There is no denying that sleep is important – it’s our bodies opportunity to rest, and studies show that regular poor sleep can put us at risk of physical health problems and even shorten our life expectancy. We often hear ‘8 hours a day’ talked about as the amount of sleep per night we should be aiming for, but in reality this number can vary from person to person, and also depends on your age – it has been suggested that older people actually need less sleep.
Sleep also has a strong impact on our mental health and wellbeing. Being a mother, particularly when you have a baby, can mean that our sleeping patterns change and it can sometimes feel impossible to get enough rest. If possible, try and get support where you can – if friends and family are willing, even some support for a few hours whilst you take a nap and get some rest can be beneficial. In addition, try and resist the temptation to stay up really late when your child has gone to sleep – your sleep is important too!
Many people think that they are resting by taking a break in their day to go on social media, watch tv or go on their computer. However, these activities actually use energy and concentration, and can actually be quite stimulating. One way of describing relaxation is a way of achieving a deeper sense of rest, which in some ways may take more practice but has great wellbeing benefits. Relaxation exercises can help to reduce tiredness, improve wellbeing and even reduce pain. Some types of relaxation exercises include:
- Progressive muscle relaxation
Even 5 or 10 minutes of relaxation can bring benefits. Some types of relaxation might suit you more than others, so try and find one that works for you.
It is well established that physical exercise brings lots of benefits for your mind as well as your body. It’s recommended by the Department of Health that adults spend 2.5 hours a week taking part in moderate exercise – that’s 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week. This could be anything from walking to running to aerobics – basically anything that raises your heart rate and gets you breathing a little faster!
Many people find is easier to fit exercise into tasks that they routinely do anyways – for example a commute to work, or some extra walking when doing the school run. Research has shown that regular exercise can help improve self esteem, worries and low mood, so well worth a try for a wellbeing boost!
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘you are what you eat?’ Eating sufficient, healthy food can have a positive impact on how we feel about ourselves. Although still being a relatively new area of research in wellbeing and mental health, there is more evidence building up that suggests that eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes, with a moderate amount of chicken, eggs and dairy, and only occasional amounts of red meat can have a positive effect on low mood.
Another important factor is staying hydrated! Not consuming enough fluids can affect your thinking and concentration – aim for 6-8 glasses a day (water, tea, juices all count). In addition, if you are thinking about making changes to your diet to benefit your wellbeing, do remember that limiting your caffeine intake may also be beneficial – caffeine is a stimulant which might initially give you a quick burst of energy, but can contribute to feeling worried and can disrupt sleep.
Have A Good Day
The pressure to have a good day can be immense when you’re a new mum, feeling sleep deprived, dealing with a whole new set of demands on you and the changes in your identity. Sometimes, just concentrating on having a ‘day’ rather than anything special can feel more achievable.
This might be as simple as getting up and getting dressed, or feeding ourselves and our children. Not everyone feels like they are having ‘good’ days every day, and a day that isn’t ‘good’, isn’t necessarily ‘bad’ – sometimes it’s just a ‘day’.
Do Something You Enjoy
Doing things you enjoy not only has wellbeing benefits, but can sometimes act as a welcome distraction from worries and stresses. Think about what activities you enjoy – are they physical, like walking or dancing, or creative like making music, writing or even cooking.
If your life is very busy, remember that the time you protect to do things you enjoy doesn’t have to be long – even 10-15 minutes can help, and each 10 minute session adds up to bring long term benefits.
Getting outside and connecting with nature has been shown to be really beneficial to your wellbeing, improving both worries and low mood. Getting out into natural light is particularly important in winter, when light is lower and we need more vitamin D for healthy functioning. This might be anything from a quick walk around the block, to a trip to your local park, to beyond!
Although human beings are frequently referred to as being ‘social animals’, not everyone finds it easy to connect with others, particularly when things feel more difficult. Talking to someone we trust and who is supportive can help – whether this be friends, family, other mums in similar situations to us or even a skilled professional. Some find it easier to connect with others virtually rather than face to face (particularly in a time of Covid), but do make plans to connect with people outside of social media.
Set A Goal
Have you ever felt that there were changes you wanted to make in your life, but just not known where to start? Evidence suggests that we are much more likely to make changes and stick to them if we have a specific goal in mind.
Take some time to think about what it is that you would like to be different. By when would you like to reach this goal? Is that realistic? Do you need to break the goal down into smaller stages in order to make it more achievable?
Often, it can feel scary to express feelings for many reasons – sometimes not knowing what to say, or who to talk to, or whether it might actually make things worse. However, when we are going through challenging times, expressing yourself can be the first step to putting yourself and your own wellbeing needs first.
For some this might look like talking to a trusted friend, but it doesn’t have to be talking – there are lots of creative ways to express how you are feeling. Drawing, writing things down, even dancing around the room at home can all help. Find what works for you.
Take A Break
2020 has been an intense year, where the killing of George Floyd and the Corona virus has made us more connected to the news than ever. It’s important to keep up to date with changes that are occurring in the world, but be mindful of when this begins to feel overwhelming.
If you notice you are beginning to feel distressed or very worried, take a break and potentially reduce your information updates to once or twice a day. Remember to get your information from reputable sources rather than rumours or misinformation.
Ask For Support If You Need It
Remember that everyone goes through difficult periods, particularly as a new mother, but if you notice periods of time where your mood is consistently low, or you have lots of worries that have a profound impact on your life, reach out for support. The earlier you get support, the better for your wellbeing.
Support can take many different forms – for some it might be connecting with local community organisations like the Young Mum’s Support Network, or other local 3 rd sector organisations. For others it might be accessing therapy and having a confidential space to talk about. If you would like to think more about accessing formal support and you’re not sure where to start, do email me on firstname.lastname@example.org