5 practical ways to support someone (or yourself) with PND
Sonya Watson is a mum of two and the Coordinator/ Facilitator for PND Canterbury. After suffering with and recovering from postpartum depression, she nowuses her personal journey to inspire, educate and support others in the Canterbury region. She shares her top five tips on supporting someone - or yourself - who has PND, in this extract from her book, Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: The Definitive Survival and Recovery Approach (Pulling the Trigger).
1 Start with one problem
Feeling depressed can feel completely overwhelming, so let’s try and manage that feeling a bit. See if you can identify the one thing that is causing you the most anxiety, stress or suffering today. Try and recognise what that feeling is and notice its presence. Then see if you can find an object around you that represents those feelings. If you can’t find an object, write it down or draw it.
Next, clench your hands – as if you were getting ready to fight this thing. Keep tensing your fingers – and as you do, think about how easy or hard it would be to do something you care about while you’re in this state – like soothing your baby, or hugging your partner, or doing something you enjoy.
Notice the tension again, and then unclench your hands. As you do so, try and let some of the unpleasant feeling go too… Try and notice the difference in the intensity of the feelings. How does it feel to just let go?
Finally, notice that the object or the piece of paper you wrote the feeling down on hasn’t gone away. It’s still there. But the way you feel about it will probably have changed. You should now feel that soothing your baby, hugging your partner, or doing one of those activities you enjoy will feel easier too.
2 What matters most?
We can all spend time in our lives desperately trying to get away from the things that are painful to us, or make our lives harder. But instead of turning away, let’s remember the importance of pointing ourselves towards what matters most in our lives.
The things that matter to us are more like values than goals. They may not be things that we can easily measure or even quantify. So how do we work towards them? Let’s think about it in terms of what value your child can get from your parenting that means the most to you. Here’s one way of doing that …
Imagine your son or daughter is having a 21st birthday party. Really try to imagine yourself into that scenario – the more of your senses you engage, the better. During the party, they give a little speech about all the things that have really mattered to them about your parenting. What would you like to hear them say? (You don’t have to worry too much about making it a realistic vision of what a typical 21-year old might say.)
Make a note of some of the things you imagined them saying about you. That can help you move towards the things that really matter to you about parenting.
3 Super-Mum or Soup Mum?
When you’re a new mum, it’s really easy to get up in thoughts about how other mums will perceive you. Instead, be kind to yourself. You don’t have to be a Super-Mum. Sometimes it’s easier – and kinder to yourself – to be a Soup Mum ...
Soup Mum might wear un-matched socks. She’s the kind of mum who always has a pot of soup on the stove, adding a few more vegetables every day to make it go a bit further. She often wears mismatched socks. She might still have a prominent tummy bulge, but she uses all the time and effort she saves from not being perfect, and not cooking perfect means; and not being super-toned, to devote to the needs of herself and her family.
Bringing yourself more into the present can be a very good way of taking us out of the world of our thoughts. You can try mindfulness exercises with something fun like sipping wine, or eating chocolate. Another good exercise is mindfulness of feeding your baby …
- Set yourself up in the normal way to feed your baby, and take the time to notice your breath.
- Notice the sensation of your body resting on the chair, and your feet on the ground.
- Notice the places in your body that are in contact with your baby’s body and experience this contact –without trying to judge it.
- Explore the textures of your baby’s clothes or their skin lightly with your finger – feel the warm or cold sensations, the rough or smooth textures.
- If your mind starts to wander, bring it back to the sensations you’re feeling.
- What about the little sounds they make as they feed? Try to hear these sounds as if you’re listening to a new piece of music.
- Notice some things about your baby you maybe haven’t noticed before – take a closer look at your baby’s ear – explore the shape of it, notice where it’s thicker or thinner.
- Focus on the play of light around your baby’s ear. Are there any tiny little hairs, or is it entirely smooth?
- Zoom out a bit and look at their ear in the context of their whole head. Look at the shape of their hair.
- Make eye contact and stare into your baby’s eyes, see how long you can hold eye contact.
- Breathe in through your nose and see what you can smell right now.
- Notice the connection you have with your baby as they feed.
- Notice what’s happening inside you – what emotions are having as you sit with your baby? You may feel a sense of connection and love, or you may feel a sense of overwhelming responsibility, or any number of different feelings.
- As you do this exercise, try to keep brining your mind back to the present.
This is a great way to practise bringing a little bit of mindfulness into your daily routine, without even having to make the time to do it. See what other ideas you can come up with.
5 Behavioural activation
When you’re feeling low, it feels harder to do the things you used to enjoy. And when you stop doing those things, you stop benefitting from the positive feelings they used to give you. So what do you do about that?
Make a list of some of the things you used to enjoy doing, or gave you a sense of satisfaction, then schedule them into your day and do them because they’re scheduled (not necessarily because you feel like doing them).
Keep on doing this over a few weeks, and you’ll see that your pleasure and satisfaction in doing those activities starts to increase.