In this video Dr Julie presents 6 simple strategies to help protect you from depression and keep you feeling psychologically fit and healthy. The video explores the importance a few key factors that can protect us from depression and other mental health problems.
Change is a cause of stress and having a baby changes your life in countless ways, some of which you didn't see coming. The physical and psychological trauma of childbirth, the pain and extreme tiredness that follows, chronic sleep deprivation for one or both partners, a host of new expectations for yourselves as parents responsible for another life, changes to financial state, ceasing work even temporarily to take on parenthood, and of course, failure to be 'super mum'. Each of these causes of stress are out of our control, but there are some simple things you can do to help lower your stress levels at home. So here are just a few tips on how to stress less and begin enjoying your new family.
Tip 1. Accept all offers of help.
Some of the countries with the lowest levels of postnatal depression are those in which the extended family members pull together to help after a baby is born. So let go of any ideas you have that you should be able to do it all alone. It makes sense for you and your baby to accept any offers of help, however small. Kindly accept the offer of a homemade meal from your neighbour or the chance to take a shower while your best friend holds the baby. All of these things accumulate to a calmer, happier household.
Tip 2. Involve older children.
If you have older children, this is the time to let them get involved. Recruit them to fetch the nappies or bring mummy a drink of water while she is feeding. They will enjoy being involved in the care of the newborn, so give them jobs that make them feel important. Have set times that you can spend being attentive to the older siblings to prevent them from feeling neglected. For example, while the baby has her morning nap, your older child knows this is the time he gets to choose a game to play with Mummy.
Tip 3. Share your worries.
If this is your first baby, expect to come across lots of worries about your baby along the way. Don't bottle these up. Instead, share them with your partner, health visitor or your own parents to get some reassurance and some advice. Many parents worry about being judged if they share problems with other new mums, because there is often the perception that everyone else is doing things perfectly. In actual fact, everyone has similar sorts of concerns, so talking about them can stop you feeling so alone.
Tip 4. Rest is golden.
Rest can feel like gold dust for a new parent so if an opportunity arises and you see the chance for a half hour nap – take it. Sleep deprivation makes us feel less able to cope with stress and so you are doing the best for you and your baby if you get as much rest as possible.
Tip 5. Nutrition.
When your normal routine is thrown out the window and you are struggling to find time to cook, the temptation is to eat unhealthy snacks at random intervals throughout the day. Poor diet will have a negative impact on your stress levels, so do what you can to keep your food intake as regular and nutritious as possible. Buy healthy snacks to keep in the house and when you do have time to cook, make a big batch that you can freeze for those days when you don't have the time or energy.
Tip 6. Get Outside.
In those early days with a new baby it can be difficult to get out of the house. If you can try to get out every day, even just for a short walk, this will have a positive impact on your stress levels and your mood. Any parent knows that getting out with a baby is big task, so if you can't face the organisation needed to go out, take your cup of tea and walk in the garden for a couple of minutes.
Think exercise is all about weight loss? Think again. A surge of scientific research into the links between physical exercise, the brain, and mental health in the last few decades has revealed more and more great reasons to get moving. Below are just some of the ways in which exercise has an impact on how you feel.
1. Research shows that regular exercise (burning around 350 calories three times a week) can significantly reduce the symptoms of depression. In fact, studies have shown exercise programmes reducingsymptoms as effectively as antidepressants. The side effects of exercise are more pleasant too.
2. Stress causes our bodies to show signs of ageing right down to a cellular level. Researchers at the University of California have found that vigorous exercise significantly reduces the signs of ageing on our cells. So after a bad day at work a game of tennis could be a better stress reliever than watching television.
3. Participating in yoga three times per week has a significant effect on the chemicals in our brain associated with depression and anxiety. This makes it a great complement to both pharmacological and psychological therapies.
4. The runner's high is no myth. High intensity exercise such as interval sprinting can lift your mood and leave you feeling uplifted for the rest of the day. But you don't have to be a runner to get the effects. Cycling, swimming, football or tennis will have the same effect. The important part is just to involve bursts of high intensity with short rests in between. Get the heart pumping and the blood circulating and your body will do the rest.
5. Exercise can improve your confidence, but you don't have to wait for radical changes in your waistline to feel it. Studies have found increases in self-esteem and body image just from reaching goals such as lifting heavier weights, running a faster time or winning a game. Furthermore, taking the focus away from weight loss and paying more attention to improving your performance can be much more motivating and enjoyable.
6. Depression has a negative effect on concentration and memory. But a study in Germany found that students scored better on high-attention tasks after doing just 10 minutes of exercise compared to those that did not. Their scores were even better if that exercise was something complicated such as dancing or a racquet sport. This is because complicated activities that require our full attention and hand-eye coordination improve our capacity to learn by enhancing attention and concentration skills.
These are just a few of the ways that exercise influences the way you feel and so, if you do nothing else today, exercise. Any form of activity that gets your heart rate up and makes you feel a little out of breath. If exercise is new to you, visit your GP to get some advice on getting started, or seek out a therapist who can support you in gradually increasing your activity level to help improve your mood.
Everyone has good days and bad days. At times it can feel like we are at the mercy of the mood we wake up with. Once you are feeling low, it can seem as though you are doomed to feel that way for the rest of the day. But research shows there are small things you can do that lift your mood and do your general wellbeing some good. No rocket science involved and you don't have to get up at 5am to pracitce yoga. These are the small things. Some of them might seem too simple to make an impact, but give them a try. These are generally the first things we let slide when we are feeling a little low. So I invite you to try a couple and see if you can improve your day, starting now.
Tip 1. Exercise
Take the stairs two at a time.Get yourself a little out of breath. On a low day you feel even less like going to the gym, but small ways to get the blood flowing can help too. There is a mountain of research evidence to show that exercise gets our bodies sending feel good chemicals to your brain. But you don't have to climb that mountain to feel the effects. So run up those stairs or do a couple of star jumps in your office (when no one is looking). If it doesn't work it's because you are not working your body enough so pick up the pace when you take your dog for a walk. Get out of breath. The effects are almost instant so get going now.
Tip 2. Music
While you are doing that, play some music. Carefully select the happiest tunes that cheer you up. Music has a powerful impact on mood and emotion. It's a great way of drowning out the sound of our own worries for 10 minutes. So get yourself a Happiness playlist and turn up the volume on the commute to work.
Tip 3. Kindness
For an immediate feel good factor, do something for somebody else. It doesn't need to be a grand gesture. No need to devote your life to charity (although this would be wonderful). Small acts of kindness help you to feel good straight away. Helping that mother get her pushchair onto the train, helping someone with their work, always pass on a compliment. They'll feel better and so will you.
Tip 4. Gratitude
Grab a pen and write down three things you are grateful for today. Low mood can cause our mind to act like a sieve, filtering out the positives in life and leaving us with just the negatives. This short exercise can help to bring back a broader perspective and lift mood. If you find this helpful you can make even more use of this by making it part of your daily routine. When you get into bed at the end of the day, make a short list of things you have enjoyed, moments when you have felt close to someone else, and times you felt you have done well.
Tip 5. Nutrition
The food you put into your body has an impact on your mood and wellbeing. Today, try adding a banana to your breakfast. Firstly, having breakfast is important for waking your body up, fuelling your brain ready for action and reducing cravings for sugary snacks that give you dips in mood. Secondly, bananas have been shown to help produce those happy chemicals in your brain. Thirdly, it gets you closer to your five a day. So if you do nothing else today, eat a banana.
One of the first signs of low mood and depression is that you no longer feel like doing all the things you normally find enjoyable. You don't feel like socialising so you stop seeing friends as much, you feel that you can't be bothered to tidy the house or play sport. Over time your mood drops even more. Doing less opens the way for sadness, emptiness and depression. You feel worse, so you avoid even more things. You stop answering the phone, you don't cook for yourself. Your whole being is telling you to curl up under the duvet and hide. The less you do, the worse you feel and the worse you feel the less you do. You get stuck in a vicious cycle of depression. The good news? You can break the cycle. In fact you already have by looking for this article and reading to this point. These small steps of positive action is all it takes to begin to turn your life around.
Follow the steps below to keep breaking that cycle each day and you'll notice how quickly you start to feel better.
Keep a diary. Simply list everything you do in the next couple of days. Include all the small things like getting out of bed, washing up, talking on the phone, etc. Then give each item a score out of 10 for the amount of pleasure and the sense of achievement you got from it. At the end of each day you can then look over the diary and consider both the positive aspects of your day and what was missing.
When you feel low, small essential tasks like looking after yourself, paying bills and speaking to friends can all seem too much. However, we know that the less you do the worse you feel. So take just one thing that you notice is missing from your day. Just one. And do it – now. Add it to your diary and notice how you feel.
Build a routine that gets you out of bed in the morning. If you have children or a pet this makes it easier. But if you don't, then choose something every single day that you must get up for. Involving friends and family in this can help because its harder to stay in bed when you know you have to meet a friend or call a family member. Plus, time with others helps you to feel connected to the world again and lifts mood.
Make a list of all the things you have stopped doing but used to enjoy. Then give them a pleasure rating out of 10. Don't expect yourself to do them all at once, but take a couple to add to your routine. You may not get the same pleasure from them as you once did, but keep using the pleasure scores and watch as they increase.
Exercise is one of the best ways to boost mood, energy and motivation. I'm not talking about a 10k run, just get outside and walk faster than you usually do so that you feel a little out of breath, or any alternative that gets your body moving. Try a little gardening or cycling to the local shops. It needs to feel challenging but achievable. Remember to record how it made you feel.
What if it doesn't work? Don't worry if you find yourself taking two steps forward and one step back. Change is difficult. Just by starting you have broken the cycle. If you find yourself falling back into the old ways, simply start the steps again. If you are struggling, you may need some extra support from a therapist to help you along or look at things in more detail.
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