Managing stress and prioritising emotional wellbeing
New parents navigate a significant life transition, involving changes that are physical, psychological, emotional and financial. Some stress in early parenthood is very normal because it involves so many new experiences and change unlike any other time in a person’s life.
As they learn to adjust, parents can be surprised by the range of powerful emotions they feel – love, joy, frustration, guilt, and fear. It is common for parents to have moments of negative thinking as they wonder whether they are doing a good enough job. For some new parents, stress may show up as irritability with other people, including partners. Some parents find their stress is more internal – they may berate themselves or judge themselves harshly. Knowing that these reactions are very normal, that parenting for the first time is one of the hardest jobs that anyone will ever do and one that we are often totally unprepared for, can be reassuring.
People sometimes find it hard to ask for help or reach out for support from the people around them. However, being able to accept help is a sign of strength and does get easier with practice.
Making time for activities that enhance emotional wellbeing can be difficult for any new parent. However, it is really important for parents to care for themselves too. Here are some suggestions:
- Eat a balanced diet, including plenty of protein-fuelled foods across the day to help with energy levels.
- Drink lots of water, especially if breastfeeding
- Get some fresh air (and sunshine) outside.
- Do some form of exercise – gentle walking or stretching is enough (with medical advice if needed after childbirth)
- Have a network of supportive people to talk with and be listened to, including other new parents.
- Have some mindful moments in your day
- Tune in to how you are at various points in the day and monitor your mood. Do something if you feel a shift and need to ground yourself rather than let frustrations build up.
- Ask for help when needed – having at least one trusted health professional to share concerns with or reach out to is important.
- Engage in activities such as: listening to music or podcasts, reading, watching a movie, gardening.
- Avoid too many stimulants such as caffeine after midday.
- Avoid short term coping strategies such as alcohol or other recreational drugs.
- Arrange for some time out alone each day, even if it is a short period to start with (even ten minutes can be helpful)
- Openly communicate with a partner or other trusted person who can help if stress feels unmanageable.
- Avoid using the internet excessively to research medical and health concerns.
- Limit social media and news exposure.
Stability and Change in Self-control During the Transition to Parenthood. VAN SCHEPPINGEN et al. 2018.
Mental Health Care in the Perinatal Period, Australian Clinical Practice Guideline, October 2017. Australia: Published by COPE