Composing a Moment:
Mindfulness Techniques in Postpartum Mood Disorders
by Edith Gettes MD
August 5, 2016
for Postpartum Support International Blog
Parents are among the busiest people in the world. Biologically programmed to care for our offspring, we’re also concerned about our appearance and health, our relationship with our partner, the contribution we’re making to our families and communities, pets, friends, work, finances, school, other kids, etc.
Even the healthiest and most well-supported parent can feel overwhelmed at times. And, a mother who struggles with mood and anxiety can begin to feel desperate, hopeless, and guilty. In about 15% (that’s 1 in 7) of moms, a perfect storm of environmental, biological, and psychological factors will result in postpartum depression or anxiety.
In addition to support, therapy, and medication, the ideal treatment plan for perinatal depression and anxiety often includes mindfulness techniques. Exercises such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation, for example, have been shown to reduce blood pressure and promote recovery from many illnesses. Unfortunately, it’s often very difficult for moms, who are pulled in so many different directions at once, to find the time, space and peace of mind to engage in these techniques.
But, you can actually create a different frame of mind in just 10 seconds at a time. I call this composing a moment. It’s based on the idea that you can give yourself a 10 second break and create the mental state you want for 10 seconds. Sometimes, this 10 second break is enough to enable you to regroup and see things in a different light, kind of like changing from blue to pink-tinted glasses. Everything is still there, but it might look a little different.
So, here’s the exercise I often do with my patients (and myself). We use words beginning with A. B, C, D, E, F, G— like the musical scale—to compose our moment. They are Allow, Breathe, Center, Drop, Engage, Free, and Go. A step-by-step description follows. I’ve also included links that may help you with each step. I hope it’ll be useful to you as it is, but please change and adjust the words, order, ideas, etc. to benefit you the most.
- Allow yourself 10 seconds in which you feel calm, assured, confident, and relaxed. For 10 seconds, you can occupy whatever mental space you wish. Permit yourself to (at least) briefly let go of guilt, fear, self-criticism, regret, and other negative emotions.
- Breathe deeply from your belly. Be aware of your breath. You may need to place your hand on your abdomen to feel it expand as you inhale and contract as you exhale. If you need more help with this, try this link.
- Center. Find your physical core. You might try imagining you’re an apple and actually visualize yourself with a stem of seeds through the middle. This is where your vital organs—heart, lungs, stomach, liver, kidneys, intestines, and reproductive—reside. Though they don’t include your brain, they are, as you know, all connected!
- Check these links (one and two) which may help you with this one:
Drop your shoulders. Many of us hold a lot of tension in our shoulders. Relaxing them can give your lungs more freedom to expand and can help release tension in other parts of your body. While you’re at it, imagine other tension in your body just dripping away. Check out this link about dropping your shoulders.
- Engage your senses. Be aware of what you are hearing, what you see, what you are smelling, what you can taste, and what you feel on your skin. If you believe in any other senses, such as spirituality or music, consider checking in with these as well. Engaging senses slows down the buzz of the mind.
- Free yourself from negative thoughts, let them fly away. For the next 10 seconds, don’t worry, for example, whether you are a good enough mother, whether your waist will ever be back to pre-pregnancy size, whether you’ll sleep tonight, how you’ll manage going back to work or your children’s difficult behaviors, what you should have done yesterday, etc. You won’t lose your traction with any of these issues by letting them go for 10 seconds.
- Go! Ready, set, go, and enjoy 10 seconds of mental peace. Try it several times a day, or as often and for as long as you can.
Allow Breathe Center Drop Engage Free
Go for 10 Again!
Edith Gettes, MD, is Medical Director of the University of North Carolina Women’s Mood Disorder Clinic at Rex Hospital, in Raleigh, NC. In addition to seeing patients privately, she is also a consulting psychiatrist at Rex Hospital and Assistant Clinical Professor in the UNC Department of Psychiatry in Chapel Hill. Formerly a professional musician, she remains active in her community as a violinist and youth music organizer. Dr. Gettes is a wife, mother, step-mother, adoptive mother, and pet mother. She’s a passionate advocate for screening for and treating perinatal mood disorders, especially in rural communities, and of disseminating accurate, scientifically based information about women’s mood disorders and their treatment.