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Baby steps for your mental health

Hannah with her son
Hannah with her son

by Hannah Hutchins

Hannah is a mum to Alex, and she also has bipolar affective disorder and a phobia of vomiting. She’s written this piece for any mum who might be feeling that daily activities are too much to cope with and might not know where to start. This article is based on Hannah’s experience of what works for her; everyone’s experience is different. If you’re struggling to care for yourself please do seek help from your GP or refer to the Urgent Warning. This content is in no way a substitute for medical advice or treatment. You can read our full disclaimer here. This piece was written in 2019, please follow current government COVID-19 rules at all times.

We are all as parents, and people, unique. Our families are different, as are our personalities and upbringing. So when mental illness strikes, either post-partum or any other time in our lives, it can be a very different experience for each person. For some even the very basic activities of daily life can be extremely difficult. My mental illness is chronic so I know that there will be times when things are good but also times that are very bad. For those bad times I find the best way to improve how I feel is by taking baby steps to make small improvements, even if to others they seem too small to matter. I hope that maybe I can help give you some ideas on how to apply this to your life.

The Steps

First, start by identifying an area in your life that you would like to improve. This could be your diet, getting some exercise or even just making sure your basic hygiene needs are met. If there is an area that needs improvement, but you don’t feel able to currently address it, that’s fine. Choose one that you think will make YOU feel better.

Once you have chosen an area, try to think about what, ideally, you would want that aspect of your life to look like if you were well. Maybe it’s going to the gym three times a week or as simple as brushing your teeth twice a day. Don’t worry if it doesn’t seem achievable, it’s about making small steps towards that goal. Even getting halfway there is hugely preferable to staying where you are.

Set yourself a small goal that will start you on your way. It can be as small or as big as you want. Try not to judge yourself too much while you do this. You don’t need to overthink it. If you try it and you find it is too easy or too hard, no problem. Just stop and choose another goal for the next day. You don’t want to get stuck in the planning stage.

Make sure that you are completely secure in the step that you’ve made before choosing another one. You don’t want to take on more than is manageable for you.

Here are some examples of some steps that someone might choose. I’ve tried to show how small or big these steps can be, depending on what your needs are at the present time.

Hygiene

I really want to start here as it can be the most difficult to talk about but can also make the most difference to your self-esteem.

If brushing your teeth twice a day is currently a struggle for you, try putting a toothbrush in easy reach with a small amount of toothpaste on. Set an alarm for one or two times a day to prompt you to have a brief scrub to freshen up.

If bathing or showering is difficult then make use of all the baby wipes you probably have in your home. Every time you change a nappy, use that time to briefly freshen up yourself. You don’t have to do your whole body at once, just do a little at a time.

If you feel able to, get in the bath or shower. Even just getting in the water will help.

Keeping stimulated

Adding some form of entertainment or stimulation (other than daytime tv) to your daily routine can really help pass the time and let your mind move away from how you’re feeling, at least temporarily.

A podcast can be a great idea. Comedy is a great place to start but there’s a whole range to choose from. It’s also nice to hear an adult voice! Commit to listening to an episode a day.

If you have a newborn, it’s likely that you will be spending a lot of time sitting on the sofa holding your baby. Pop a puzzle book or novel next to you so you have something that you can do while the baby sleeps.

If your circumstances allow you, maybe try adding a little exercise to your day. Maybe a few yoga poses or even a little dance around the room. Just five minutes will give you a little boost.

Getting out of the house

Even the notion of getting out the house can make you feel overwhelmed. Even if you don’t feel like going to baby groups three times a week, there are little steps you can take.

The park is always a great option. You can choose the amount of time you want to spend there. If ten minutes is all you can manage, that will still be enough time to benefit your child and yourself. It may feel less overwhelming if you can drive there so you know that you can leave if you feel that you need to. 

If that’s too much, do you think that a stroll around the block would be manageable? Choose a specific time in advance if you can, so the decision is already made.

Do you have a garden? A few minutes of fresh air will be lovely for you and your little one. 

I hope I’ve given you a bit of a framework for coming up with your own ideas. You can apply it to any area of your life that you choose. If it doesn’t work out quite how you planned, don’t beat yourself up, just start afresh the next day. Everyone has bad days. Remember you are unique, you don’t need to compare yourself to others. Just start where YOU are.

This piece was reviewed by Dr Emma Svanberg AND EDITED BY ANNA CEESAY.

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Urgent Warning

Some of the material you read on this website is potentially upsetting. Or you may read an article that makes you realise that you are struggling more than you thought.

If you need further support, please speak to your GP or another healthcare professional within or outside of the NHS. If you are seeking help outside of the NHS, make sure you see someone registered with an appropriate professional body.  There is also lots of information available online via MIND or the NHS website.

If you are feeling in crisis, please speak to your GP, or you can call the Samaritans on 116 123. In an emergency, please call 999 or visit A&E.

Please note: some of this content was written in 2019. Please follow current coronavirus government guidance at all times.

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