Pregnancy is often a joyous time for many women, however it is also a time of many complex shifts that, when combined with hormonal fluctuations and fatigue may contribute to additional stress. From the many physical changes your body will undergo, to the emotional and relational changes of identity transformation, to the personal, professional, and social pressures of trying to “do it all” and hold ourselves to the same pre-pregnancy standards, it’s no wonder that some women are more susceptible to bouts of anxiety and depression during this most tender, transitional time – particularly if you have a history of past mental health concerns. Below are five pregnancy-specific self-care tips you may find useful as you move through these nine months and on into the postpartum period to help promote your overall well-being and stay present throughout this most wondrous time.
With the approval of your doctor or midwife, many women find that light exercise helps them take care of themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. It can be as simple as lacing up your sneakers for a daily walk around the block before work, on your lunch break, or after you get home, or something more structured like a prenatal fitness class. No matter which route you choose, setting aside time to move your body can help offset many pregnancy-related concerns, including swelling and edema, fatigue, mild nausea, and even some of the complex emotions that may come along with pregnancy. One key shift in mentality that many women find worthwhile is using exercise less as a means to achieve the ideal physique and more as a means to adapt to the physical and emotional demands of pregnancy. An added bonus: Exercising during pregnancy helps strengthen your awareness of and connection with your body to prepare you for labor as well as the postpartum recovery period.
Pregnancy is a time of many rapid shifts, and you may notice changes in key relationships in your life, including with your significant other, family members, friends, and colleagues. Your body is changing and hormones are fluctuating to support growing life, often contributing to more intense emotions as well, but your whole identity and experience of yourself as a relational being is also undergoing a role transition. This is especially true for first-time mothers-to-be, and you may find yourself torn between the life you once knew, which involved happy hour with friends several times a week, and wanting a slower pace with more solitude. Finding ways to stay connected with supportive people in your life in ways that prioritize your mental and emotional wellbeing can help you through this transition. Perhaps trade Thursday happy hour with friends for brunch and mani/pedis, or Friday night dinner and a movie with your significant other for a daytime stroll through the park with fresh smoothies in-hand. Use these times to share your experience with others, particularly the hard parts. Doing so can feel vulnerable, but allowing yourself to stay connected and supported will ultimately benefit you in the long run by providing a healthy outlet for various multifaceted feelings and experiences.
Prenatal Yoga and Mindfulness Meditation
It’s no secret that yoga and mindfulness meditation practice can do wonders for your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, helping to reduce stress and anxiety, combat depression, improve focus (“pregnancy-brain” anyone?), and even reduce high blood pressure. You may consider taking a prenatal yoga class at your gym or local yoga studio, which has the added benefit of exposing you to other women who are pregnant at the same time as you, or you may find it easier to start a gentle at-home practice. No matter which option you choose, make sure to check with your healthcare provider first and seek out yoga classes or sequences designed for pregnant women since certain poses are not advised during pregnancy. Looking for something less physical and more contemplative? Mindfulness meditation may be for you, and the Expectful app (available on Android and iOS) is a great resource for brief meditation and guided imagery exercises intended specifically for pregnancy and postpartum. Together or separately, yoga and mindfulness practices can be a powerful way to weather the ups and downs of your pregnant experience and feel even more connected to your baby prior to his or her birth.
Set Appropriate Boundaries
Sometimes people – even well-meaning ones who love us very much! – put their feet in their mouths. Some treat pregnancy as open season for questioning or commentary on a woman’s body and appearance. Some offer unsolicited advice on eating and exercise habits. Some may compare your pregnancy to their own or to someone else’s. And still others view pregnancy as a time to share their pregnant experiences – the joyous ones, the horror stories, and every intimate detail in between. Some people aren’t bothered by this and take it all in stride but if you find that it bothers you, it’s okay to set some appropriate boundaries. You may consider a well-timed comment like, “It’s so amazing how everyone’s pregnancy is so different!” or a more direct approach like, “I appreciate your concern but that’s between me and my healthcare provider.” Boundaries are, in fact, an act of love for ourselves and while setting them can sometimes be challenging and may need to happen repeatedly, it’s healthy and okay to have them.
If you find yourself wrestling with complex emotions during pregnancy, whether they are related to pregnancy itself or to stressors outside of it, counseling can help and there are therapists who specialize in working with the specific concerns that may arise during this unique time in your life.
In recent years, the concept of mindfulness has been a hot topic for not only psychologists, but for anyone from business executives to basketball players alike. Despite its recent surge in interest, mindfulness is not a new concept; it stems from ideas rooted in a variety of Eastern traditions, especially Buddhism. Concepts central to the practice of mindfulness and meditation have been put to use by many in recent years because of the vast number of benefits that have been shown to follow this type of practice. But does it actually mean? First, let’s start with some common misconceptions.
Mindfulness vs. Meditation: Is There a Difference?
Mindfulness is often associated with meditation. We think of “being mindful” and we imagine a dark room with candles and a pillow, crossed legs and gentle new age music. Is this mindfulness? It can be, sure. Meditation is one way in which many people choose to practice a form of mindfulness, but it certainly isn’t the only way. You can practice being mindful while working at the office, while eating at the breakfast table, or while taking a walk outside.
Some people may be hesitant to engage in mindfulness because of its connection with spirituality or religion. Indeed, for many, mindfulness and meditation can involve a spiritual sense of connection. And while it may have roots that can be traced back to religious practices (as well as nonreligious practices), mindfulness is not necessarily a spiritual practice. Rather, mindfulness is a part of the human experience—one that has the capacity to enhance a religious or spiritual practice, or simply to heighten our sense of awareness in our day to day life.
In short, mindfulness is what you make of it. For some, it’s a taking a deep breath before a speech or presentation and reconnecting with themselves before beginning, while for others it can describe a way of being within the world. The New York Times has a running series on mindfulness, entitled “Meditation for Real Life” which offers short, simple guiding prompts for common moments in life that allow for us to practice being mindful in a variety of contexts—whether sitting alone at our desk at work, or even surrounded by others at the dinner table. But what actually is mindfulness?
What is Mindfulness ?
Traditionally, the term mindfulness simply describes a way of attending to the present moment. It involves noticing those things that we might otherwise take for granted—stopping to smell the roses, so to speak. There’s an intentionality to it; by deliberately remaining present, we develop an awareness that captures both internal and external experiences. To practice mindfulness is to strive to notice and appreciate these experiences in the present moment with compassion—not to judge or attempt to change, but to simply notice.
Take a moment to pause what you’re doing. Notice the restless shifting in your seat or the tapping of your leg, and find some stillness instead. Notice your breathing, and take a slow, deep breath for a count of four, holding it briefly, then slowly exhaling for a count of six. Repeat this, paying attention to your breath and noticing the way it feels as you breathe deep into your stomach, and the way that your body relaxes further with each exhale. This is an exercise designed to help us breathe mindfully—taking us off autopilot and increasing our awareness of our breath. Continue this for a minute longer and notice changes to your body or your mood. Most commonly, people report feeling more relaxed, as though the tension were flooding out of their muscles with each prolonged exhale. If this exercise felt good, consider trying it for three minutes, or even five.
What are the Benefits of Mindfulness?
The benefits of mindfulness have been gathering evidence for many years now. Given that this is largely a mental exercise, people are often surprised to hear of its many physical benefits. Better immune functioning, better sleep, and what is perhaps the most obvious benefit, a significant decrease in stress levels; indeed, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has become a widely used set of techniques that implements mindfulness exercises as a way of decreasing stress and anxiety. Mindfulness and meditation tend to invite a sense of calmness and peace into our experience, in part simply because we are slowing down and remaining present, rather than letting our minds run on a loop or continue worrying about the next thing on our agenda. One of the most powerful aspects of mindfulness is that you don’t need any special equipment, a guru, or a lot of money to practice it. You just need a willingness to ask yourself questions and a quietness to hear the answers.
Many of the benefits of mindfulness are mental and emotional in nature. Awareness and understanding is often the first step in promoting change in just about anything, so improving our awareness of our internal worlds can be a powerful way of effecting change within ourselves. One major misconception about mindfulness is that it requires shutting off or controlling our thoughts. When I talk with my clients about mindfulness, it usually involves some discussion around thoughts, reactions, behaviors, or experiences that are flying under our radar and thus contributing to our feelings of sadness, anxiety, frustration, or other feelings that we might prefer to avoid. In doing so, clients often go on to ask about the point at which they can begin to control or shut off these feelings altogether. And understandably so—to be able to do this could keep us from experiencing the discomfort that accompanies these feelings.
Sometimes we don’t know even what questions to ask at all. In these instances, it can be helpful to seek out the support of a therapist who provide guidance, helping us lead more mindful lives and truly get in touch with our inner selves. All of the therapists at Bergen Counseling Center are trained in mindfulness and can help you develop a personalized plan of mindfulness to incorporate into your daily life.
If you are interested in learning more, fill out the contact form below or call us at (773) 512-4992.
This article is part 1 of a 2 part series on mindfulness. Part 1 defines mindfulness and part 2 will focus on how to practice mindfulness in your daily life. Stay up to date by signing up for our newsletter and get alerts when new content is published.
The Bergen Counseling Center is excited to announce a new group on Mindfulness and Anxiety. The co-ed group starts on March 7th and will be led by Dr. Whitney Zweifel. We welcome you to contact Dr. Zweifel with any questions or to schedule a introductory consultation about becoming a group member. A downloadable PDF flyer with more information is available at the bottom of the post.
Anxiety and Mindfulness Group
Do you have difficulties calming your mind?
Do you experience stress and anxiety?
Join our anxiety and mindfulness processing group and learn mindfulness techniques to aid you in your mental resilience and distress tolerance. Find more balance in your life and learn to calm your mind and body.
8:00pm – 9:00pm
Weekly for 12 weeks/sessions
25 E. Washington Street
Chicago, IL 60602
March 07, 2016
Dr. Whitney Zweifel
CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOADABLE FLYER:
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT DR. ZWEIFEL:
NOTE: We do not currently have any open positions available, but we do anticipate the need for a full-time therapist position in Q1 of 2017. You may still submit your resume/CV, but we will not be contacting applicants until we have an open position. Thank you for your interest in Bergen Counseling Center!
We’re hiring! We are excited to announce that Bergen Counseling Center is expanding at both our Downtown and Ravenswood locations. We have positions open for both employee and associate level clinicians depending on level of licensure. Click the link below to go to our jobs page to find out more information and how to apply.
Feeling stressed is a normal part of life. Knowing how to effectively manage stress can be challenging. The stress response, or fight or flight reaction, is the body’s natural response to an environmental threat. The stress response involves activation of the sympathetic nervous system causing the body to physically and mentally prepare to either fight against or flee the threatening situation. The stress response can be an adaptive reaction, in that it lets you know you need to react to danger. Problems occur if you do not manage your stress effectively causing negative emotional and physical consequences. In modern day life, the stress response can be triggered when you sense a threat to your identity and your values. People often describe feeling stressed about work issues, relationship difficulties, financial problems, and balancing life’s tasks.
The stress response is a natural reaction to perceived threats, yet experiencing the stress response over time can cause many mental and physical health problems. Although you cannot completely eliminate experiencing stress, you can learn to manage stress in a more healthy, adaptive manner. The two general ways you can manage stress are using problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping. In problem-focused coping you change the nature of the stressor itself. Sometimes changing problems in your environment is not possible. Fortunately, there are healthy coping skills that can be learned and implemented to effectively turn off the body’s stress response.
In emotion-focused coping, the goal is for you to cope with stress differently so that the effects of the stress response on your body will decrease. Some examples of emotion-focused coping include meditation, massage, exercise, yoga, altering negative or distorted self-statements, changing your perception of the threat, seeking out social supports, engaging in fun hobbies, and relaxation skills training.
Learning relaxation skills is an effective and simple way to begin to manage your stress. You can start implementing an exercise called deep breathing. First find a comfortable quiet place and get in a relaxed position either sitting or lying down. The skill involves taking a long deep breath so that the stomach expands. Hold the breath for a count of 3-4 seconds, then slowly exhale. Work on focusing your thoughts only on your breathing and remind yourself to relax. Start by doing this exercise once a day for 10-15 minutes. Deep breathing is a way to induce the body’s relaxation response and turn off the stress response. When practiced often, you will feel generally more relaxed. To learn more about relaxation skills and other ways to manage stress you can reference a self-help book on stress reduction. If you think your feelings of stress have become too overwhelming, you may benefit from seeking psychotherapy to help manage your stress.