TOOL 5: Engaging in Life
Spending time with family and friends
Sometimes when we are anxious we tend to isolate ourselves, especially if we want others to see only our best and “happy” side. We can start thinking that we don’t have the energy to fake it anymore. Isolating ourselves can give us a bit of relief in the short term, but we are depriving ourselves of one of the most powerful tools for managing stress – spending time with people we care about.
It is important not to underestimate how vital it is to spend time with people to whom we feel attached. Research consistently tells us that the support we get from others is one of the strongest predictors of overall well-being. But sometimes we need to push ourselves to reach out to others or let them in. Even a five-minute phone chat can help. You can do quick check-ins with friends while the baby is nursing or taking a bottle. If you are worried it will take too long, start by saying, “I just have five minutes to chat but I really wanted to catch up.” You can also meet new friends through baby-oriented group activities (e.g., well baby, parenting, and play groups). Some places to look for these are your community centre, local health unit, or organizations such as Family Place.
If fear is getting in the way of being around others, visit Facing Fears for ideas on building confidence.
What we want to avoid, however, is asking others for reassurance over and over about our worries. See Resisting the Quick Fix for more details.
For our mental health, sometimes the best time to be social is when we “feel” like doing it the least!
Scheduling pleasurable activities
We schedule our to-do lists full of appointments, errands, and tasks. We sometimes forget to schedule in some fun and pampering. Being a new mom is one of the most energy-intensive jobs we will ever have. We need to help recharge our minds and bodies with interesting activities and interactions with others.
For 185 ideas for fun activities, see the Centre for Clinical Interventions’ Fun Activities Catalogue.
Plan some activities involving getting out of the house with the baby. Even if this takes extra effort and planning, daylight and sunshine can be great mood lifters. It’s important to still feel part of the world if you are feeling isolated and trapped.
We also can have microbreaks within the house. This can be having a nice cup of tea or coffee while watching the baby in the exercise saucer, lying down with the baby under a hanging toy and doing a mini-relaxation, taking a nice bath with the baby, or putting on a favourite piece of music and dancing.
It’s also nice to have some time away from the baby once in a while. Even very short amounts of time can help. It does not have to be terribly exciting; you can start by curling up with a hot cup of tea when the baby is asleep. When you have someone to give you a small break, go out to do a bit of gardening in the backyard, take a short walk by yourself, or watch a TV show at a friend’s house down the street.
Microbreaks from being on-duty can make a huge difference and allow us to recharge. It can be particularly helpful sometimes to have a change of scenery, away from parenting triggers. You want to try making some breaks a routine, since if you plan for it, it is more likely to happen. We are so good at scheduling routines for our children, but often forget about the advantages for ourselves.