Relating to Mindfulness in the Perinatal Period
Coping Skills Series
Mindfulness is definitely a popular topic in the therapy world. It's a go-to coping skill for many therapists and clients (myself included). There has been much research to substantiate the validity of mindfulness, not to mention the fact that mindfulness has been used in eastern cultures, religions, and medicine for centuries. No wonder it's become so popular!
My worry is that people will turn away from it because it's become a buzz word. Mindfulness is not just a fluffy technique to use with clients when they are struggling. Mindfulness can in fact be life changing, in any situation. Mindfulness helps to ground us in the present moment and focus our attention. Mindfulness can help us to stop, breathe and evaluate a situation without the stories we create about the situation. Mindfulness can help us enjoy our food more, appreciate our time with family and not wish our life away waiting for the next best thing. All of this combined can help us to manage mental illness, addiction, stress, and even chronic pain.
When learning about mindfulness start small. You don’t have to start a formal daily meditation practice to engage in mindfulness. Mindfulness can be incorporated into your life in everything you do. For example, I stopped counting down the days to Friday, and this has made a very positive impact on my life. The weeks seem to fly by even faster and Friday always arrives faster than I can say “Friyay”! You can start by trying to notice what is around you right now, wherever you’re reading this post. Try to chew your food slower and really notice the flavours and textures. Just simply observe the weather without judgement (even if it’s -30C where you live like it is where I live)!
What does mindfulness look like in the Perinatal period?
Any stage of the Perinatal period can feel like we are constantly counting time, months, milestones, and so on. We can get wrapped up in getting to the next cycle in our journey to conceive, the next month or trimester in pregnancy and the next month or milestone in baby’s first year. This can inadvertently force us to lose sight of the present moment. What emotions am I feeling right now? What do I need to cope right now? What is my baby doing in this very moment? How sweet does this cuddle feel right now? The years fly by before we realize that we can barely remember those precious moments.
We can counteract that somewhat, by using mindfulness. The days can feel like Groundhog Day, but the weeks, months, and years flash before our eyes. What we can do is try and slow down as much as possible. Try to notice baby’s face, or tiny hands when you’re feeding them. Enjoy the closeness of their body to yours when they’re falling asleep in your arms or when they’re drowsy just before they go to bed. Take a nice deep breath and really notice that lovely baby smell that they have. Try and take a mental picture when they give you a big toothless grin or start giggling. If there are days or moments where you feel well in your body during pregnancy, take the time to notice that, really soak up that feeling of being well. If there are moments or periods of time where you feel really connected to your partner in the perinatal period, observe that, notice how that feels both emotionally and physically.
Being mindful of how we feel and are experiencing a moment is a very important skill that we can use throughout the entire Perinatal period as well as for the rest of our lives. In any moment ask yourself:
· What am I thinking?
· What am I feeling emotionally?
· What am I feeling physically?
· What do I notice around me?
Notice whatever comes up for you, without judgement. Try to avoid things like “I’m feeling angry, and I shouldn’t feel that way”, instead try to end your sentence after the emotion “I’m feeling angry”. And if you catch yourself judging your thoughts and feelings, that’s ok, let it move through you.
There are probably thousands of mindfulness techniques, but I think it’s important to find the techniques that work for you, at whatever stage you are at. I don’t generally recommend to people in the Perinatal period to try an hour of yoga or meditation, if they are living busy, jam-packed lives. And that’s not where we want to start our mindfulness journey. You can start right here, right now, for free. Take a deep breath and label 5 things that you see around you now. There! That’s mindfulness. Keep practicing, whenever you think of it, and it will start coming more naturally to you over time.