This pretty much goes without saying, but we are living in very stressful and anxious times right now. Even more so if you have a little bundle of joy at home (or will soon). Bringing home a new baby flips your world on its head as you and your partner navigate what it means to be parents and partners as a party of 2-plus. And if you can’t have friends and family (or your postpartum doula) there to help you, it can get overwhelming pretty fast. Sure, you’ve read all the books, taken all the prenatal classes, even read some new-parenting advice from your favorite mommy blog, but we are in uncharted parenting territory now. Being a new parent in the era of COVID-19 is a challenge all unto itself.
We want you to know that we see you. What you are having to cope with is unlike anything any of the rest us have ever had to do. But we want to help you through it. Being able to manage your stress and anxiety will protect your overall well-being as you heal in your postpartum time, but it will also protect your immunity, your milk supply (if you’re breastfeeding/pumping), your baby, and even your partner. Here are five tips to help bring a little bit of calm to your inner world:
ACCEPT WHAT YOU CANNOT CONTROL
We are in the middle of a pandemic right now. It sucks. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make it all go away. But I can’t. And neither can you. This means we all have to work to accept our new reality because only then can we actually work toward protecting ourselves and our families. But what we can do is do our best to take the proper precautions:
- Adhere to social distancing rules
- Do not go out if you don’t have to – and if you do have to go out leave your baby at home, wear a mask, use lots of hand sanitizer, and once you’ve returned home wash your hands and change your clothes before you interact with your baby
- Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands
It is also important to remember that you cannot control how other people experience their stress and anxiety. So, if you are quarantined at home with your partner, you may notice that you handle yourselves very differently. Try to be patient, hold space for one another’s fears, and listen without trying to solve. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
This technique is particularly helpful if you are experiencing anxiety or panic. The goal of grounding is to pull you out of your head (the place where panic lives) and settle you back into your body (the place where calm lives). To practice grounding, all you need to do is stimulate your five senses:
- Watch something relaxing (might I suggest watching Bob Ross paint some “happy little bushes?”)
- Smell something calming (essential oils like lavender, clary sage or ylang-ylang in an electric diffuser are especially effective)
- Touch something reassuring (running your hands through water or snuggling with a pet can be very helpful)
- Listen to something serene (there are a lot of great “noise machine” apps out there that mimic the sound of the ocean or a gentle rainfall)
- Drink something soothing (lemon balm and chamomile tea are great for this)
Now, these are just a few suggestions, only you know what will help ground you. I will also advise that you create your list of grounding exercises before you begin to experience anxiety or panic. That way you’ll have it at the ready and can face it head-on.
*If you do have a panic attack, do your best to remind yourself that you are safe and take long, slow, deep belly breaths. If they become frequent, I would highly suggest reaching out to your healthcare provider.
SOMETIMES, YOU JUST HAVE TO WALK AWAY
Living under chronic stress and anxiety doesn’t always bring out the best in us. In the heat of the moment, we can lash out at others in anger or say things we don’t mean. Being able to recognize when we are getting close to our limits could mean the difference between a raging argument with our spouse or a five-minute cry in the bathroom. Walking away in the moments before you reach your limit is not a sign of weakness and does not mean you are a bad parent, in fact, it means just the opposite. It also makes you a positive role model for how to manage strong feelings.
I would highly suggest creating a “calm” space for yourself somewhere in your home as a way to help manage your stress and anxiety. A space you can quickly retreat to if you are feeling overwhelmed. Whether the baby just won’t stop crying, your spouse still hasn’t unloaded the dishwasher, or the dog pooped on the living room rug again, it is OK to seek out a moment to regroup. Just make sure the baby is in a safe place and go give yourself five minutes in your designated space. When you are alone, take some deep breaths, reassure yourself with some positive affirmations, or have a quick cry. It’s OK. Once you feel that you have regained your composure, go back to what needs addressing.
*If you are feeling chronically overwhelmed, it may be time to reach out to your healthcare provider. Overwhelm can quickly turn into anxiety or even postpartum depression. Speaking with a professional as early as possible can make a big difference.
DO SOMETHING RHYTHMIC
Activities like rocking, pacing, and swaying are particularly relaxing behaviors (which is why your little ones love it)! Studies have shown that our brains are programmed to respond to these types of rhythmic motions. Why? Because they release endorphins from the brain which are responsible for mood improvement and stress reduction. Rocking, in particular, is actually growing in popularity among adults as a way to manage stress and anxiety (in hammocks or even rocking beds!) and clinical studies show that rocking is even therapeutic in a hospital setting. So, when you are feeling particularly stressed, try rocking in a chair, pacing up and down the hallway, or swaying gently to soothing music – bonus if you have your little one in tow.
TALK TO SOMEONE
Now, more than ever we need to remain connected to each other. But, as we are learning, this can be particularly challenging during a pandemic. However, there are some creative ways around it. Schedule a weekly video “happy hour” with friends, have a socially distanced driveway chat with a neighbor, or pick up the phone and call a loved one. The simple act of talking to someone outside of your day-to-day circle will help you feel less isolated, more connected, and can leave you feeling refreshed.
Also, a lot of mental health and holistic healing professionals have moved their businesses online. If you need professional assistance to manage your stress or anxiety, consider reaching out to a local practitioner or ask for a referral from your healthcare provider.
Please know that we are dedicated to being here for you and your family as you navigate this very trying time – even if we can’t be there in person. You are dealing with A LOT right now, so please don’t be afraid to lean hard on your support system. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. We are in awe of all of you new parents out there and truly hope, despite everything going on, that you are hunkering down into the snuggles, squishiness, and love of your new family.
Stay safe, wash your hands, and take good care.