions, responsibilities and questions. Many of which we’re completely unprepared for.
But what happens when those emotions, responsibilities and questions become too much? When “unprepared” becomes “unable to cope”?
When does new parent overwhelm become postnatal depression?
Is it just the baby blues? Or is it postnatal depression?
Current statistics tell us that postnatal depression (PND) now affects one in 7 new mothers and one in 20 new fathers. But despite the increased incidence of PND in our society, there still seems to be misunderstanding about what PND actually is and how it is treated.
Beyond the “Baby Blues”
In recent years there’s been an increased awareness of the “Baby Blues”, that short period of time after childbirth in which new Mums can feel exceptionally sad or teary for no apparent reason. This episode generally coincides with the new Mum’s breast milk “coming in” and is primarily hormonal in its cause.
However, postnatal depression shouldn’t be confused with the baby blues, because it is something else entirely.
When feelings of sadness, hopelessness, fear and worry extend beyond a period of a few weeks it can signal that the mum is in fact experiencing postnatal depression.
How do I know if it’s PND?
The difficult thing about diagnosing PND is that the early signs and symptoms are so similar to the general experience of many new mums who may be overwhelmed with their new role as a parent.
Feelings of worry, exhaustion, bouts of tearfulness or irritability, feeling inadequate as a mother, feeling unable to cope, blaming yourself when things go wrong, being overly critical of yourself, decreased sex drive, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite. The majority of mothers can relate to having felt these emotions as a new mother – but they are also classic symptoms of PND. So how do we know if a Mum is just “going through a rough patch”, as opposed to something more serious?
From a health professional’s perspective, we will do an in-depth interview to help each woman determine whether it’s a case of the “blues” or if it’s actually depression.
What we look out for is these types of issues:
- Difficulty being able to laugh and see the funny side of things
- Decreased ability to look forward to enjoyable activities
- Blaming yourself unnecessarily when things have gone wrong
- Feeling anxious or worried without good reason
- Feeling like things are frequently “getting on top of you”
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping excessively
- Frequently feeling sad or miserable quite often
- Frequent bouts of crying
- Having thoughts of harming myself of others
In particular, we want to know how long these feelings have been experienced, generally if it’s more than a two week period, the likelihood that it’s actually depression is increased. (although with the last point about thoughts of harm, it’s important to address these, no matter how long they’ve been occurring.
With the early stages of depression there is no definitive test you can take which will answer “yes” or “no” to the question of “do I have postnatal depression?”. Which is why I always encourage anyone who might be worried they have PND to seek support from an experienced and understanding health care worker. They can help women work through these issues above.
I think I could have PND – what do I do now?
In my professional opinion, when it comes to seeking help for PND (even if you’re not sure its PND) , it’s a case of “better safe than sorry”. Seeking support and advice early is always recommended, as the types of interventions generally suggested for a woman with mild PND are the sort of things that would also support any mum who is simply overwhelmed. These might include:
- One to one, or couples counselling
- Relaxation and stress management strategies
- Mindfulness and meditation strategies
- Changes to diet and lifestyle – including sleep and exercise
- Increased practical support around the home
As with many other things in life, PND generally occurs along a continuum. It is rarely black and white. The experience of PND can range from a mild case with the mother experiencing just a few of the common symptoms for a period of a few months, through to extreme PND where a mother may feel exceptionally hopeless and have thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Both examples would be considered depression, they’re just at different levels of intensity.
Many women put off seeking help for PND due to a number of reasons, frequently downplaying or talking themself out of speaking up. “It’s really not that bad”, “I’ll feel better once I get some decent sleep”, “It’ll get better once my baby is older”. These kind of assumptions can delay women from seeking timely support.
We know that early detection and treatment is the best possible course of action for parents who experience PND. If we can recognise the signs early, parents can access the type of support services listed above, and make lifestyle changes straight away. In many cases this can help to prevent the depression from becoming worse. But when PND is left unaddressed for long periods of time, it can escalate rapidly, meaning more intensive treatment options could be required, including the addition of psychiatric care or antidepressant medication.
For anyone concerned that they, or someone they know, might be experiencing PND, the best course of action is to seek support from a health professional. Speaking to your maternal health nurse, midwife, obstetrician, or GP is generally the first step. But you can also feel confident seeking out a counsellor, mental health OT, or psychologist, which in many cases doesn’t require a referral.
For further resources about PND, please visit the following websites:
If you require immediate support, please contact Lifeline on 131 114
Never heard of a mandala? Maybe you’ve heard of them, but had no idea they could improve your wellbeing?
Have a read of this great guest post by Nan Berrett.
You feel like grabbing a handful of your hair and pulling really hard, but you know it’s not going to help.
There are plenty of tricks you can use to help your mind de-stress – it’s just a matter of finding something which works for you and gives you the results you need.
Our minds are constantly filled with clutter. Some of our thoughts are useful, but many are just distracting ‘noise’ which are tiring in their own right. When we are stressed there is an additional persistent humming in our heads which focusses on our fears and anxieties – and this is the most difficult noise to silence.
If we are fearful of an outcome, worried about our relationships with our lovers, families or friends, concerned about looming deadlines, unfinished tasks or general overload because we take on too much, then it becomes important to try some calming techniques for the mind.
Mandala is a Sanskrit word which means “circle” and although it is a spiritual and ritualistic symbol associated with Hinduism and Buddhism, it can be used as a tool to allow your mind to problem solve and find calm.
In spiritual practice Mandalas are often created using coloured sand and form intricate and exquisitely beautiful patterns, but for our purposes we will create a Mandala using paper or card and a handful of coloured textas, pencils or crayons.
How to create your own mandala:
Start by drawing a circle on your paper – use the boundary of a saucer rather than a dinner plate. Somewhere inside the circle, not necessarily the centre, draw a representation of your anxiety. This can be as simple as a symbol, a letter of the alphabet, a stick figure, or even a word.
Take a black texta, pen, or pencil and, starting from just outside the boundary of the circle draw parallel lines, like a little road, and wind this path within the confines of the circle, until it reaches your anxiety drawing. This bit can be tricky and you’ll have to concentrate, drawing one side of the track and then the other side, so you keep the path even.
When you finally get to your goal you can start the fun part. Choose your first colour and begin to fill the track – you can use the same colour all along, or you can change colours. While you are colouring in start thinking about your anxiety and consider some of the strategies you could use to eliminate it from your life or fix it.
When you’ve finished the path, it’s time to colour in the remaining white space – this is your Mandala, so you choose how you want it to look. Draw patterns, dots, block colour, whatever you feel drawn to do.
You’re almost finished – take the black texta and go over the lines of your path again and make them stand out. Add some shading if you want to. Pop some edging onto the boundary of the circle and you’re done.
Sit back and admire your work – it looks pretty good!
You may have had some emotional reactions when creating your Mandala. It’s not unusual to cry, or even start talking to yourself while you’re working. There’s nothing wrong with showing some emotion.
Look at your Mandala and trace the path from the outer edge to its windy end. Every turn represents a new thought about the problem, a memory, a decision.
The Mandala in the illustration above was one I drew years ago when I was having some serious issues with someone I considered my best friend. At the time I felt betrayed and abandoned, but by the time I had finished the exercise I had remembered all the great things about our friendship and that I was as much as fault as she had been. It gave me the clarity to approach her and mend some bridges – best thing I ever did.
Nan Berrett is a communications consultant who also workshops strategies to support positive emotional wellbeing outcomes – these include creating and walking labyrinths, journaling, creative writing and poetry.
I often start my stress management presentations with this phrase:
“Stress is actually our friend”.
Now let me tell you, lots of people are thrown by that comment. I see plenty of rolled eyes and raised eyebrows, usually mixed with an acerbic “Hmph! Yeah, right”. Actually, I’m quite surprised I haven’t been told to “eff off” yet. Lucky we live in a civilised society!
But it’s true. Stress, in its purest evolutionary form, actually IS our friend.
Take the well-worn “cavewoman vs sabre tooth tiger” analogy. We need to be “stressed” when that big cat pounces on us, because we need the enormous physiological boost the “fight or flight response” provides. We need the blood to drain from our non-essential organs, such as our uterus or large intestine, and flood our heart and leg muscles, to help us run like the clappers across the savannah and make our escape!
Because that’s what the stress response is designed for – to help our body physiologically prepare for those times we need to fight or flight.
So it translates over into modern life too – the stress response works wonders when we’re caught in an exceptional circumstance. Think everyday Mums somehow lifting a crashed car single-handedly to free their trapped child, or that mad dash you made to the Sass and Bide section of Myer during last years Boxing Day sale. In these situations we don’t want to be kept wanting, we NEED the physical boost of the stress response in this moment.
So hell yeah, stress is totally our friend.
But the stress response is only our friend as long as we’re its friend. And as with most friends, it doesn’t like being taken advantage of.
Sure, it’s more than happy to help out every now and then. But once you start demanding too much of it, say relying on it to meet every deadline, run for every bus, and get you to 13 different extracurricular activities for your kids on time, every single week – it starts to get fed up.
Eventually you wear out your stress-friend’s reserves, and the time will come when she’s simply not there for you anymore. That’s it. You’ve depleted her and you’re on your own honey!
That’s what’s known as adrenal fatigue. And that’s no fun. Just ask anyone who’s been there.
So in summary, no, you probably don’t want stress as your BFF.
But she makes a damn fine “In Case of Emergency” contact – use her only when you must!
Until next time,
Make friends with stress and live your best life!
Confession time. I was an out-and-out cow this weekend. Completely, and for no apparent reason.
All weekend I was cranky, picking at my husband, yelling at my kids, calling myself fat and doubting my own ability to do absolutely everything. I felt like I could barely cook breakfast successfully, let alone run a household, build my business and raise two daughters. Everything was just SO. FREAKING. HARD!
Of course I knew what the problem was. PMS. The monthly nemesis of so many women. My old frienemy!
I knew my period was coming. Intellectually, I knew what the problem was, all weekend I kept telling myself – “chill honey, it’s just PMS!” but that wasn’t enough to break me out of my funk. “Shut your stupid face!”, my old frienemy would spit back. “I’m allowed to be grumpy and I’m going to be grumpy dammit!”. It’s amazing how all notion of common sense and the best intentions of mindfulness and gratitude are no match for a wildly out of control hormone disruption!
This little bout of pre-menstrual funk took me by surprise to be honest. I actually haven’t had PMS for probably the past year, not since I really started cleaning up my act, lifestyle and nutrition-wise. But there was a time, not that long ago, when hormonal fluctuations were a regular problem in my life. Not only at that time of month, but also around ovulation. So every fortnight I was riding an emotional roller coaster for four of five days at a time.
What it boiled down to was, that for every 28 days, I felt like shit for about 10 of them. On those 10 days I was, quite frankly, a moody cow and a not very nice person to be around. It didn’t meld well for a harmonious household, it put an awful strain on my relationships with my hubby and daughters, and it certainly was’t the fun, carefree life I was used to living. Needless to say, I was pretty concerned and knew I had to do something about it – and pretty fast.
So I cleaned up my act. I took a good hard look at my lifestyle and here’s what I found:
* I was eating crap – way too much sugar in particular- hello insulin spikes and the resultant hormonal interplay.
* I wasn’t moving enough – movement is a huge stress reliever for me, plus less movement meant I wasn’t getting outdoors as much.
* I had a terrible sleep routine – late nights and not enough hours of sleep in general.
* I had a shitty mindset – oh woe is me, poor me, nothing goes right, blah, blah, blah.
This is all the stuff I worked ridiculously hard on back then to turn it all around. And it really worked, because pretty much since that time I haven’t had a single bout of PMS – until this month.
Why now? Well, when I look back on the past couple of months, guess what I realised? Yep. I’d let all of the things slip again. It’s been a rough few months, my beautiful Pa passed away, we’ve had teething, sick and eczema-ridden kidlets and several work stresses – plus – it’s winter (read: lack of Vitamin D!). I’m not listing those as excuses, I’m listing them as background. I’m taking full responsibility for dropping the ball in terms of my own health and wellbeing.
And this bout of PMS? Well it’s been a good wake up call. Because I don’t want to be PMS-Sarah for even two days out of the month, and I’m certainly not planning on letting her take hold and be in control of 10 days per month again!
So many of us just write our PMS off as something we have no control over, it’s just another thing adding stress to our lives. But I now know that my PMS is actually a symptom of stress, not a cause. It’s one of my body’s warning signals that something isn’t quite right. I’ve also learned I need to pay attention to my body when it talks to me! Before it starts screaming and throwing hissy fits!
So it’s time to re-group, re-focus and take control of my wellbeing again. How so?? Stay tuned and I’ll explain my action plan in the next few blog posts.
Until next time,