After my son was born, I went through a long struggle with postpartum depression. There were lots of factors feeding into why it happened, but the reason it lingered for so long? I had no coping methods (and a lot of denial). Despite knowing that something was wrong, I was wholly unprepared to take care of myself – physically, mentally and emotionally. And that inability to self-nurture cost me dearly. I often feel as if I lost out on what should have been a beautiful and important year of my life.
The road to healing often felt selfish, especially in the beginning. I felt if I wasn’t playing the martyr then I wasn’t doing enough, because I equated great motherhood to great selflessness. But I soon realized that the more time I spent taking care of myself, the easier it was to take care of my family. Becoming aware of my emotional state and taking time to address my needs not only helped me heal, but has also prevented me from falling back into those feelings of inadequacy and unhappiness and general malaise.
Thankfully my depression didn’t reappear after my daughter’s birth, but that’s not to say that anxiety and depression have not come knocking on my door over the past few months. I’ve realized that with the ups and downs of hormonal changes and life in general, this is a struggle I will always face – though never in the same way I did before. Now I am able to detect those negative feelings when they start to arise, and have found many ways to navigate out a funk before it turns into something uglier.
Although every person is different, I think just having some coping methods to try out when you’re feeling low can be a great help. These are some of the things that help me steer away from negativity when I feel it coming on strong and they have made a huge difference in my life.
Whether I’m feeling stagnant in my life or I’m low on patience and kindness with my loved ones or I’m dealing with the real deal anxiety and self-deprecating thoughts that I associate with the beginning stages of depression – these practices can help pull me through it all:
1. Cultivate a Sense of Gratitude
Whenever I feel like I’m losing control, I try very hard to focus on what I am grateful for. I like to keep a gratitude journal and write three things I am grateful for each day. It really helps me notice the smaller good things in my life. Once, during a very difficult time, I was thankful for a particularly tasty PB&J. If you’re prone to comparison (hand raised), this can really help put life in perspective.
Another way I like to cultivate gratitude is by organizing and simplifying my belongings. Purging unnecessary things from my life really helps me to better appreciate all that I do have. When I physically go through it all, I truly realize just how much that is. Life can feel a lot fuller with less.
2. Go Outside
Since I spend all of my working time glued to a screen, and most days I don't have any real reason to leave the house, finding time to spend outside is crucial for me. Fresh air, sunshine, and physical activity are paramount to my mental health. More often than not, forcing myself outside for an hour will turn my day around.
On a similar note, stepping outside the cyber-world always improves my mood noticeably. Limiting my screen time is the first thing I do when I feel anxiety and depression creeping up on me. It helps me stay away from the comparison trap and reconnects me to my real life.
3. Keep Moving
When I get in a funk, staying busy is one of the best things I can do for myself. I make dates with friends, even when I don't feel like it. I make to-do lists and clean the house. I make a loaf of bread. I take the kids to the park. I don't give myself time to stew in those negative feelings. Sometimes just moving forward and feeling productive is enough to pull me away from negativity.
4. Find Your Peace
Meditation, yoga, a long bath or shower, a walk by yourself, reading a book — whatever centers you and brings peace, do it and do it often. For me, quieting my mind and using my yoga breathing techniques helps bring me into the present moment and realize that everything is okay.
5. Dream a Little
Oftentimes I'll feel stuck — in my mood, in the place I live, in my career, in my family life. Everything seems stagnant (though, in retrospect, that's rarely the case). When that sort of negativity sets in, I give myself room to dream a little. I write down goals and figure out how I can work towards them. I look at how much life I have ahead of me and the endless possibilities. I find hope.
The big picture is always more vibrant and lovely than the small dark part of the canvas I've been focusing on.
Read more from Gemma at Journey of Love.