By Rachel Bowers, LISW-S, Writer and Therapist
We all know the importance of going to the doctor once a year for our physical exam. It’s an important part of maintaining good health. But we don’t seem to have yearly check-ups on our mental health, unfortunately. And until that day comes when mental health is recognized for its importance and treated as seriously as physical health we must be in charge of recognizing our own mental health issues in order to address them.
The first years of motherhood are one of the biggest transitions and changes in our lives. Our everyday life routine is dramatically altered. Our identity, relationships, roles, and even values may change. Mental health professionals know that any major life change can cause stress and impact our mental health. And we also know that it isn’t the type of change that matters the most but how we respond to it that can have the largest impact on our mental well-being.
As a maternal mental health advocate I know that the mental health of mothers is not talked about often. I also know that many women who have struggled with their own mental health issues during or after pregnancy often never realized that they were having difficulties until many months or even years after they started experiencing them. This has made me realize the gaps in healthcare we have that neglect to recognize how moms think and feeling about motherhood, as well as how they may be coping.
Until we make sure moms are properly screened for maternal mental health issues we must make sure that we are assessing our own mental health and giving ourselves a “check-up.”
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Remember that your own doctor is available to you, but there are also online screening tools that can indicate if you may be suffering from a mental health condition. Today, I want to share four questions you can reflect on to assess your own general mental health. From there, you can start to think about ways to address any issues you may be experiencing.
4 questions to ask yourself:
How is your quality of life?
Does every day seem like a struggle for you? Do you feel that life seems more like “surviving” instead of thriving? If you have a general feeling of not enjoying your life and you more often than not feel sad, angry, or worried then you should start considering seeking some additional resources to enhance your mental health. A good quote that can remind you of the importance of addressing your mental health when you can’t seem to experience joy in the present is, “Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present” (Jim Rohn). The time to be happy in your life is NOW. If you’re not, then take the steps you need to find support and help.
Do you enjoy things each day or take pleasure in the things you used to?
When you have time to engage in hobbies, social activities, or even sitting down for your favorite TV show do you feel that you enjoy it? People that experience symptoms of depression often feel that they don’t enjoy the activities they once did. It’s important that even when you have many stressors in your life you have activities you look forward to and enjoy.
Do you feel supported and valued by those closest to you?
I’m a big believer that one of the most important factors in determining a mom’s ability to adapt well to motherhood is having a strong support system. This means that you have people in your life who value you as person and as a mom. People that listen to you and support you. People that you can rely on for all different types of support: emotional, informational, and more tangible support like childcare or financial support in tough times.
Does stress, anxiety, sadness, grief, or anger impact your daily life to the point that you can’t completed some of your daily responsibilities?
It is completely normal to have emotional struggles. And it’s important to note that no emotions are “bad” or “good” but rather are important parts of the human experience. We also want to raise our children to understand their feelings and embrace uncomfortable emotions instead of denying them or pushing away. However, when our feelings get in the way of us being able to do the things we have to normally do to function each day, then this is warning sign that we need some additional help and need to address our mental health immediately. If getting out of bed, going to work, taking care of our children, etc. seems completely overwhelming and is a daily struggle for you because of emotional challenges it is time to seek help so you can get back to living your life.
It’s also important to note that significant changes in your sleep and eating patterns can also be caused by mental health issues.
Here are four ways to address you mental health needs and give yourself a “tune up”
Strengthen your support network.
It’s important you have people in life who listen, validate your feelings, and support your decisions. It’s also important to have people you can relate to and understand your struggles. Reach out to immediate family and friends. Identity one or two people in your life that you can go to with anything, without being judged or criticized. Consider joining a moms group or an online mentoring program to build a tribe of supportive mothers who can relate to what you are going through.
Engage in daily self-care practices.
Self-care is a protective factor in combating stress and increasing our healing from mental health issues. This can be one of the hardest areas for moms to master because of 1) difficulties in asking for help so that we have time to devote to self-care or 2) having the opportunity to take time to ourselves due to demanding schedules and managing the needs of our children. It’s important that we understand how to truly engage in self-care which is an intentional use of our time to participate in some activity that helps restore us either psychologically or spiritually. Prioritizing these practices and integrating them into our daily schedule can increase our resilience towards emotional struggles and stressors.
Seek professional treatment.
Due to the stigma in our society regarding mental health it is difficult for many people to take the first step in seeking professional treatment. Treatment can range from seeking counselling to seeking medication for mental health issues through a general practitioner or psychiatrist. What’s also important to remember is that you don’t need to fit any diagnosis to a “t” in order to get some professional help. Therapists such as psychologists, social workers, and counsellors can assess you for any mental health concern and provide brief or ongoing therapy.
Connecting with faith, finding a philosophy, book or blog that inspires you to think and look at life differently can be an excellent way to refresh you mental health and life outlook. Blogs like Get Mom Balanced and Full Motherhood are an excellent example! I am personally a great fan of the work of Brene Brown on living wholeheartedly and Kristen Neff on self-compassion.
Remember that if you think it’s important to see the doctor when you’ve having physical symptoms then your mind deserves the same consideration. Prioritizing your mental health impacts you, your relationships, your daily responsibilities, your self-esteem and life outlook, and most importantly, your children. If you find it difficult to do it for yourself, then do it for them.
Posts and information on Get Mom Balanced are educational in nature and are not meant to be a substitute for professional medical or mental health advice, diagnosis, treatment or care. If you have medical or mental health-related concerns, contact your personal health care provider without delay. See full disclosure for more information.
Rachel Bowers is a licensed independent social worker and maternal mental health advocate. Rachel blogs at Full Motherhood and is the co-founder of Mentoring 4 Moms. She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and 2 year old son.