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

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By Kathleen Cuneo, Ph.D.

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 toddlerʼs 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 youʼve 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. Postpartum 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 donʼt 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 itʼs yoga, maybe itʼs 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 wellbeing. 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 donʼt 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 parentsʼ stress. Opportunities for tuning into your baby are often lost ifyouʼre not first able to care for yourself. So take care of yourself and your baby and have a realistically good holiday season!

Resources

http://www.apa.org/pi/wpo/postpartum_depre.html

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

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

About the Author
Kathleen Cuneo, Ph.D. is a psychologist and parent coach, specializing in work with

young children and their parents. Her mission is to empower parents to find their own

parenting voice and develop strong connections with their children. Visit her website, www.drcuneo.com , to sign up for her free special report, “30 Things You Can Do To Raise Self-Confident, Compassionate Children” and her free e-newsletter.

Posted by hahmom   @   1 December 2009 1 comments

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1 Comments

Comments
Sep 11, 2010
11:11 pm

This is a great post! I’m a new mom headed into my first holiday season with a baby! Of course I’m super excited, but also aware that it can be a stressful time if we’re not careful to guard ourselves and our families from insanity! 🙂 These are great tips for anyone, not just new moms. Well said.

Thanks for finding the Oh Baby! group on MBC. This looks like a great website with lots of resources for moms.

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