Essentially all anyone wants in life it to be happy. Yet there isn’t some formula that we can follow to access this elusive happy state. Wouldn’t that be lovely? There is no correct answer to gaining happiness, it’s what we choose on a yearly, monthly, daily basis and we work towards these goals.
Sometimes we have periods where we don’t feel we are achieving much in this pursuit of happiness. The future starts feeling a little bleak. That’s when we notice an impact on our mental health. Mental health professionals use something called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (currently on its 5th Edition, DSM V) to classify mental health conditions.
To be diagnosed with depression, an individual must experience at least five of the following symptoms over a 2 week period: depressed mood most of the day, lack of interest or pleasure in doing activities you would usually enjoy, changes in appetite (under- or over eating), fatigue or loss of energy, slowing down of thought process and reduction in physical movement to the point that others would notice, feelings of worthlessness, reduced concentration and recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation. These feelings must cause significant distress and impair important areas of life such as work, social, and relationships.
Anxiety is a little less clear cut. There are many types of anxiety (Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Health Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Social Anxiety) and the symptoms often overlap. For example, Generalised Anxiety Disorder is characterised by excessive worry which is hard to control, edginess, irritability and difficulty sleeping. Panic Disorder is characterised by, you guessed it, panic attacks but also has symptoms like restlessness, lack of sleep and fatigue. You can find more information about the different types of anxiety and information about depression on the NHS website (see links below).
The pursuit of happiness gets a little more complicated when we enter periods of change. And what could be more life changing than having a baby. Literally everything changes. If you are anything like me, you worked full time since 16, socialised every evening and weekend, and just loved life and everything you had in it. Then one day I decided it was Time To Have A Baby. That was my next goal in the pursuit of happiness. However maternity leave was a lot harder than I expected.
My entire life has had a routine: wake up, get ready, do an activity which takes up a lot of my day (school/ university/ work), come home, eat dinner and go to bed. I know, riveting stuff. The moment my gorgeous boy entered my life, the routine went out the window. I was being woken up at all hours of the day and night, so I wasn’t getting my “8 hours a day” that I was so proud of before Samraj. I showered when I physically had opportunity to, which could be at 11pm, rather than my usual 6.30am shower. And daily activity, what’s that? Samraj was the activity, and he didn’t do much as a newborn but I felt like I was doing so much. Exhausting and boring in equal measure. (Am I allowed to say that? Hell why not, newborn mummy life is monotonous AF. All I did was change nappies and breastfeed and express milk, on loop).
This is where any parent may consider whether this is the correct path in their pursuit of happiness. I will repeat this time and time again through my blogs, EVERYTHING IS A PHASE. Even the monotony. Very quickly your baby becomes this ball of activity which captivates you, and has you running around them. You just have to trust that it’s a phase, and look after yourself in that time.
It’s no wonder that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men are affected by mental health problems during pregnancy and first year after birth (Royal College of GPs). It’s possibly the biggest change to occur in your life. It also entails this magnificent sense of responsibility, as you are literally responsible for another person’s life. Many parents take this a little too seriously, and in attempting to look after their baby, completely lose sight of their own needs. If this goes on for long enough, it becomes problematic for their mood.
Think of it this way. Imagine you are on a plane and they are going through the safety briefing before take off. The air stewards explain that if the plane were to go down, it is imperative that the guardian puts on their mask before they put on their child’s. Why do you think that is? If you put the child’s mask on first, you risk your own life and your child’s when they have no one to care for them for the rest of the traumatic experience. The correct response is to put on your mask, which means you are in a clear frame of mind to care for your child too. Both go onto to enjoy their lives.
That is why it is so important to always find a way to look after yourself, no matter the situation and how dire the circumstance is. Self care keeps us afloat on a daily basis. When our mood is good, we don’t even realise we are self caring, as it doesn’t need to be labelled. For example, we wake up on time, go to the gym and eat fruit and vegetables because they taste yummy to us.
When our mood isn’t so good, we may hit the carbs a bit harder than we like to (takeaway pizza anyone?), choosing to eat our feelings, or eat to “produce energy”, glug caffeine and may slob on the sofa rather than going for a walk.
Self care is subjective too. Everyone does it differently. I try not to use the words/ phrase “be positive” too much. It’s too chipper, in my opinion and puts a lot of pressure on the person to be the complete opposite of what they are currently feeling. My upcoming blogs will be about what may be helpful and unhelpful to you as we try to look after ourselves.
One of my Instagram pictures was of a few things I found around the house which have a personal meaning to me and my daily self care. Today, I’ve had a bad day. I’ve been up since 4am with a teething, tantruming (at 8 months, seriously?!!?) and clingy Samraj. Tonight’s self care agenda is to have a hot shower and paint my nails whilst watching a movie.
What do you do to self care? I would love to hear what you get up to, to improve your mood. What have you got planned this lovely Sunday? Would it be helpful if I shared a few self care bits and bobs/ how I try to keep Mentally Healthy throughout the week in my IG stories?
Let me know your thoughts..
Lots of love
- NHS Moodzone
More information about common mental health problems and self help links.