As a birth and postpartum doula, I work with women and families during one of life’s most exhilarating and vulnerable journeys. With in-person support limited as precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic, my clients and I have focused on educational and informational support, and creating emotional wellbeing during pregnancy to process the ups and downs of our new normal.
Looking back over the past few months, a clear trend is emerging: creating daily mindfulness practices to nurture emotional wellbeing and support the health of their babies has helped families feel more resilient, prepared for their births, and given them new tools for postpartum peace of mind.
I connected with Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, a perinatal psychiatrist who specializes in treating women during pregnancy and postpartum. Dr. Lakshmin recently launched a digital women’s mental health education service offering small group virtual courses on pregnancy and mental health. We spoke to her to learn more about emotional wellbeing during pregnancy and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are her five tips on how to care for yourself during uncertain times.
What advice do you have for a pregnant woman who might be struggling to deal with unpredictable circumstances or feeling a loss of control?
Focus on small decisions to claim agency. We’re in a period of tremendous uncertainty, and pregnant and postpartum women are having to make so many decisions that they did not anticipate having to make. In times of uncertainty, focusing on where you have agency helps us feel in control and competent. Take action in small ways that make you feel like you are moving forward. It can be simple things like deciding to cook a favorite meal or tidying up your bedroom. These small tasks add up and make us feel in control.
Maintaining connections with our loved ones during social distancing can be challenging. What’s your advice to someone who may be struggling to communicate or connect during this experience?
Name your feelings and take time for yourself to reflect. When we get overwhelmed it’s usually because we are feeling a combination of many different emotions, simultaneously. Naming your feelings takes power away from ambiguous or amorphous worry. Journaling and meditation can ways to recognize, process, and release complicated emotions or experiences.
What can we do if we feel like stress is interfering with our daily lives?
Designate worry time. If you find yourself facing ruminative, intrusive anxiety that doesn’t go away, try designating “worry time.” Set aside 20 minutes per day where you are allowed to worry about anything and everything. Wherever your brain wants to wander is fine! But, if any worries come up outside of that time, you aren’t allowed to indulge them. Acknowledge those moments with mindfulness by writing them down, and setting them aside for your daily “worry time.”
What are some ways to self-soothe if you are feeling depleted?
Activate your senses. When you find yourself overwhelmed, get back into your body. Listen to music, lay on your favorite blanket, cuddle with your pet. Anything that stimulates your senses will help you feel less anxious.
If you could only share one piece of advice about emotional wellbeing during pregnancy with an expecting mom right now, what would it be?
It’s okay to grieve. When coping with the loss of your expected birth plan, recognize that it’s completely normal to feel a sense of grief. Grief is not a linear process. With each loss, whether it’s finding out your partner cannot come to prenatal appointments, or that they can’t be there during delivery, you’re going to feel grief. When big feelings hit, activate your coping skills. This could be practices like exercise, meditation, yoga, or journaling. It could also be a distraction through TV or reading. Stay connected with trusted support people or grow your community by joining a virtual new parent group or online community.
There’s no one-size-fits all solution for mindfulness, from meditation to exercise or prioritizing sleep and nutrition, mindfulness practices are simple, intentional choices you make to care for your whole self.