By Lena Franklin, LCSW
Stepping into motherhood after the baby has arrived is a time of profound life transformation. But beyond the idealism of living happily ever after in motherhood bliss exists the demands of a new parental role spanning multiple domains including physical, mental, emotional and psychological. Postpartum women are at high risk for mood disorders since this is a time when the baby is completely dependent on them and self-care outlets diminish significantly. The mother’s purpose becomes identified with nurturing this new life and, simultaneously, the body is attempting to balance out hormonally. Decreased estrogen can adversely affect the mental health status of new moms, as estrogen works to balance mood states, keeping anxiety at bay.
So how do moms tap into their internal resources to ease postpartum anxiety? Mindful yogic tools offer a way to tap into healing from the inside out. By no means do these techniques completely replace the need for anti-anxiety meds, as some new moms are in need of mood stabilizers to obtain a level of homeostasis, but the following mind/body skills can become anxiety reducing resources of a lifetime. The power of anxiety reduction exists within. Here’s how to tap in:
1.) Create a Compassionate Mantra
Mantra is translated as “sacred utterance” and is used as a meditative affirmation during meditation. Postpartum moms are perpetually exhausted, under slept and self-doubting. Our thoughts are received by the cellular body and our cells are indeed listening! New moms need to remember that they’ve just been through one of the most miraculous experiences - bringing life into this world - so creating a compassionate mantra can help to affirm a mom’s innate female power. Taking just 10 minutes per day to repeat this mantra can significantly shift the internal landscape. Perhaps the mantra is “I am powerful” or “I am light” but the words need to resonate with you, momma. This mantra is reprogramming the subconscious mind and hijacking the body’s automatic stress response.
2.) Alternative Nostril Breathing
Practicing the Nadi Shodhana (or alternative nostril breathing) eases the nervous system and balances moods and emotions. Sitting in a comfortable position with the spine upright and the heart space open. Empty the air from your lungs and bring the right pointer finger to the right nostril. Plug up the right nostril and breath in deeply and slowly in through the left. Pause at the top of the breath and bring the left pointer finger to plug up the left nostril, then exhale fully out of the right. Inhale through the right nostril and bring the right pointer finger up to plug up the right nostril. Exhale fully, deeply and slowly out of the left. Inhale through the left nostril and bring the left pointer finger up to plug up the left nostril. Repeat this breathing rhythm for 10-15 rounds. Just a few minutes of alternative nostril breathing can reset the mind and body when constricted with anxiety.
3.) Release Idealism
One of the ways we perpetuate our own suffering, anxiety and depression is to wish this moment were different than it actually is. There’s a pervasive myth that says after the baby arrives into this world, mothers will walk into the sunset with their family, embarking on a journey of cloud 9 bliss. In reality, it’s not uncommon for new moms to feel lost, alone and confused about who they are in the world. It’s important for these postpartum realities to be acknowledged. Is motherhood beautiful and transformative? Yes. Are there intensely dark moments at times? Absolutely. As a mindfulness-based psychotherapist, I work with many new moms. A phrase of positive self-talk I offer them when anxiety or an uncomfortable emotion arises is, “Can I host this?” Meaning, can we simply host this emotion internally, breathing into it, without immediately denying its existence. When we attach ourselves to an idealized life, we’re setting ourselves up for failure - every time. Acknowledging that having a newborn is both amazing and a struggle is truly an example of the miraculous non-dual nature of life itself.
Mindful, body-centered techniques can become a mom’s best friend, especially after the baby arrives, creating optimal conditions for managing the ebb and flow of inner and outer life.