During a psychology class in college, the professor said there a three experiences that cause more stress than any other life events: death of a loved one, divorce, and childbirth. The first two seemed understandable because they're about loss. But I was always curious how something that involves bringing life into the world could be so stressful. It wasn't until I became a parent that I realized how true his words were. I wish I knew then how I could tell friends and family some of the ways to help a new mom stave off anxiety. But like many first-time parents, I didn't have the ability to articulate or even ask for support.
If you're anything like the wonderful people around me, you desperately want ways to offer some solution or help ease the stress, but don't know how. Whether it's your partner, sister, best friend, or just someone you care about deeply and you're stumped about how to help a new parent deal with the debilitating effects of anxiety, there are thankfully quite a few ways you can be involved.
Whether you're the new mom looking to put your feelings into words or you're the person who just wants to know how to be a good support system, check out these ways to help a new mom stave off anxiety.
As any new parent might tell you, the significant dip in their social lives that comes with having a child can take a toll on morale. According to The Journal of Perinatal Education, a major way you can help a new mother avoid anxiety is to combat social isolation. Even if you visit them just to sit and fold laundry, trust me, that will do wonders for a new mom's state of mind.
2Remove Unrealistic Expectations
Parents are praised when they appear to have it all together on social media. But those unrealistic standards can put undue stress on new parents. Katherine Stone, founder of Postpartum Progress, told Today that, "the Pinterest society of people who have perfectly decorated homes, it puts a lot of pressure on mothers." So remind them that they don't have to be some kind of Wonder Woman to be a good parent and person.
3Ignore The Mess
You may truly believe that a little bit of clutter is irrelevant, but new moms can feel the urge to keep a spotless home for guests. Julie Barnhill, a parenting lecturer and author, told Parents, that ignoring a messy house,"helps them relax and feel like they don't need to be mini Martha Stewarts either." You can be vocal about it, too. I've found that by breaking the silence about my own home looking like a disaster, that it brought other moms out of the wood-works who shared that cleanliness wasn't at the top of their list either.
Sometimes bringing over a casserole or clicking "Like" on a Facebook status isn't enough. What kind of meaningful gestures are some stressed parents looking for? According to Postpartum Progress, for new moms facing anxiety, "offering support means attending her therapist appointments with her, if only to sit in the waiting room." Sometimes being there for a loved one means getting down in the trenches with them, judgement-free.
5Be Their Cheerleader
I know very few people who actually enjoy going to the gym. That's why they hire personal trainers to motivate them to safely push past their limits. Friendships can be a similar dynamic. Dr. John Sommers-Flanagan, a professor of counselor education at the University of Montana, told Parent Map, "the best cure for anxiety is exposure. The more you do something, the easier it gets." So if a new mom in your life is hesitant to ask for help or take time for self-care, be their cheerleader and encourage them in a healthy way.
6Appreciate Your Partner
If your partner has just given birth, you both may be struggling to connect the way you did before you became parents, which can definitely be a recipe for anxiety. Family researcher Dr. Alyson Shapiro told Parenting that, as new parents, "it's important for couples to treasure their relationship and foster fondness and admiration for each other." Even if hiring a babysitter isn't an option, you can still nurture your partnership by demonstrating your commitment both verbally and through your actions.
The ability to understand another person's experience may not come naturally to everyone, but attempting to relate is worth the effort. According to AnxietyBC, a Canadian mental health resource site, expressing empathy is a powerful way to help new moms stave off anxiety. Though a simple reassurance or validation may not seem like much, it can have a profound impact on your loved one's mental well-being.