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Whether it’s your first foray into parenthood or your fourth, the first year after your baby’s birth can be tricky. You might be full of love for the little being you’ve brought into your family. Or you may be figuring out your feelings. If we’ve learned one thing over the last few years, it’s that the big Hollywood moment of meeting your tiny human isn’t always accurate. And the next 12 months certainly comes with a heady combination of challenges and joys. We enlisted psychotherapist, Anna Mathur, to share her top tips on managing your mental health in your baby’s first year when you’re feeling every emotion under the sun.

Once your baby is in the world, so much of the focus is (naturally) on them. They need feeding and changing. Their sleep schedules dominate. Their cuteness is overwhelming and attention stealing. With so much to pay attention to, your needs can fall by the wayside. In the first year (and beyond) you may have feelings of guilt, anxious thoughts or worry that you’re not good enough for your baby. Some people believe that’s just part of the job description. But, unsurprisingly, we’re big believers that a happy parent makes a happy baby. And Anna Mathur agrees. So how do you go about managing your mental health in your baby’s first year when they’re stealing the show?

 

#1: Remember that conflicting emotions can sit side by side

At times when we feel strong emotions, we often add on an extra layer of guilt. So when we’re feeling overwhelmed by parenthood, we tick ourselves off for not being #grateful enough for the blessings of our family. If we’ve experienced difficulties growing our family and we find ourselves struggling with moments of grief even once we have a baby in our arms, we can berate ourselves for not being happy.

But as Anna explains, two feelings can exist concurrently: “Two seemingly conflicting emotions can actually sit side by side. You can feel both of those things at the same time. Your frustration does not discount your ability to love your child. Being overwhelmed does not need to discount the fact that you also feel joyful. Remember that you can feel many things at once and you don’t need to squash down that harder feeling with gratitude and positivity.”

 

#2: Anxiety is a life-saving mechanism. But it needs to be managed

Anxiety is an inbuilt mechanism which is designed to save your life. It’s there to keep you aware of risks and hazards and dates waaaaaay back to when humans had to be aware of sabre-toothed tigers and the like. When we notice things that are a hazard, we move into a state of hyper vigilance which means we can act to prevent ourselves from being injured. But we can end up staying in this state of heightened emotion once the hazards have passed. When it comes to parenting, we all too often find our brains firing off in a million directions of ‘what if?’ scenarios. These can be helpful, prompting us to grab hands or move things out of the way. Sometimes though, they can become significantly less than helpful. What do we do then?

Anna’s favourite trick? It’s as simple as 1,2,3. Sort of. She says: “A really helpful tip is count back from a hundred in threes. I’m really bad at it which actually makes it even more effective. But it just halts and interrupts that anxious thought process. It’s really, really useful and it’s also a really good one to practice before you go to sleep because it will just help switch that over thinking part of your brain off. It interrupts it. You can’t think of all of the worst case scenarios whilst counting back from 100 in threes unless you’re some kind of genius.”

 

#3: Don’t forget to breathe

Whenever our brains start to run away from us, we often start to breathe differently. People who are anxious tend to breathe in their upper chest with shallow, rapid breaths, instead of breathing into their lower lungs. This shallow, upper lung breathing can contribute to hyperventilation which is common in panic attacks. Regaining control of our breathing can be a really good way to ground ourselves in the moment, stop anxious thoughts from spiralling and nip panic attacks in the bud.

Anna explains: “To utilise your grounded breath, breathe into your stomach. Breathe in for four and out for six. Completely exhale and I promise physically you’ll feel very different. This deactivates that fight or flight response. You’re saying to your body ‘you’re safe, it’s okay, you’re safe, you’re not in danger’ and then you can re-access that rational brain. Because all rationality just heads straight out the window when we feel anxious. Breathing in this way is really effective at getting you back into that rest and digest state.”

 

#4: The only antidote to overwhelm is rest

One of the most common parenting woes is the feeling that we are not enough. But the world we live in means we’re sort of set up to feel like that. We’re juggling a thousand roles, doing it all on a sleep deficit and often holding ourselves to unreasonable standards. When we feel like we’re not enough, we try even harder to be everything and to do everything, leading to burnout. It’s not a sustainable or kind way to live. Rest may be harder to come by when you’ve got kids but it’s crucial for survival.

Anna’s a big advocate of mindful slow time: “Have a look at the usage on your phone how how much time are you spending on your phone just scrolling just mindlessly? Can you maybe just switch up some of that for some intentional slow time? Just finding in the little ways to rest helps. You are not made to do it all to this unreasonably high standard so sometimes the reason you do not feel good enough is because you were never meant to carry all of this stuff and do it to that perfectionist extent.”

 

#5: Make the basics the building blocks for self care

Self care for parents is often seen as a huge luxury, so much so that we’ve become accustomed to making the very basics pass as acts of looking after ourselves. But, when it comes to managing your mental health in your baby’s first year, this is no way to live or to parent.

Anna explains: “I want to mix up the whole self-care thing. I found myself branding a shower, a snack, a wee on my own, a glass of water as self-care but I want to say to you those should be the foundational building blocks of how you treat yourself. Don’t promote the basics to indulgence. “

She adds: “We need energy to rationalise anxious thoughts. We need energy to feel at ease in ourselves. There’s a really high cost to this kind of rollercoaster lifestyle. I really encourage you to think about the things that you have been promoting to self-care that are actually just the things that everything else needs to fit around and then look at how might you be spending your time so that you can get some of those more cup refilling acts in. You really can’t pour from an empty cup. We know it but we need to live it out of respect and care for ourselves.”

 

For more incredible tips on taking care of yourself and managing your mental health in your baby’s first year, check out Anna’s session from The Virtual Meetup where she also discusses vulnerability, mum guilt, compassion, managing screentime, tweaking your behaviour, gratitude and reframing.

 

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