Maternal mental health conditions are the most common complications of pregnancy and childbirth. They affect 1 in 5 women each year in the United States.These include depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and substance use disorders.
You’re at increased risk of mental health conditions if you have:
- a personal or family history of mental illness
- lack social support, especially from their partner
- You experienced a traumatic birth or previous trauma
- You have a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit
At Resilient Motherhood, we tackle mental health issues holistically. We know that mental health conditions are caused by many factors, so they need a multidimensional approach to heal. We always ask our clients about sleep, diet, movement, social support, and trauma, and help our clients find realistic, reasonable ways to improve in each of these categories. I broke these down into 2 blog posts, so make sure to read this post (part one) and part two.
Part One (sleep, diet, and movement)
Sleep is vital for our physical and mental health. If you have a new baby or even an older child who does not sleep well, anxiety and depression can be more pronounced and it can be harder to heal from trauma. If you can, try to get into bed and be asleep by 10 pm. Between 11 and 1 is the peak time for release of human growth hormone, which can help to build muscle, recover from exercise and activity quicker, aka make you feel more awake which can combat anxiety and depression.
Following the circadian rhythm of the body can be hugely beneficial too. Instead of reaching for coffee in that afternoon slump, try to rest. If you can nap, nap. If you can’t, even meditating, stepping outside at the office, or sitting on the couch can help to calm the nervous system, which can help you sleep better at night and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
One of my teachers in middle school said: “you are what you eat” and gave us a choice of smarties or dum dums when we answered a math question correctly. This was a joke of course, but I think about this concept with anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression are both inflammatory processes in the body. So, you are what you eat. That is, 80% of what you eat. We believe in balance, not restriction. With anxiety and depression, there seems to be a correlation with inflammatory foods and mental health conditions. Systematic reviews show that the Mediterranean diet can help to significantly reduce symptoms. I know it can be extremely difficult to eat well as a busy mom, but making simple switches can make a big difference. Prioritizing breakfast before coffee, making sure you get enough protein, and swapping processed foods for quick homemade meals.
Some of my go to’s for breakfast are:
Hard boiled eggs and toast. I prep the eggs for the week on sunday night and grab 2 or 3 with a slice of sprouted grain bread.
Whole fat yogurt with hemp seeds, coconut, walnuts, and honey.
A bean and veggie chopped salad that I prep in the beginning of the week. One of my fav’s is: https://theviewfromgreatisland.com/mediterranean-bean-salad-recipe/
Salmon with lemon, salt, and pepper. Super easy to pop in the oven and do a frozen veggie and rice or quinoa side.
It’s also super important to determine if you have any food intolerances. I found that conventional cow diary was a trigger for me and now only eat goat or sheep’s milk products. We can help to sift through intolerances with you if you haven’t already.
I do mixed nuts or a banana with peanut butter. Easy to eat on the go and in between clients for me!
Many studies suggest that exercise should be the first line of treatment with anxiety and depression. It’s not fully understood why, but it’s proposed that exercise helps by increasing blood circulation to the brain and influencing the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. These can improve the physiologic reactivity to stress.1
I have seen first hand for myself and for my clients how exercise helps to reduce anxiety and depression. When I move my body, I find I am slower to anger, able to take deep breaths to cope, and also have less pain and pelvic floor symptoms. We also know that when you have pain or pelvic floor problems that affect how you participate in your life, you can have more anxiety or depression. So, it’s not just as simple as going for a walk or run, we have to right the ship when it comes to pain and pelvic floor problems.
With many of our clients, we find that they are exercising too much or too little. When choosing exercise, make sure to include aerobic exercise (running, walking, swimming, biking, etc.) with strength training (lifting weights or bodyweight exercise), and meditative movement (yoga, tai chi, etc.) or stretching. If you are anxious, be cautious with HIIT workouts. In small doses, they can be helpful, but if it’s your only source of exercise, it can ramp up your nervous system and make anxiety worse.
Listening to your body and its messages can be your greatest tool. After exercise, you should feel energized or calm, not depleted, worn out, and stiff. You also should not feel increased pain, pee your pants, pressure through your belly or downward into your pelvic floor. If you feel any of these, it’s your sign that something needs to change. You may need to learn how to coordinate your core, strengthen your shoulders, gluts, or ankles, insert some somatic tools (read more on that below), or just change how much, how often, or when you exercise.
I typically like to include recommendations in a blog post, but this is SO individualized that I will encourage you to make a free consult to learn how we can help. We get a full picture of your lifestyle including sleep, diet, social support, hormones/menstrual cycle, trauma, pain/pelvic floor problems, and more to help you curate a plan that will work for you.
If you want to wean from medication and move past anxiety, depression, and trauma, book a free consult to learn how we can help you devise a holistic plan to feel energized, calm, and in control in motherhood. If you're tired of implementing advice from the internet or your friends that doesn't quite work for you, it's time to get a holistic, individualized plan. We will help you tailor a program to your lifestyle, health, and history to help you feel at home in your body.
If you want to read part two of this blog, sign up for our newsletter, so you can get an email when it drops.