It's no secret that becoming a new mom can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life—but it can also be one of the scariest and most stressful.
"Motherhood is a major life transition, and you will feel the whole spectrum of human emotion from fear and loneliness to the heights of joy and love," says Kayleigh Pleas, a wellness coach in New York City. Due to the hard-wired "negativity bias" of the brain, it's natural to focus on the challenges —sleepless nights, extra baby weight to lose, and the overwhelming responsibility you now have—which may help explain why as many as 80% of new moms experience the baby blues.
"The key is to respond to the inevitable challenges of motherhood with wisdom and kindness, while at the same time remembering the positive things in life," says Pleas.
Here, she offers some tools from the field of positive psychology (yes, the study of how to feel happier) that will help you navigate the challenges of becoming a new parent. That way you can focus on simply savoring all that is so amazingly good about it:
A lot of women find new motherhood difficult and frustrating—and then they feel ashamed for thinking that way. Of course, you know you should give yourself a break, but that's a lot easier said than done.
Pleas suggests three steps to showing yourself a little compassion:
Identify how you're feeling. Be mindful and say to yourself, for example, "I'm feeling scared about taking care of another person," "I'm overwhelmed by how much my life has changed," "I'm a little blue," or "I'm frustrated that I now have all these stretch marks." (Talk to your doctor if you're feeling very down longer than two weeks postpartum so she can be sure that you're not suffering from depression, which can affect as many as 20 percent of new moms.)
Remember, millions of other women are experiencing exactly what you're experiencing. This is a concept called "shared humanity" and it can help a person feel less isolated. There's something very comforting knowing that you're not alone in this.
Be a friend to yourself. "Think about what you would tell your best friend if she said she was feeling exactly what you're feeling right now," Pleas suggests. "Then tell it to yourself."
We all know that couple time is much more difficult to come by when you have a new baby. However, small steps make a difference.
"Creating mini-pockets of time where you connect with your partner is very important as it says to each other, 'We're in this together,'" says Pleas. One way to do that is to connect through breathing.
At the end of the day when you and/or your partner comes home from work, take one minute to sit and take five deep breaths together. Look into each other's eyes while doing so and put your hands on each other's back to actually feel one another breathing. Doing this not only helps you bond with your partner, but it also helps you quiet your brain and manage stress better.
"One of the best indicators of well-being is the strength of a person's social connections," says Pleas. However, new moms often become isolated at home, taking care of their new babies and all the responsibilities that come along with motherhood.
Make sure you carve out some time to meet up with old friends or make new ones: Ask a relative to come watch the baby so you can have lunch with a favorite girlfriend, join a mommy-and-me group, or start a weekly play date with other new moms in your area. Ask your pediatrician for suggestions of such groups in your area; your local preschool, YMCA, and religious centers can offer good outlets, too.
Keeping a gratitude journal really helps you shift your perspective away from the negative and toward the positive. No matter how stressful or overwhelming your day might be, there are always moments worth celebrating, says Pleas.
"In order to train your brain to notice what is going right, take the time to write down three things you're grateful for every single night before you go to bed," she suggests. Jot a sentence about each, and be as specific as possible: For instance, don't just write, "I'm grateful for my baby." Instead, write, "I'm grateful for that moment this morning when my daughter looked me right in the eye and smiled."
You can keep a gratitude journal on your own, but it's even better if you do it with your partner and share your thoughts with each other.
When you are feeling particularly down, take 15 minutes and write about what you care deeply about and how you are going to commit to it. "Research shows doing so leads to a boost in resilience, compassion, mood, and perseverance during difficult tasks," says Pleas.
First, make a list of your top three values. Examples include virtues like integrity, patience, and courage; personal qualities like humor and curiosity; or personal commitments to a particular cause or tradition. Next choose one of the values and write about why you care about it and how you'll incorporate it into your life.
"As new mom's lives are changing so quickly, identifying your values and exploring new ways to live out your commitment to what you care about is essential," Pleas explains. "Of course, new moms might have to alter what that commitment looks like, but that doesn't mean it can't be a part of their lives any more."