(Coping with Mommy Blues:

a list for those moments when you want to run away but can’t)

Mommy blues is the elephant in the room for so many moms.  We don’t talk about mommy blues because we are told we should be grateful and happy to have a baby, but the truth is that mommy blues is sometimes part of the gig too.  You are not a bad mom if you are struggling with mommy blues.  Here are some tips to hep you cope:

1. Go outside.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Sometimes you lose sight of it in a world with crying babies, whining little voices, dirty diapers or plastic toys that never stop making noise. Go for a walk if you can or just sit outside.  Vitamin D and fresh air can be enormously beneficial. And it’s easy.

2. Ask for help. There is a myth that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Its exactly the opposite.  It’s a skill you want to teach your children.  You may worry about inconveniencing others but usually people feel good about being able to help someone they care about. Ask friends or family for help with an errand or kids, or setting up a meal train if you are going through a particularly difficult time. Ask your partner to take on more and be grateful for it regardless of the outcome.

3. Balance your brain.  Balance your brain chemistry naturally through healthy eating, sleep and exercise.  Pack yourself with fresh fruits and vegetables.  Get some protein. If you are not adequately fueled, you will feel more sluggish and depressed.  Sleep may feel like an indulgence but it’s critical to you and your family. If you are not sleeping, you will feel depressed. If you are depressed, you are less able to connect to your children.  Sleep can be a real challenge depending on how old your kids are and you may have to think outside the box: consider options like revisiting your sleep plan with your kids, taking shifts with your partner, or if you have a new baby, consider a few nights with a night nurse.  As for exercise, you don’t need to hit the gym or have six pack abs. Exercise can be as simple as a short walk or a yoga class or exercise DVD. There are baby and me exercise classes available in most communities.  Just move your body any way you can.  It helps.

4. Make time for yourself. Schedule time to get away without kids. Make time, even if it’s just 10-15 minutes/day to do something for yourself.  Take a bath, go for that walk, or read a book. Schedule the occasional massage or mani/pedi or whatever it is that you don’t get to do much anymore. Sometimes self-care feels selfish but the opposite is true. When we do not take care of ourselves, we are not able to be present for the people who depend on us. We build resentments and we lose touch with ourselves.  You are modeling healthy self-care.  Ask yourself — do you want your children to grow up and treat themselves this way?  If the answer is no, you deserve better and so do they.

5. Let go of perfection. Make room for good enough. Let the house be a mess sometimes.  If this is too uncomfortable to tolerate and you feel like everything must be perfect, you may want to consider therapy if you want to feel like anything more than a failure.  I am sorry to deliver this devastating news — perfectionism, particularly in parenthood, is unrealistic and can be an obstacle to happiness.

6. Turn on some music.  Sometimes it can feel like you are drowning in the sounds of little children but there’s nothing wrong with shifting the soundtrack. Your children may enjoy it too. Turn on some Pandora or ITunes.

7. Try meditation.  Evidence suggests that meditation can have both physiological and psychological health benefits. There are some great apps you can download on your phone that will lead you through meditation (SimplyBeing, Buddhify, and Omvana are good ones) or you can try just sitting and focussing on your breathing for 10 minutes. The key to meditation is not clearing your mind which is sometimes impossible so much as noticing the thoughts and choosing not to run down the rabbit hole with them.

8. Call a friend. Being a mother can be incredibly isolating and isolation contributes to symptoms of depression. If you don’t feel like you have any friends you can talk to, it’s time to make some. Join a class with your child that creates opportunities to meet other moms — Gymboree, My Gym, Mommy and Me– there are plenty of options and it’s a great resource.

9. Don’t beat yourself up.  Mommy guilt is cruel and unfair.  You are doing the best you can. You love your child and you are taking care of your family.  You will make mistakes. All mothers do. If you feel like you’ve made a mistake and your child is old enough to actually talk about it with you, talk to them about it. Teaching your child that even grown-ups make mistakes and showing them how to learn and grow from them is an enormous gift.   Even if you feel like you’re screwing up, mistakes can be an opportunity to be a great parent.

10. Consider therapy.  If you’ve tried some of these suggestions and it’s not helping or if you feel unable to try them, consider getting professional help.  Sometimes it helps to get guidance from a professional who has experience with the issues you are going through.  Struggling with feelings of depression or anxiety as a parent does not make you weak or less of a parent — in fact, choosing to deal with these feelings in a healthy way rather the pretending they don’t exist can make you a better parent.

If these tips don’t help with your mommy blues or you find that you are having alarming thoughts about hurting yourself or someone else, please get help immediately.  There is a big difference between mommy blues and post-partum depression or psychosis.  Both are treatable but if your symptoms are life-threatening to yourself or anyone else, you need a higher level of care than any of the tips prescribed above.  Please get help.  You’re worth it.

Wondering if you’re a bad mom?  You’re here so that’s a good indication that you’re loving and you care about your kids.

Whitney Boole can be reached at whitney@beachcitiespsych.com or (310) 989-6465.

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