I have shared my experience with motherhood and mental health in my book and on my blog because it is a powerful experience that I believe might help other mothers navigate similar circumstances. Some of my experiences with motherhood and mental health are in the past and some are still a part of a life-long journey. I will share what I have learned so far (based on my personal experiences and research on the topic).
My anxiety and depression started when I was under a lot of stress as a brand-new teacher and a newly engaged young adult. I had to learn the hard way that I was actually in charge of my emotions instead of the other way around. I read books about self-healing and controlling my thoughts.
My mental health worsened as a newly wed with marital problems and then as a new mother of small children. With my first child I was finishing my masters degree, working as an adjunct instructor, and supporting my husband through to college graduation. Three and a half years later and a move across the country, I had two more girls 18 months apart. Life as a stay-at-home mom started to settle in and my mind began to unravel. My husband was traveling for work, and I felt isolated. Personal ating and exercise habits were poor, and I had very little time to myself. My mental illnesses peaked and my thoughts scared me. I would get enraged at the smallest things, like having to put my children’s shoes on or them wanting my attention. I know this sounds bad…it was.
I waited far too long to get help. If you think you need help, the best time to get it is now. Stop overthinking and making excuses.
The things that help according to my experience and according to National Child and Maternal Health, Harvard Health Publishing and Psychiatry Online are:
- Counseling or Talk Therapy. I was going to burst if I didn’t talk to someone about how I was feeling. My therapists gave me questions to ask myself and mental tools to use as I faced my triggers and mental health challenges. Ask for counselor recommendations from others or go here to find a counselor near you. Many times you can find one that has helped people with your specific mental illness.
- Medication. I fought this for a long time. Most of us do not want to have a dependency on medication, but once I finally gave myself permission to medicate, life got much more manageable and enjoyable. It took me two tries to find the right medication, but I have been on the same medication and dosage for years now, with great success. Do your research on the medication beforehand and you can also explore other possible solutions while you manage day-to-day life. The way I see it is if I am so sick that I cannot see reality, then I will not be able to find other ways to help myself.
- Spend time alone. Parenting is a busy and often overwhelming job. Children consume your thoughts and time, so spending some time away from them is a gift to you and them. I used to think that if I left them for awhile I was a terrible mom and something bad was going to happen. Since then, I have been able to spend time away from them without the guilt. And, almost always, I am surprised at how fun it was for them too, because it usually means they are spending time with their dad, a family friend and their kids or a grandparent.
- Connect with other moms. I recently went on a trip with other moms and being around other women who fight for healthy and happy families amidst their own personal trials is refreshing. When I am able to talk with and get support from other moms, I feel invigorated and more ready to face my life. For those of you that have social anxiety, be very choosy about who, when and how long you interact with others. Protect your peace and only do as much as will leave you feeling better. Only you can determine that, but remember that there are people that love you and may even understand you better than you realize if you are willing to connect.
- Eat well and exercise. Our physical and mental health are definitely connected. More and more research shows that physical health impacts mental health and vice versa. So, that means that if you want to have mental wellbeing, you will need to try to be physically well. I will never share a list of foods to eat or not eat, but I will tell you that I have discovered that when my gut is unhealthy my body is not producing the correct hormones and my mental health declines. I can also attest that when I am stressed, my gut responds and suffers. So, focus on healing your gut, eating nourishing food. getting exercise and staying calm.
- Be realistic. Don’t forget that life has seasons. If you are a mother, you are in a busy season. Be kind to yourself as you try to juggle all the demands of life. Don’t overcommit yourself and don’t be mean to yourself when you fall short. For example, my mental illness makes it very difficult to live in messes. It has a major mental effect on me, so I have had to find ways to be okay with messes occasionally or else it negatively affects my relationships. Keeping a home spotless all the time with a household of seven is unrealistic. Recognize where your expectations and reality are not going to overlap and find healthy ways to cope with it.
- Sleep and Rest. Our body needs breaks! Create habits that allow you to get 8+hours of sleep a night and plenty of rest when your body signals the need.
- Let go of the stigmas. Don’t let what other people think determine your mental health. There will always be false perspectives. You are the one living through the experience and that makes it real and important, so live the best you can and let go of fleeting and negative opinions.
- Do things that you love. There was a time when depression stole my interests and passions from me. I understand that sometimes nothing sounds worth the effort. If you feel this way, make it a goal to get healthy enough to have a desire to do something you once loved. If you are not sure what you love anymore, give yourself the time and resources to try new things. Having interests and goals outside of motherhood are very healthy.
- Appreciate and nurture healthy relationships. Surround yourself with people who are supportive and kind to you. Confide in those that you trust and show your appreciation for them. These loyal friends and family that have stuck with you through tough times are worth keeping, as long as they are still encouraging health, offering safety and showing compassion.
- You are worth all the effort, time, and money to get healthy because you exist. Your value is not determined by outside factors. Love yourself. Your ability to love others, especially your children and partner, will be expanded as you care for your mental, physical, emotional and social well-being.
With love and sincerity,
Lucy Jo Bowman
Disclaimer: No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Nicholson, J., Sweeney, E. M., & Geller, J. L. (1998). Mothers with mental illness: I. The competing demands of parenting and living with mental illness. Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.), 49(5), 635–642. https://doi.org/10.1176/ps.49.5.635
The gut-brain connection. Harvard Health. (2021, April 19). Retrieved March 24, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019). Mom’s Mental Health Matters: Moms-to-be and Moms – NCMHEP. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Retrieved March 24, 2022, from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/ncmhep/initiatives/moms-mental-health-matters/moms