Much has been written on postpartum depression (PPD). It is well documented and common among postpartum women, experienced in varying degrees. While symptoms range in intensity, when moderate to severe, they can be upsetting, shameful, and disregulating. Negative emotions can be especially difficult to tolerate when they occur in situations that involve internalized ideals of the perfect (postpartum) experience. For example, a mother who is postpartum, may, at times, experience feelings of bliss, and a deep love and connection with her newborn, yet at the same time experience feelings of dread, sadness, anxiety, panic, detachment, and guilt, in addition to tearfulness and crying. Further exacerbating this experience are extreme hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, feeding difficulties, and the massive life change of being fully responsible for another life; change occurring in full throttle.
Again, the degree to which women feel this polarizing state varies. When "baby blues" and other symptoms (mentioned above) do not remit or worsen, a diagnosis of PPD is considered. When left untreated, some women may be left with a lingering sadness, that waxes and wanes, often suffering in silence. Although many can function in this state, it is not optimal for mother or baby, and will not go away on its own. Positively, help is readily available and treatment options are promising. You do not have to suffer; speak up, and although it can be difficult, try to discuss your experience with those you feel close to, especially your medical provider.
Together, medical and mental health professionals are openly discussing PPD and the postpartum experience with their patients and loved ones. They are working to diminish the stigma of PPD, along with social service organizations, the media, family and friends. By giving PPD and related symptoms a voice, we can reduce shame, and enable earlier detection and intervention, so that women can stop suffering and feel like themselves again.
Dr. Ariela Bellin
If you or someone you know is suffering with PPD or related symptoms, please find help in your area. Reach out to your doctor, nurse or mental health specialist.
All of us can benefit from increased self prioritization; even small additions can have a significant impact. In this article, I outline tips to improve self-care.
1. Develop realistic expectations of yourself and others and communicate them openly; remember that expectations may shift over time, depending on the circumstances of each individual.
2. Learn when to say "no" with less guilt.
3. Manage your guilt or inner critic by developing a kinder and more forgiving internal monologue.
4. Give yourself a pass; we are all human after all.
5. Know your boundaries well so that you can choose when to assert yourself and when to be flexible.
6. Before agreeing to do a favor, pause, and then take time to decide what is right for you.
7. Make sure to use some of your down-time doing exactly what you want to do (especially while on vacation).
8. Understand and communicate your needs directly.
9. Take time everyday to engage in an act of self-care; just fifteen minutes of reading, breathing, stretching or walking can make a difference.
10. If you are feeling depleted, it may be time to take a break and investigate all facets of your situation.
11. Try to let go of resentments. This is an ultimate act of self-care, as it has the potential for tremendous improvements in overall physical and mental well-being.
12. Routinely engage in self-care practices that work for you, keep them in your repertoire, and, at the same time, remember to try something new.
13. Prioritize and nourish yourself. Your stability enables better performance in all areas of your life.
14. Become a role-model for self-care, so that those around you can learn to be kinder to themselves too.
Striking the right balance of self-care is a highly fluid yet attainable practice, unique to every person. It requires increased attention and flexibility so that you can make small tweaks and changes as needed.
Self-care should not be mistaken for self-indulgence or selfishness, it is a basic human need, necessary to maintain our own physical and emotional well-being and that of others; it helps combat feelings of depletion and emptiness, and enables us to be better role models to those we care for. The idea is to start small; little additions can have a great impact.
One example of self-care is to take a fifteen minute mental break every day, either by walking or sitting in a calm area. During that time, it is important to regroup; you may choose to start with a few deep breaths. Check-in with yourself; think about how your day is going and determine whether you are feeling satisfied. If you are feeling accomplished, take time to internalize the good feelings; if you are feeling pessimistic, take a few moments to understand where those feelings are coming from and allow yourself to experience your emotions so that you may validate them. Then, make the choice to shift your behaviors and intentions, it is within your control. Commit to ending the day on a positive note.
Taking time to pause and connect with yourself, an act of self-care, can help build confidence, increase self-efficacy skills, and bring some calm to a busy day.
Ariela Bellin, Psy.D.