The goal of the Mental Health Mom Stories is for Moms and Moms-to-be to share their stories to be used to help inspire, uplift and spread awareness about mental health and motherhood.
Whether you suffer from depression, PPD, PTSD, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder or something else your story may help change the life of another mom reader and that’s important to me!
23 Reasonable Ways to Manage Your Depression As a Mom
Activities You Can Incorporate Into Your Day-to-Day Routine to Help Prevent a Depressive Episode
Create a Daily Preventive Plan and Write it Down.
Much like you would with a crisis plan or a safety plan, create a plan for you to combat or cope with your depression. What activities will you do every day to reduce stress? What self-care activities can you implement? What will your exercise routine look like?
What is your plan of action when a depressive episode hits? What will you do in a full-blown crisis?
Being preventive and having a plan in place will help you to feel more in control. It will also empower you to parent your children and to teach those around you about depression.
Identify the early warning signs.
How can you tell when you are really struggling? How do you feel? What are your thoughts? What are the physical signs that things are about to get real?
Pay attention to your body and what it is trying to tell you. It is giving you clues that you are about to go into that downward spiral.
When you see the signs, put the next plan of action into place. Be prepared, much like you would if you had cancer or diabetes.
Identify the triggers.
Are there times that are worse than others? What triggers the really bad episodes?
Figure out what could bring on an episode, and create a plan. Find a way to prevent it from happening, to remove the trigger from your life, or at the very least, to somehow stay away from it.
Outline your plan of action for when you do get depressed.
You will work hard to prevent depression from hitting. But we both know it is going to come, at some point. No matter how much preventive care you build into your day.
So be prepared when it comes.
Create a list of things you can do when you are depressed; things that will give you a bit of relief, even if just for a bit. And then do them!
Just habitually walk through the list, crossing the items off as you complete them. Train your body to work on autopilot so that your mind can spend this time recuperating and caring for itself.
Create a crisis plan.
Not all depressive episodes are created equal. Some will be worse than others. And for those really bad ones, you need a crisis plan.
This needs to be your ‘when the shoe hits the fan’ plan.
Some major things to consider:
Who will be your partner in this?
Who will care for the children?
What responsibilities will you have that need to be delegated?
What will you do, to care for yourself?
Who will take care of you?
When is it time to call the doctor?
Creating a preventive plan is the first step to managing your depression. It won’t make it go away, it won’t magically help you to overcome it. But it will give you a little power and control over the depression.
It can hit. And that’s okay. You’ll be ready.
Create Good Daily Habits
When you are good and healthy, spend a lot of time developing good, daily habits. These habits will help you to cope with pain and stress more effectively, which in turn will keep the depression at bay for a bit longer.
Plus, having good habits creates a regular routine. And a routine is something that we do without really thinking about it. If you can regularly do things that keep the depression at bay on a daily basis, without even really thinking about it, that would be good, right?
And if you are lucky, you would also routinely do these things even in the midst of a small episode. These daily habits and routines could help pull you out of that episode faster.
Good daily habits can create longer periods of time in between depressive episodes, and it can cut down on the length of each episode.
This is definitely something you want to incorporate into your daily routine. Start when you are feeling good, and turn it into a habit. That way, when you aren’t feeling good, it is still habit to lace up those tennies every day.
Exercise is so, so important to a mom with depression. Why? Because it helps your body to release endorphins – those ‘feel good’ hormones that your body is terribly low on when you are depressed.
Web MD states, “These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as ‘euphoric.’ That feeling, known as a ‘runner’s high,’ can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.”
Exercise can help you to create more endorphins, create more energy and give you a positive outlook on life. Exercise also helps you to sleep better. So it basically combats all of the symptoms of depression that are going to interfere with your parenting.
Why wouldn’t you do it?
Just start slow, on the days you feel good. And slowly build yourself a daily routine.
Eat Right and Drink Plenty of Water
You don’t realize how much your food affects how you feel. What you eat totally affects how you feel.
When you eat greasy food, you feel bloated, full, greasy and gross.
When you eat a ton of sugar, you just feel blah.
And when you eat healthy, loaded with fruits and veggies, you feel light on your feet, clean and overall, just good.
Try it! Just start adding healthier foods into your diet. You don’t need to make any drastic changes. Start slow. It only takes a few days for your body to respond.
Build eating healthier into your daily habits, and drinking tons of water (which continuously flushes out your system and keeps you hydrated) to keep yourself feeling good.
Eating healthy can help combat the lack of energy and emotional stress that comes with depression.
You don’t have to be a writer to journal. There are many forms of journaling – you can draw, paint, cut out pictures, scrapbook, or bullet journal. Any form of expressing your feelings will do the trick.
Journaling is a proven therapeutic strategy for combatting many mental illnesses, not just depression.
The act of writing something down or getting your thoughts on paper in some form will help to make you more aware of your thoughts, let’s you take control, and shifts your viewpoint. It also helps you to become aware of patterns in your depression.
You can discover your trigger points or figure out your early warning signs through your journals.
Care for a Pet
Pet therapy is another proven way to manage depression.
Petting an animal can cause your brain to release endorphins, according to Health Line! Who knew?
Owning a pet might bring on added stress, so think long and hard about whether or not having a pet to care for is a great strategy for you.
But there are other ways to use pet therapy, without actually having to own a pet – you can ‘borrow’ a friend or family member’s pet. Or you could volunteer at the humane society, vet, or boarding house for pets.
However, you work it in, consider using pet therapy as another way to prevent your depression – and as a way to increase your endorphins when you are feeling depressed.
Find a Hobby
When you are depressed, you naturally lose interest in those things that you used to love and enjoy.
So when you are feeling healthy, be sure to spend time doing those very things – and often. They will ‘fill your cup’ and help you to find joy in your life. This will help keep the depression at bay for a little bit longer.
Plus, the hobby itself is often very therapeutic, much like journaling or caring for a pet.
And it can be anything! Don’t let thoughts of “but I’m not artistic” or “I hate music” keep you from finding a hobby. A hobby can be literally anything.
Some hobbies to try:
- Painting, coloring or drawing
- Baking or cooking
- Knitting or crocheting
- Learning to play an instrument
- Music and dance
- Taking up any kind of sport
- Rock collecting and polishing
- Collecting Stamps
And etc! The list could go on and on. Get into the practice of doing your hobby on a regular basis – make it part of your self-care routine. Most moms think that taking time out for themselves in this format is selfish. But you need to remember that you are taking care of yourself so that you can take care of your kiddos.
And that, my dear girl, is selfless.
Help Someone Else
There is always someone in this world who has it worse off than us.
If you have depression, the mom down the road might be suffering from clinical depression.
If you are the mom with clinical depression, little Suzie’s mom might be suffering from social anxiety and depression.
It of course, makes your illness no less bad; it doesn’t mean that little Suzie’s mom trumps you and you should be able to pull your crap together.
It means that you might have something to offer little Suzie’s mom.
You’ve been there – sort of. You understand. And you can help in a way mom’s who have never been there can’t even begin to.
When you are feeling healthy, reach out to those who are less fortunate, in any way (not just in the mental health arena). Maybe old man Joe down the road needs someone to rake his leaves. Or Janey needs a place to go after school until her mom gets off of work.
Helping someone else out will make you feel better about yourself, and it will help you to appreciate all of the blessings you have in your own life.
Just be sure to take it in bite-sized pieces. Don’t immediately go crazy and burn yourself out. You don’t want to add more stress to your life; you just want to help someone else ease a little of theirs.
Play With Your Kids
You love your children and want to give all of yourself to them at all times.
Depression steals that away from you.
But kids are amazingly resilient.
If they have a good relationship with you, know that they are loved, and are otherwise healthy, living in a healthy, stable environment, then they are able to take your depression in strides, and bounce back from your lowest moments.
The key is to really work on your relationship with them while you are feeling good. Spend time with them, play with them, and be the mom you wish you could be all of the time.
And then when you are depressed, be honest with them. Let them know you are not feeling well. If they are older, you can educate them and show them how they can help. If they are younger, you can simply explain that ‘mommy is sick right now’.
Be sure that they understand that they are still loved for and cared for; you just need some time to rest and get better.
Use Affirmations or a Mantra
Affirmations are positive phrases that really speak to you and whatever situation you are going through. They are phrases that you can say to yourself over and over, day in and day out, until you really believe it.
Some examples of affirmations that might be helpful are:
- I am okay in this moment
- I am a silent warrior.
- I am resilient.
- My pain won’t last forever.
- I am strong, even in my weakness.
- I am separate from my depression.
If you need help finding a few affirmations that speak to you, just hop on google and do a little research. You should get plenty to choose from. Pinterest would be another great place to look.
Related: Affirmations for women on self-love
Mantras are similar to affirmations; the difference being mantras are generally considered more ‘sacred’ and used in more of a devotional way. A few examples might be:
- Let it go.
- This too shall pass.
- I will get better.
- This is a moment of suffering.
- I am enough.
Again, do some research to find the ones that really speak to you. And then post them around your house, write them down daily, and say them over and over to yourself.
Be Mindful of Your Thoughts
Negative thought patterns can help to maintain your depression. They can hold you captive in your hopelessness and despair.
Since we are working to bring about more time between each depressive episode, we definitely want to work on our thought patterns.
Start by being aware of your negative thoughts. This can be simply mentally noting them, or you can take it a step further by recording them. Write them down in a journal, keep a little notebook by you at all times, index cards or sticky notes. Or simply use the notes function in your cell phone.
After you have tracked your thoughts for some time, start to pay attention to what triggers those thoughts. Is it a certain chain of events? Something someone said to you? A situation you often find yourself in?
Take some time to rewrite those negative thoughts into something powerful. For example, “I’m a bad mom” might become “I’m parenting the best that I can in this moment”. “No one would miss me if I were gone” might become “My friends and family appreciate me in their lives” and so on.
Carry these new thoughts with you. Use them as affirmations. And every time you are faced with the trigger you identified in the tracking process, replace that negative thought that habitually pops up with your new and improved super thought.
Know Your Limits
Taking care of yourself is crucial to preventing depression and to taking care of your children. Therefore, you need to know your limits.
If you created your preventive and crisis plan, then you spent some time identifying what triggers an episode of depression. Your limit is somewhere right before that trigger.
Pay attention to your body and what it is telling you – physically, emotionally, and mentally. Be mindful of your thoughts, your feelings and the way your body responds to every situation. They will clue you in on your limits.
When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, out of control, panicked or just slipping into that downward spiral, your body is telling you that you have reached your limit. Pay attention to what events or situations happened just before those feelings.
Write them down, if you need to. Start to identify them. That way, you can make a plan to overcome or to work around those limits. Maybe someone else needs to handle those certain events that can trigger an episode of depression. Maybe there are activities or responsibilities that you can give up or delegate.
You are not super mom – no one is. You don’t have to do it all. You can let go or work around the situations that are going to harm you and your family.
In an article on Psych Central, Therese J. Borchard states, “All over the world, research has shown that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) can halve the risk of future clinical depression in people who have already been depressed several times. Its effects seem comparable to antidepressant medications.”
Mindfulness, in a nutshell, is ‘being aware of what you are doing, while you are doing it.’
To use mindfulness, sit quietly for a moment. Completely empty your head of all thoughts. And then pick an object in your surroundings to focus on. Maybe it’s a cup of coffee, maybe it’s the fuzzy slippers on your feet.
Slowly become aware of this object, using your five senses. Breathe in and breathe out, slowly and deeply. Focus all of your thoughts on this object. Feel the soft, fuzziness of the slippers, the way they dangle barely on your toes, the cool air on your heel, sticking out from the bottom. Let the smell of the coffee you’re your nostrils, the cup warm your hand. Breathe in and exhale.
Laura P., on Everyday Mindfulness, states, on the use of mindfulness to combat her depression, “And right from the first time, I found it enabled me to find a tiny bit of compassion for myself. Even if it was just being grateful for my able body, or how calming the air felt as it came into my nostrils. These small, precious moments came together to give me a new awareness of myself, of my ability to just pause and be.”
She went on to say, “Mindfulness showed me I could be present, feel the physical containment of being in my body, in the way my own skin holds me together. That’s incredibly powerful when you generally feel like nothing is under control. It was to be the start of my recovery…”
12.7% of the U.S. population takes an antidepressant.
Antidepressants work by balancing the chemicals in your brain that cause depression. These chemicals are neurotransmitters that affect your mood and emotions.
If nothing else seems to be working, or the depression is unmanageable and wreaking havoc with your life and your family, you might want to consider medication.
Talk to your doctor to determine if medication is the right treatment for you.
See Your Doctor Often
Don’t wait to be depressed to see your doctor. Keep regular appointments and check-ups, just like you would with any other condition you may be doctoring for. Prevention is key. And your doctor is a big part of that preventive plan.
Things to Try When You Are Feeling Depressed
Whether it’s for a walk or just to sit in the sun, going outside can ease your symptoms of depression.
Some studies have found that being in nature, as in, a park or woods, produces the best effects. If you can, go for a walk out in the country or spend some time in a garden. Go for a hike or a run.
If you can’t, just sit in the sun. Being in the sun can trigger the release of hormones in your brain, helping to lift your mood.
Draw or Paint
Drawing and painting will help you to get your emotions out of you and onto the paper. It can be very therapeutic.
Art therapy is used to complement other forms of treatment, and cannot be considered treatment in and of itself. But it has been known to break through barriers that may be blocking the benefits of psychotherapy.
Other forms of art therapy, according to Everyday Health, include:
- Drama therapy, which uses storytelling and acting
- Music therapy, which can be used passively to relieve anxiety and depression through listening or as an active and creative therapy by playing and writing music
Art therapy works by identifying, expressing and changing the negative thoughts associated with depression.
Read a Book
Sometimes all you need is just to escape for a bit. While alcohol or drugs will grant you that wish, they are not the most healthy of options, and can, in fact, cause many, many worse problems for you than your current situation.
One of my favorite escapes from reality is in a book.
You can use books as a way to find relief from your current situation and ease your symptoms for a bit.
Or you can use it as part of your treatment.
Some doctors are now prescribing bibliotherapy.
Bibliotherapy is, according to Smithsonian Magazine, “The use of books selected on the basis of content in a planned reading program designed to facilitate the recovery of patients suffering from mental illness or emotional disturbance. “
It works by prescribing a book that has a main character going through a somewhat similar situation as you. And through the process of reading the book, you identify with the main character and associate your life with his, drawing some sort of insight from it to change your life.
Take what you want from it; treatment or an escape. Either way, books work.
Sink into a Bubble Bath
Turn the lights down low, light a candle, and sink down up to your nose.
We all believe that there is something relaxing about taking a bubble bath. There’s no doubt that the dimmed lights, sound of running water and calming scents of the candles and the bubble bath flavors can help us unwind.
But regular warm bathing is actually associated with alleviating symptoms of depression.
“Those battling depression often have a disrupted or delayed circadian rhythm (which is why insomnia is a common symptom of the condition). By regularly increasing participants’ body temperatures, the researchers believe they were able to improve their circadian rhythms—and in turn alleviate some of their depression symptoms”, writes Samantha Lauriello in Why Taking a Bath Could Be Better for Treating Depression Than Exercise on Health.com.
Bathing doesn’t actually increase endorphins, those feel-good hormones that we so badly need, like exercise does, but it eases the symptoms of depression and it does help with the circadian rhythm of our bodies.
Talk to Someone
If you are feeling the symptoms of depression, you might have the urge to totally isolate yourself. But try to resist, and find a good friend to talk to.
Talking to someone can help you to get those negative feelings out and in the open. It can help you to sort through those feelings, identify them, feel them, and then release them.
Friends are good for that. They are there to help you release those feelings. A friend’s job is to build you back up when you feel beat down.
Talking with a friend can help you to put your feelings into perspective as well. Things are very seldom as they seem – a friend can point out a different point of view, and help you to see the situation from more than one angle.
If nothing else, talking with a friend will help release the tension and let all that emptiness out.
Slow Things Down
As soon as you feel the warning signs, slow down. Take it easy. Start delegating tasks. Refer to your plan and take good care of yourself.
If you need to, figure out a way to slow things down on a daily basis, as a form of prevention. You don’t need to be super mom. You don’t have to do it all. You can delegate the stressful things to someone else and take the tasks on that fill you up and give you joy.
Find simple pleasures in the day, in your family. And dwell on them. Mentally note the things you are grateful for – the warm water on your toes, the smell of that candle, the hot tea you are sipping. You don’t necessarily need to feel anything about them. Just note them.
Slow things down on a regular basis, but especially when you feel yourself slipping.
Give Yourself Permission to Feel Bad
Your feelings are real. They are not good or bad. They are symptoms of depression. They come with the territory.
If you had a broken leg, no one would ever tell you that the pain you feel isn’t real.
Likewise, the pain you feel in the midst of depression is most certainly real.
Allow yourself to feel it. Don’t hide from it, deny it or run away from it.
Don’t try to cover it up.
It is what it is. Feel it, all of it.
Set a timer – give yourself five, ten or fifteen minutes to feel it. Let it out in any way that suits you: have a good cry, wallow in your pity, dwell on it, work it out with paints, a journal or a good run.
When the timer beeps, you are done.
Yes, the pain is still there. It is still real. But much like the person with the broken leg, you still have to go on about your day. Carry the pain with you, if you need to.
But get a move on.
Refer to your crisis plan and implement your self-care routines. Ease the pain in any way that you can. And put your body on auto pilot as you go about your day. Try to ignore the pain, just as you would if you had a broken leg.
That dull, aching sensation will still be there. But you must carry on anyway.
Breathe in, deeply. Suck in as much oxygen as you can. Fill your body up, right down to your toes.
And exhale. Push it all out – empty your body again.
And breathe in again, deeply, slowly.
Clear your mind of any and all thoughts and focus only on your breathing – the sensations of the breath going in and out of your body.
Slowly inhale through your nose, hold your breath for just a few seconds, and then slowly exhale through your mouth.
Do this until you start to feel yourself calm down and feel a bit more centered.
Louisa Valvano wrote in an article on Stress.org titled ‘Deep Breathing Helps Anxiety and Depression’:
“Breathing deeply slows down the release of cortisol, a stress hormone, which is why there is a link between stress and breathing. Stress heightens the symptoms of anxiety and depression, which is why breathing is said to help with this.”When the world gets crazy around you, remember to breathe.Click To Tweet
When You Are In Crisis
When you are in crisis, refer to your crisis plan. Follow the procedures you have outlined.
Find someone to care for your kids. Find someone to take care of your responsibilities. These things should be outlined in your crisis plan and all parties should be well informed, educated and agreed upon the plan – and ready to act – in a moment’s notice.
You are sick and you need to take care of you.
Better yet, find someone else to take care of you.
Know when it is time to call your doctor, time to go see the doctor. If thoughts of suicide are a very real possibility, be sure you have a pact with someone outlined in your crisis plan: you promise not to act on those thoughts until you have talked to that person.
Be sure your plan outlines safety precautions as well. Only you and your family know how severe this depression can get. Anything that you can use to harm yourself in any way – mentally, emotionally or physically – should be nowhere near you.
Be sure everyone on your team understands and signs off on this plan – including your doctor.
Not all of the above-mentioned tactics will work for you.
This list is a good starting point. Take a few that you think have a shot at working for you and give them a try. If they don’t work, pick a couple of others.
Talk to your doctor. He or she will have more suggestions.
Depression is an illness. You need to treat it as one.
You would never expect a mom with cancer to be a super mom. You would expect her to slow things down and spend some time taking care of herself; getting well for her and her family.
You need to do the same for you and your family. Yes, your number one priority is your family. But you are no good to your family if you are not around, or if you are an empty shell, merely going through the motions.
Take care of yourself. Create a preventive plan. Implement self-care. Create good daily habits. And refer to your crisis plan when the shoe hits the fan.
About Shannon Lambert
Shannon Lambert is a freelance writer living in Northern Minnesota. She writes for parenting blogs and nonprofit organizations and has a background in social work and psychology. Check out her free guide for stay-at-home-moms at Making Mommas. Review Part One of the series here.
Subscribe to the She’s A Wreck Newsletter for weekly motivational notes from Autumn, as a reminder to manage depression it is recommended that you begin by speaking to a healthcare professional.