Having experienced postnatal depression after my first pregnancy, I’ve naturally been more conscious of the signs and signals to look out for after giving birth to our second daughter. I made a promise to myself that if I felt myself slowly slipping down that slope again I would reach out and do something proactive for the sake of my mind and for my babies.
I’m a big believer in the power of yoga, meditation and positive thinking, (if only I had more time and energy to practice these days!) which is why I’m working with Beeja Meditation for the second time on the blog, in the form a guest post day in the hope to provide additional support for anyone currently dealing with PND.
Practical Tips for Using Meditation When Living With Postnatal Depression
When it comes to advice on self-care, meditation is often mentioned as the go-to technique to decrease feelings of stress and anxiety. There are also strong suggestions that it can help in the recovery of postnatal depression. Making it a great addition to wider, doctor-led treatment that you can practice in your own home and at your own pace.
In our work teaching others how to meditate, we’ve seen many people suffering from various mental health issues, really benefit from working this habit into their lives. However, if you are facing postnatal depression, you have to cope with symptoms such as extreme exhaustion, anxiety, and depression, as well as the responsibility of looking after a newborn – which isn’t easy at the best of times.
In this context, self-care can feel like yet another chore, something else on your long to-do list to feel guilty about not doing. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, and have a baby to look after, how do you introduce a new habit into your life?
There are lots of good reasons to try meditation when you’re living with postnatal depression, and in our years teaching meditation we’ve discovered lots of ways people can help bring meditation into their lives, even in difficult circumstances.
How Meditation Can Help With Postpartum Depression
Sleep is a huge issue for new parents, and especially those living with PND. Meditation helps in two ways. Firstly, it provides an extremely deep form of rest, which boosts your energy levels even when you haven’t had two hours of sleep together. Secondly, it improves the quality of your sleep and alleviates postnatal insomnia.
The neurochemical melatonin, which is essential to sleep, is suppressed by stress hormones. Meditation has been proven to lower stress, which makes it both easier to stop worrying and slip into sleep, and also positively impacts melatonin production. Researchers at Rutgers University found that levels of melatonin increased by an average of 98% in meditators.
This stress reduction is extremely important in other ways. A Harvard study found that just eight weeks of regular meditation can physically reduce the size of the amygdala – known as the “stress centre” in our brain. It’s here that our fearful thoughts (such as the scary, intrusive ideas and feelings that can plague those with PND) originate. The impact of meditation on this area is substantial enough to suggest that anecdotal experience of lowered anxiety with meditation has physical roots.
How To Get Into The Habit Of Meditation
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
One of the issues with meditation is that people have an idea in their minds of what it should feel like, and feel that they have “failed” if their thoughts aren’t sufficiently clear and calm after a few attempts. However, this isn’t true at all; like so many things, meditation takes practice. At first, you should think of it as a refuge of calm and quiet in your life, not somewhere you have to perform.
Additionally, if you aren’t getting along with meditation and are finding your attempts unnecessarily stressful, don’t worry too much about the need to keep trying while you are unwell. We would strongly recommend a group class or the guidance of a good teacher if you are struggling (they could make all the difference), but you can always have another go later on when life is less fraught.
As with taking up exercise, there’s no wrong time to start meditating, and it can contribute to good emotional health at any point in your life. Also, it really doesn’t matter how “good” you are at it – the important thing is taking the first step. It could be a way to help you cope during the difficulties of postnatal depression if you take to it well, but on the other hand, worrying about it if you don’t is simply counter-intuitive – so, no pressure.
Begin with a meditation-like practice
One way to bring meditation into your routine is to start with meditation-like practices and build the habit from there. Lifestyle change is difficult because it can feel like we’re only allocated a limited amount of willpower each day, and when we are facing mental health issues this amount can seem vanishingly small. There’s nothing wrong with taking the path of least resistance when needed so you can ease yourself into committing to 20-40 minutes of meditation each day with similar habits.
Of course, this will require the support of family members (new parents often simply don’t have the time in the day to spend 40 minutes to themselves!); or if you are having trouble with the old advice of “sleep when the baby sleeps” due to postnatal insomnia, you can do it then. It might even help you drop off more easily. Colouring in, a walk in nature, gardening – they can all morph into a meditative practice and don’t require sitting uncomfortably and trying to focus.
Mantra meditation can also be easier for people because it doesn’t require conscious effort to empty your mind. You simply repeat a mantra and let that do the work for you, returning to the mantra should your mind wander. It’s a good idea to choose these kinds of meditation because they can be done anywhere – on your commute, relaxing in the park, even sitting up in bed. Not having to summon up motivation and willpower makes the whole process far less exhausting.
Download A Reminder App
Starting to meditate is all about habit forming. You know how you feel weird if you leave the house without brushing your teeth in the morning? Creating a new habit is about embedding something so deeply into your routine that it seems odd not to do it.
Downloading a meditation app on your phone can remind you to try meditating, even through the brain fog that often comes with PND. Even if one day you only manage five minutes, it’s keeping the habit up that’s important. Furthermore, you should find that the practice improves your mood, in which case your motivation to meditate will increase.
Another way to look at it is the time you are committing to you, and your recovery. So many women with postnatal depression don’t get the treatment they need for all sorts of reasons, but one persistent theme is the societal myth that it’s normal for mothers to suffer, and that profound, painful self-sacrifice is part of the deal. Reminding yourself that you are important (and deserving of time and attention) is vital for both you and your baby — helping you to break out of postnatal depression, and embrace life on the other side.
Holly Ashby is a writer who works for Beeja Meditation, a London meditation centre that aims to help people deal with anxiety and depression through the practice of Vedic meditation.