Mental Health and Stress - The Baby Factor
Posted: Mon, 14 May 2018 11:49 by Shelley Ames
I've recently returned to work from maternity leave, and in writing this blog I've been reflecting on the state on my own mental health and the importance of physical activity in contributing to a positive state of mind.
I don't think I actually realised how important being active was to me until my ability to exercise became limited. I maintained a good level of activity throughout my pregnancy, but it was directly after the birth of my son that my activity levels, understandably maybe, became very low. My mobility was restricted, but I also had the shock of looking after this little person that had invaded every aspect of my life, the winter months closing in, and the increased effort that it took for me to get out of the door which made even taking our dog for a walk a massive effort (much to her disgust). Even though I wasn't "at work", all these factors created very real levels of stress.
Everyone talks about baby blues – I'm not sure I had these, but I do think the lack of activity didn't help with my energy levels which were already low from a lack of sleep, as well as my general mood, and it definitely impacted on my weight, which further exacerbated what was increasingly becoming a poor state of mental health.
Every new parent knows that there is no shortage of advice forthcoming from well-meaning friends, relatives and health professionals, but it strikes me how few people suggested getting a bit more activity into my day as a means of perking myself up a bit. Luckily, given my job, I recognised the importance of a couple of things myself.
Firstly I returned to work a bit earlier than planned. I'm a firm believer that work is good for our mental health, and I'm very lucky in that I have a job that I enjoy and find rewarding, with colleagues that I respect and get a lot from working with.
Secondly I started to reintroduce activity, starting with heading back to my regular volunteering at Catton parkrun. This great free, weekly 5km event is a fantastic way to meet new people and be involved in something truly fun, worthwhile and inspiring to help boost mental health (and activity levels). We are lucky to have 12 amazing parkruns across Norfolk and I cannot stress enough how welcoming and inclusive these events are – its really not all about the running, you can walk, jog, take a dog, push a pushchair. For more information and to find your local parkrun visit www.parkrun.org
After a few weeks of volunteering I felt inspired to start running again and signed up for this years Run Norwich event, so I have something to aim for. I've downloaded a great couch to 10k app to help me along the way and I've started to record my runs on Strava as I find it motivational to compete against myself and record my progress. Returning to work has given me a chance to fit a bit of activity into my day, which mainly consists of a lunchtime walk or jog and I have a supportive partner who helps me find a way to fit some activity in the majority of days.
It takes some planning sometimes, but I feel so much better for it. The act of planning and organising my time to include physical activity, and knowing I'm doing something positive that can help to reduce those other stress-inducing factors of my life, definitely helps me.
Despite the fact my child is still not a great fan of sleeping, my energy levels are so much better and I can concentrate, not only on my job now I'm back, but I've been picking up my book for the first time in ages. I feel much happier and less irritable, which is positively impacting on my relationships. My clothes are fitting again which has certainly helped me to feel positive about myself, and the extra strength is coming in handy for carrying an ever-growing child and the baggage that he inevitably comes with (no one mentions how much physical effort being a parent takes when it comes to carrying them and all their stuff around). All of these things have had a massive impact on my state of mind.
Most importantly, it gives me a chance to get a break from juggling motherhood, a career, and day to day life and gives me a chance to do something positive for myself and work through the other stresses in my head.
This is the advice I'll be sure to be passing on to any new mums out there – staying active definitely helps you to stay sane and gives you that much needed boost to get you through the day.
The Mental Health Foundation has produced a number of publications that you can order or download for free to help you manage stress and help improve your mental health. To access these resources, click here.