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Riding the Highs and Lows of Motherhood

Highs and Lows of Motherhood

Each May, we recognize National Maternal Depression Awareness Month and Women’s Health Month. Entering motherhood is a life-changing experience. New moms may feel a range of emotions from joy, fear, and anxiety to anger, sadness, and guilt. These emotions may feel intense and may vary drastically. In this period, it can be challenging to manage emotions, especially with the added responsibilities of taking care of a newborn. 

Although no book can prepare a new mom for the varied emotions that are inherently part of matrescence, certain coping strategies from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can help. In this article, we’ll explore three DBT skills that can help new moms regulate and manage their emotions.

STOP

The STOP skill allows you to temporarily pause in order to take an objective, outsider look at what you are experiencing before you choose how to react. This skill is broken down into four steps:

  • Stop

Visualize a stop sign and physically freeze. Take a step back from the situation: Take a break. This break can be momentary or longer if needed. Take some deep breaths. Splash some cool water on your face. Drink a glass of water. Look out the window.

  • Observe

Notice what is going on inside you and also outside you in your surroundings. How are you feeling? What are you thinking? What role are others playing in this situation? Learning how to notice yourself from the perspective of an objective observer is a skill that can be developed with intention.

  • Proceed mindfully

Before reacting out of intense emotion, ask yourself, “What do I need right now? What will be helpful to me at this moment?” You have the power to act with awareness. Maybe you need to ask a friend to drop off some groceries. Maybe you need to strap the baby into a carrier and take a walk around the block. Maybe you need to calm yourself down by self-soothing.

Self-Soothing

Much of the focus is on the baby’s well-being in the early days of motherhood. However, it’s essential to take care of yourself, too. Emotions are high, and self-care may be low. For these reasons, self-soothing using your five senses might feel especially beneficial.

Sight: Can you spend a moment looking at something beautiful, like family photographs or flowers? Can you close your eyes and visualize your favorite place in your mind?

Sound: Can you listen to soothing music? Can you sing your favorite song?

Smell: Can you open the window and smell the fresh air? Can you deeply breathe in the smell of a cup of herbal tea?

Taste: Can you spend a few moments focusing on the taste of a warm drink or your favorite food?

Touch: Can you take a shower or wrap yourself in a blanket? Can you ask someone for a hug?

Sensory Awareness

In moments of early motherhood, it is easy to believe that life going forward is always going to feel as overwhelming as it does right now. It is hard to hold onto the fact that you will make it through this moment and that this moment won’t last forever. Grounding through sensory awareness can help re-center you in yourself and the present moment. This strategy can also help bring you back to an important reminder: This moment and every moment still to come is temporary and shifting.

Here are a few things you can do to become more present through sensory awareness:

  • Feel your feet planted firmly on the floor.
  • Feel your body supported by your chair.
  • Feel the weight of your arms dangling at your sides.
  • Feel your stomach rising and falling as you breathe.
  • Feel any physical tension in your body, and feel what it is like to let it go.

The three coping strategies mentioned above, unfortunately, cannot shorten the very long hours of early motherhood, but they can help to make them more manageable. If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out for professional support. 

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