Maternal Mental Health Tips with Dr. Helena Vissing

Maternal Mental Health Tips with Dr. Helena Vissing

What are your top mental health tips for new and expecting mother’s during this time?

So many of the usual recommendations and tips I give expecting and new mothers for their mental health are right now limited or even impossible because of the pandemic.

It can be helpful to look at one’s expectations and how they might be adjusted. We have had to adjust pretty much everything because of this new situation – so it makes sense that we also have to adjust our expectations for ourselves. I find that it’s often ongoing work to adjust expectations. It can be good to check in with yourself about your expectations, for example if you are noticing an increase in stress – could some expectations be contributing to the stress, and could they be adjusted? 

What is Somatic Therapy and how does it support perinatal mental health?

Somatic therapy is therapy that brings the body into focus; the nervous system and the ways that our emotional health is intertwined with our biology. It’s an approach that seeks to build awareness of what’s going on in the body and the nervous system. It can be combined with other forms of therapy or used alone, and is effective for building good self-regulation, which is crucial for reducing anxiety and stress.

The underlying idea in somatic therapy is that we naturally have the capacities to regulate and reduce anxiety and heal trauma – if we are supported in connecting to those capacities through building up a connection to our body and our sensations.

Becoming a mother is life transformation that yes, includes a lot of overwhelm and stress – but it’s also a transformation of significant growth. I like to say that becoming a mother is a “Nervous System Upgrade” – your entire nervous system expands and adjusts to taking care of a baby. This is intense and sometimes hard, and also a unique opportunity for growth. This is why Somatic Therapy is very relevant and useful for Perinatal Mental Health. It’s impossible to support and help a mother if you are not including all the things going on in her body and nervous system as she is building her relationship with her baby and recovering from pregnancy and childbirth. Somatic Therapy is also a gentle and trauma-informed approach that is designed to reduce overwhelm and help you feel resourced in your body – things that are also very important for new moms. 

What are some grounding techniques women can practice during this time?

A simple but effective grounding technique that I can recommend, especially during this time, is what I call “focusing on the landing”. Our nervous systems are constantly getting activation and then deactivated; in other words, we naturally experience the waves of getting anxious or upset and then settling down again. Biologically speaking, anxiety is when we are spending more time being upset and activated and not as much time in the state of being settled and calmed. But even when we struggle with anxiety and stress, we are never constantly at a max – our anxiety and stress will peak and then come down again, even if just shortly. It’s important to practice focusing on the times we are coming down from having been activated. We naturally do this in that we are of course relieved when starting to feel more calm after having been overwhelmed, but it’s something you can expand on by really noticing all the tiniest details of how you are coming down and landing. What do you notice in your body when you go from say a 10 out of 10 of anxiety to an 8 or a 7 or maybe all the way down to a 3 or 2? What does that feel like in your body? What do you notice about your breath, your heart rate, your voice, your temperature, your sensations, your feelings? Does it happen when you sit in a particular chair or in a particular way? Or does it happen when you go for a walk or you get to do a certain activity? The more we can notice and track the sensations of coming down and landing, the more we know about that shift and what helps it happen. This might sound very challenging when you have a baby, but also babies come down from being upset. We might have a really hard day with our baby being fussy and crying, but when the moments comes when your baby stops crying, it’s very important to really feel into that and connect it to the sensations in your body. What does it feel like in those moments of calmness, when your baby has settled? It’s important to pause and really notice what it feels like and slow down to feel into it – with practice it can help you expand on those moments and get even more recharging from them.

What advice do you have for mothers staying connected and reflective during this time?

Many of us are used to reflecting and thinking on a mental level – being a parent requires you to constantly think and consider things, it’s actually quite reflective work to parent. But one thing you might not be used to is to reflect and track what’s going on in your nervous system and body. Not just if you have some kind of medical issue or ache, but also all the in-between and particularly all the positive things going on in your body. We will naturally get focused on our bodies when something uncomfortable comes up, like pain or discomfort, but I recommend to balance this with just as much attention to all the positive and pleasurable and comfortable sensations going on in your body and nervous system. Even if it’s just a tiny thing – like enjoying the smell of your tea, or the sensation of the water on your hands when you baby your baby, and of course all the pleasurable sensations of caring for your child – reflect on those, notice them, bring it into your conversations, journal about it. In that way, you can amplify them and it can help you reflect in new ways.

Mamas — how have you been staying connected and reflective during this time?

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