Thursday, 18 February 2021

Ways to cope with a new baby

Even the most prepared of parents-to-be can feel overwhelmed when their baby arrives. Coping with the stress and responsibilities associated with becoming a parent can take its toll both mentally and physically. However, you won’t be alone in feeling you aren’t coping, and there are NHS resources available that can help you during this transition from pregnancy to parenthood.

Changing routines

If you are the type of person that relies on strict routines and organisation, it may be a shock to the system when your usual routines are disrupted. Your baby may not respond to a strict schedule and you could find yourself with a baby that requires constant attention. Chores will be left unfinished, emails and texts unanswered, and sleep will be something you can only dream of. This lack of control can cause feelings of powerlessness and frustration, and the lack of sleep could leave you irritable, anxious and depressed.

Altered relationships

Some couples find their relationship suffers once the baby arrives as one party may feel neglected, or money may become a concern. You could find that you each wish to parent differently or that one parent feels inadequate and unable to give the child the attention they believe they need. If you are a single parent with limited support, the stresses associated with caring for a new baby are often multiplied.

Mental wellbeing issues

During pregnancy and childbirth, your body undergoes numerous physical changes. Not all births are straightforward and if you experience injury either during pregnancy or childbirth, you could suffer from post-traumatic stress, which may hinder your initial relationship with the baby. Anxiety about your capacity to parent effectively can cause you to become depressed and leave your self worth in tatters.

Ways to cope when you're struggling with a new baby

Talk to the midwife or health visitor about your concerns

Midwives and health visitors are experienced professionals who will not be surprised by feelings of anxiety and depression. They will be able to allay any concerns you may have about your parenting skills and also point you in the right direction for support groups or individual support.

Don’t feel pressured to invite visitors to the hospital or to your home

When a new baby arrives everyone wants to celebrate, and it can be overwhelming to have a stream of visitors to your bedside or when you first arrive home. It is important to let your boundaries be known and if you want to take time to be alone with your baby then make it clear that you aren’t accepting visitors at this time but will let people know when they can see you and the baby. However, if you feel that you are reluctant to leave the home or see people for an extended period of time, this can be a sign of anxiety and you should speak to your midwife about this to see whether you require some support additional support.

Accept offers of help

If a trusted friend or relative wants to sit with your baby while you catch up on sleep, let them.

Talk about your feelings honestly

Whether you're talking to a health professional or to friends, let them know if you are struggling or if you want advice from experienced parents.

Try to find time to relax

Instead of trying to catch up on housework while your baby sleeps, take time to rest and unwind. Soak in the bath, take a nap, or watch your favourite programme. Do whatever it is that helps you to recharge.

Join a parent and baby group

Socialising with other new parents can help alleviate stress. Joining a parent and baby group is a relaxing, fun way to meet new people and to talk about your new baby and their development. Other parents may have advice about all manner of baby-related things, and the groups provide the opportunity for your baby to make new friends as they grow.

Try baby and parent exercise groups

Exercising at specifically devised baby and parent groups allows you to get some mood-lifting exercise and provides bonding opportunities for you both too. Be it baby yoga, or parent and child swimming sessions, these classes are great for both your newborn and your mental wellbeing.

Spend time outside 

Spending time among nature can boost your mood, so make it part of your daily routine to go for walks. During the summer months you'll get plenty of vitamin D from sunlight, which is not only essential for regulating calcium, but is also fantastic for elevating your mood. Taking a stroll with your new baby is also an excellent way to soothe them off to sleep, giving you the opportunity for some 'me time' when you return home.

Friday, 5 February 2021

Keeping the body and mind in shape during pregnancy

Pregnancy may be a time for great joy, but it is also a time when your body may experience some unexpected changes. These changes can be affect both the mind and body. As your hormone levels change you may experience physical discomfort in addition to emotional difficulties and these may in turn have an impact on your mental wellbeing. Fortunately, there are ways you can prepare for any potential changes and improve your mental and physical health.

Hormonal changes

During pregnancy, you experience a surge in both oestrogen and progesterone. This surge is necessary to assist with the growth of the fetus but can also have the unfortunate effect of changing your mood and causing physical discomfort. Because of these hormonal surges you may experience:

  • Low mood
  • Anxiety
  • Constipation
  • Cramp
  • Hot flushes
  • Feeling faint
  • Tiredness

In addition to hormonal surges, other factors can increase feelings of anxiety and even depression. The thought of becoming a new parent can be daunting, and you may at times doubt your capability to look after a baby. Having a child is a life-changing experience and it is therefore unsurprising that you may be feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities that come with being a new parent.

Steps you can take to improve your physical and mental health during pregnancy

Eat a healthy diet

The NHS highlights the importance of maintaining a balanced diet during pregnancy. There is no need to 'eat for two' during your pregnancy but increasing your fruit and vegetable intake not only ensures you are getting all the necessary minerals and vitamins but can help to keep your mind in optimum health. Healthy carbohydrates are essential for energy so if you are experiencing tiredness, eating potatoes, wholewheat pasta, and brown rice can help boost your energy levels.

Studies have shown that a healthy diet can aid mental wellbeing, specifically with regards to depression. One study, published last year, which concentrated on the effects of a Mediterranean style diet supplemented with fish oils, revealed that groups of people fed this particular type of diet saw decreased instances of depression.


Low impact exercise not only helps you physically but can also improve mental wellbeing. Exercise can help prepare you for labour and for recovery afterwards. The NHS advises that you should not exert yourself while exercising and that you should be able to hold a conversation comfortably while exercising. In the later stages of pregnancy, swimming is an excellent option as the water will support your weight as it increases.

You should avoid exercising on your back as the weight of your growing pregnancy bump can pump blood back towards the heart which will make you feel faint. Also avoid exercise that involves the risk of being hurt such as squash, rugby, judo, or kickboxing.

Activities that are safe and great for your wellbeing during pregnancy include:

Yoga: According to Harvard Health, "reviews of a wide range of yoga practices suggest they can reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and may be helpful for both anxiety and depression."

Yoga concentrates on specific movements and poses, and the transition from one pose to the next. During yoga you are taught to breathe at a regular pace at to be mindful of what your body is doing. Being in the moment and concentrating on specific movements helps you to focus your mind and to relax. 

Do find a good yoga class specifically for pregnant women and, if you are planning to join a regular yoga class, be sure to tell the instructor that you are pregnant before you begin. 

Meditation: Meditation requires you to concentrate and to focus on your breathing. It has been shown that regular meditation can maintain physical and mental wellbeing. For example, some people use meditation as a way to cope with pain as it can help to focus the mind. Being able to manage and even control some aspects of pain is a great stress-reliever. Research has also revealed that meditative movement such as Tai Chi and Quigong can help decrease depression and anxiety.

Tai Chi: Tai Chi is a slow-moving, dance-like practice which can be done alone or in groups. According to Dr Chenchen Wang, associate professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in Massachusetts:

“Tai chi, the Chinese low-impact mind-body exercise, has been practiced for centuries for health and fitness in the East and is currently gaining popularity in the West. It is believed to improve mood and enhance overall psychological wellbeing."

Dr Wang and her associates collated the findings of various studies to determine the positive effects that Tai Chi had on psychological health as well as physical health. The studies suggested that Tai Chi helped to reduce stress, depression, anxiety, and could increase self-esteem.

Speak to your midwifery team or GP if you feel that your mood is lower than normal or lasts for longer than two weeks. Antenatal depression is more common than you may think and can present itself in various ways:

  • Irritability and not wanting to be around other people
  • Less enjoyment of life 
  • Lack of confidence
  • Lack of or no motivation to do things you enjoyed previously
  • Low self-worth
  • Anxiety

Speaking to a health professional can ease your fears and can also help you engage in the right course of treatment for your mental health difficulties. This can take the form of counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, and prescribed medication. Your health care team can provide ongoing support for you during pregnancy and so it is important to make them aware of any mental health difficulties you are experiencing.

Friday, 22 January 2021

Wellbeing tips for staying happy during winter

Long, dark days and what sometimes seems like endless dreary weather can impact our mental and physical health. Winter is the season when we are more likely to suffer from colds, flu, and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and not to mention piling on the pounds. So why is it that winter leaves so many of us feeling under the weather?

Why winter can affect our mood

During the winter months there is less sunlight and this has for many years been believed to cause an imbalance in the brain, and ultimately affect our mood. SAD can be seriously damaging to our wellbeing as it has similar symptoms to depression, including anxiety, fatigue, sadness, and lack of concentration. The mechanism for this change was not fully understood, but some researchers believe they now know the cause. 

Medical News Today takes a closer look at a study undertaken by researchers at the University of Copenhagen. The researchers measured levels of a protein called SERT in participants and found that those with SAD had more SERT during the winter than the summer.

SERT effectively reduces the activity of serotonin in our brains and as serotonin is known to regulate our mood, researchers believe this reduction in serotonin activity can lead to the depressive symptoms known as SAD.

Ways to stay happy in the winter months

Fortunately, there are many ways we can increase our levels of happiness to keep us smiling and lift our mood in the winter.

Get walking – Bearing in mind the research mentioned above, it is perhaps not surprising that being outside and soaking up the sunlight and vitamin D is one of the best ways to combat SAD and winter blues (a less severe condition). If you find yourself travelling to and from work in the dark, make use of your lunch break, wrap up warm and go for a walk outdoors. 

Sleep well – Try adjusting your sleep pattern by going to bed earlier and rising earlier. It may be tempting to sleep more when it's dark and cold, but too much sleep can leave you feeling sluggish and even more tired. 

Drink water – Water is a wonderful elixir that can remove toxins from the body and improve brain function. Staying hydrated can combat fatigue, reduce headaches, and help balance our moods as well as keep our skin in tip-top condition.

Eat healthy - There’s no denying the cold weather can make us want to reach for sugary and stodgy comfort foods, but this doesn’t mean we have to grab the nearest chocolate bar or survive on takeaways. There are plenty of healthy options that can satisfy your comfort food cravings – try making hearty soups or stews using lots of seasonal vegetables and white meat, which will also boost your immune system.

Embrace the winter – By appreciating the beauty that winter brings and paying close attention to the smaller details, mindfulness can put you in a more positive and happier mood. Go sledging in the snow (with or without the children), notice the frost glistening on the trees, listen to a crackling fire and watch the flames dancing, or sit outside at night around a firepit and watch the stars twinkling in the night sky.

Do a winter workout – If you can’t face dragging yourself out to the gym or the local pool, do a workout in the comfort of your home with yoga, dancing or aerobics. There are plenty of workouts available online but if you prefer, just play your favourite upbeat music and dance!

Avoid colds – By eating plenty of foods that contain vitamin C, such as oranges, broccoli, cherries, chillies, peppers, blackcurrants, and strawberries, you can keep colds and viruses at bay. Although the antioxidants don’t always prevent you from catching a cold, they can reduce the duration and severity.

For more tips on how to cope with SAD, check out our free webinar 'Coping with seasonal affective disorder during lockdown'. 

You can also watch the recordings of our other winter wellbeing webinars here>

Thursday, 7 January 2021

How yoga can relieve anxiety and stress

Many of us at some point in our lives will experience anxiety or stress, and when left untreated, it can lead to more serious issues that can also affect our physical health. Sometimes we might not even realise that we are suffering from these disorders until they take a stronger grip on us. Some of the early warning signs of anxiety and stress include:

  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Constant worrying
  • Poor concentration
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbance
  • Panic attacks

If you're looking to try something new to help with your symptoms or to complement a talking therapy, yoga may offer some relief according to a recent study by NYU Langone Health / NYU School of Medicine. The study concluded that yoga may be helpful for relieving symptoms of anxiety in some people.

There are several forms of yoga, with some of the more familiar being Vinyasa, Hatha, Iyengar, Bikram and Kundalini. Each of these mind–body practices offers a complementary approach to mental and physical wellbeing, which can help you attain a healthier mind and body.

Yoga comprises various postures, breathing techniques, relaxation and meditation. By undertaking the yoga postures you can improve your body’s core strength and flexibility, and don’t worry that they might be too strenuous as there are different degrees of difficulty so you can choose the most appropriate yoga class for you.

Also known as Pranayama, breathing plays an integral role in yoga and is used to help you control your body and also quieten your mind. Depending on the different levels of yoga, there is a range of breathing techniques which vary in complexity.

More often than not, meditation, or dhyana, accompanies yoga and the breathing techniques to help you relax and focus your mind. Yoga meditation allows you to think more clearly and live in the present moment so that can ground yourself both physically and mentally.

The health benefits of yoga

As well as helping to ease symptoms of stress and anxiety, there are a number of physical health benefits associated with yoga, which include:

  • strengthening of muscles
  • an increase in energy
  • improvement in breathing
  • an increase in flexibility
  • weight loss
  • a healthier heart

All of the above benefits can also reduce the risk of suffering from health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, back pain, arthritis, headaches, depression, anxiety and stress. 

Visit the NHS website for more information about yoga and its health benefits >

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Day 12 – Twelve drummers drumming – Set your new rhythmn

Now we’re on the twelth day of Christmas, you will hopefully have a better idea of what’s important to you, what you enjoy and where you’d like to be in the future. So it’s time to start setting your new rhythm for the year! 

Monday, 4 January 2021

Day 11 – Eleven pipers piping – The power of music

Music has been shown to have a huge impact on our mood. Music doesn’t have to be conventional music, it could be melodious birdsong, the sound of waves on a beach, classical, pop or anything in between. Put your favourite sounds on today, close your eyes and really listen.

Day 10 – Ten lords are leaping – Set smart goals and leap!

How is your life at present? Are you happy, or is there somewhere you’d rather be? Perhaps you have your eye on a promotion, new career direction, university course, new hobby or skill, or want to move home or country. Work out where you want to be and what steps you need to get there. Then start leaping like a lord! 

Read more about goalsetting here >