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6 Tips for New Moms to Manage the Stress of the Holiday Season

December 4, 2009

Recently I was asked to write an article for Happy and Healthy Mom.Com, a site focused on helping new moms and moms-to-be take care of themselves.  I was asked to write about helping new moms deal with the stress of adjusting to motherhood, which has the potential of being even greater at this time of year. Stress at the holidays seems to be a popular topic for me right now! Last night I was a guest on a teleseminar hosted by Courageous Loving on the topic of Empowered Parenting: How to Turn the Holidays into Opportunities for Growth.  Although we had a few technical difficulties getting it going, it turned out to be a really great conversation. You can listen to the recording here.

Below is the article I wrote for Happy and Healthy Mom.Com. Although it focuses on new moms during the holiday season, much of the advice for managing stress is applicable to all parents at any time of the year.  I am continually developing and working on my own skills in this area.  It’s not something that you just achieve once and never have to work on again. I’d love to hear your comments on what works for you with managing parenting stress.

Before you ever had children you may have conjured up a scene in your imagination for a joyous, heartwarming holiday season. Perhaps you imagined your own version of a madonna and child scene as you held your new infant in the glow of the holiday lights. Perhaps you looked forward to the excitement in your toddler’s face as he saw a pile of presents just for him. My hope is that you have at least a few of those special moments.

However, the reality of the holiday season can be quite different. It is often a very stressful season with disrupted routines, shorter days, and colder weather. The risk for depression can be much greater at this time, particularly if you are experiencing any financial, relationship or health stressors. Throw in a baby to the mix, and you’ve got the potential for not feeling so great. Along with all the positive aspects of welcoming a child into your life, a new baby usually brings multiple adjustments and strains such as sleep deprivation, social isolation, loneliness, physical demands on your body, possible relationship changes, and the stress of working – or not working outside of the home.

Up to 50-70 percent of new moms experience a period of the “blues” soon after giving birth. The blues are closely related to hormonal changes and physical exhaustion associated with having a newborn. Moms may experience an intense range of emotions, often not understanding what they are feeling or why. Fortunately, for most moms the blues are often resolved on their own within the first few weeks after birth. The blues are distinguished from post partum depression, which lasts longer and is more intense. Women who feel extremely sad or anxious for most of the time for a period of more than two weeks may be suffering from post partum depression.  Post partum depression does not go away on its own. Women experiencing symptoms (read here for more information) should seek professional help. Mothers who are having any thoughts of harming themselves or their babies should seek immediate help (read here for resources). The good news is that post partum depression is treatable.

Even if you don’t meet the criteria for post partum depression, there may be times when you feel overwhelmed with the stress of adjusting to your new role as a mom and all that entails. And with the added stress of the holiday season, the overwhelm may be even greater. Below are a few tips to help you manage.

  1. Develop a practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness refers to staying in the present moment and being aware of your experience without judging or trying to change it. It involves developing an attitude of acceptance. Maybe you would love to be shopping for holiday gifts, but here you are home with your slightly ill baby. Accept that here is where you are right now. Other things may or may not get done later.
  2. Understand that adjustment is a process. Becoming comfortable in your new role, developing a sense of acceptance, and practicing mindfulness are all processes that take time. Be patient with yourself.
  3. Examine your thought patterns and triggers for negative emotions. Try to take a step back and look at your patterns before they start to spiral into a more negative cycle.
  4. Calm your body. See what works for you. Maybe it’s yoga, maybe it’s running. Explore breathing and muscle relaxation exercises. Or maybe for you, listening to music or calling an old friend are the best tension relievers. Experiment to see what is most effective for you and your body for creating a sense of calmness in your body.
  5. Value your relationships. It often feels as if there is no time for anyone other than your baby, but your relationships with adults are so important for your mental well-being. Make time for you and your partner as a couple. Maintain connections with friends and family who are important to you, and develop a network of new mom friends. All of this is much easier said than done, but if you don’t make it a priority, it will not happen.  Having supportive people in your life that you can honestly share your feelings with is vitally important for managing stress.
  6. Practice gratitude. People who are in the habit of recognizing things they are grateful for are less depressed. In fact, psychologists have found that the mood of depressed people can be improved by training them in the practice of gratitude. Whether you start a gratitude journal or find another form to express your gratitude, developing the practice is likely to have great benefit.

Taking care of yourself is key to becoming an empowered parent. Even though they may not have an awareness or understanding of what is going on around them, babies can feel their parents’ stress. Opportunities for tuning into your baby are often lost if you’re not first able to care for yourself.  So take care of yourself and your baby and have a realistically good holiday season!

Resources

Ledley, D. R. (2009). Becoming a calm mom. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Vieten, C. (2009). Mindful motherhood. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 4, 2009 10:29 am

    Thanks for the article! It should be very helpful to new moms.

  2. December 13, 2009 10:04 am

    I also let go of how I wanted things to be. We waited too long to get a tree (infected C-section etc….) and two days before Christmas they were $80 for Charlie Brown trees. We got a fake one for $25 at the Ace Hardware around the corner. It was awesome! No one had to worry about watering it, it looked pretty, it didn’t make a mess. (I NEVER thought I would have a fake tree, but I simply could not be responsible for anything else at the time.) We get it out every year and it makes us think of that first Christmas and how we learned a little to simplify, to let go of our image of how we wanted things to be and to truly celebrate the here and now. (Plus, the lights are already on the tree, so we don’t have to wrestle with lights every year…) I think moms should catch a break wherever they can! Thanks for the article.

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