Updated: Apr 4, 2020
As if confronting the coronavirus in your third trimester wasn’t alarming enough, surviving your fourth trimester with a brand-new baby, isolated at home with no outside support, with the specter of a deadly virus outside your door, could easily push anyone over the edge. According to recent research on the psychological impact of quarantine, the mental health implications of the coronavirus crisis are vast and long-lasting.
From confusion and anger to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, our response to the multitude of stressors during quarantine is individual but shared at the same time. And that’s without a newborn factored in.
Moms trapped at home with infants during this phase in our history have an unprecedented set of emotional hurdles ahead of them. Our goal at EmmaWell is to ensure that these moms feel confident, resilient, connected, informed, and strong enough to handle any stressors thrown their way in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
Hilary Waller, EmmaWell’s Clinical Director of Mental Health and a psychotherapist at The Postpartum Stress Center, shared her advice for handling the tense position of bringing a baby into our current health crisis. She knows exactly what postpartum moms in the era of the coronavirus are struggling with and how to help them find light at the end of a dark tunnel.
I have a hard time when my routine is slightly disrupted, and right now my life feels flipped upside down. How do I adjust to my new normal?
This situation everyone is in currently is in many ways similar to the postpartum state. The reality of being postpartum is that your life is fully interrupted. You enter into a state of emotional ups and downs, of amazing gains and profound losses, of full and complete newness and unfamiliarity.
Right now, the entire world is in this state. Everything feels unfamiliar and the coping strategies that we were used to may not be readily available, if at all. Access to luxuries and, more importantly, simple, basic needs is limited. There’s so much instability right now.
And yet, those of us who have made it through the postpartum period, whether it was a simple or an extraordinarily complicated transition, can call on that experience and remember that we’ve been through the adjustment to a new normal before. For moms going through this for the first time, know that you are connected not only to people around the world experiencing the same thing, but to other mothers who are also up late into the night feeding, rocking, and nursing themselves back to physical and emotional health. You are not alone.
So how do we do it? In my house, for example, I sit down and set out a routine each morning that fits the day. Because every day is a bit different, it helps to be flexible. I want to make sure we incorporate certain activities every day (meals, snacks, time outside, time to relax- yes, relaxing with screens is okay!) so that the day feels familiar. Over time, those familiar patterns will become a routine (similar to how infant sleep patterns become a nap routine after a few months).
I also encourage you to connect with others whose circumstances are similar. Support is cropping up all over the internet on social media and blogs to help brainstorm solutions for our common struggles: How in the world we are supposed to work from home while parenting full-time? How do we manage stressors of job loss or underemployment while parenting? How can we maintain our jobs during a time when it feels like stepping outside poses a risk?
Finally, keep in mind that prolonged isolation can cause us to feel a sense of helplessness and uncertainty about the future, which can draw us inward. Activities that create a sense of change and purpose, like cleaning out a closet or donating previously-loved home décor or clothing, can help stimulate more positive energy. Please also be sure to integrate time for each adult to engage in self-care (e.g. a shower, exercise, time to talk privately to a friend on the phone).
I have become fixated on my baby’s health and convinced that we are going to contract the coronavirus. What can I work on to overcome this crippling fear?
It can be extremely difficult to remain in the present when we are distracted by what might or could happen in the future. I always encourage moms to practice some method of grounding — exercises that turn our attention to the present when we are focused on the past or future.
Here is an exercise you can do at home as an example: Give yourself the opportunity to engage your five senses. Look around and what do you see? Perhaps you see your baby in your arms.
What do you hear? You might hear the sound of your baby crying, babbling, etc. What do you smell? You might smell the bottle that you’re feeding your baby or your partner’s cooking in the kitchen. What do you touch? Maybe you feel the weight of your baby or a pet or the warmth of the blanket on top of you. What do you taste? You might try having a snack or sucking on a piece of candy to engage your sense of taste.
Once you are better grounded in the here and now, you will be better positioned to use other strategies for managing anxiety and will start to recognize which thoughts are coming from an anxious voice inside your mind (‘We are definitely going to get the virus…it’s only a matter of time’) and which thoughts are more reasonable (‘I am engaging in social distancing, I am washing my hands, and I am following other recommendations made by those studying the spread of this disease to keep me and my baby safe’).
Eventually, you will recognize that when you worry about something in the future it increases your anxiety, and when you look to the past about how things used to be, it can trigger feelings of sadness and grief. But if you stay grounded in the here and now, then you’ll be able to just see what is happening in this moment, be present, and tackle one problem at a time. You can then shift your focus from worrying about catching a disease to enjoying each precious moment with your baby and taking precautions that will protect you both.
My anxiety is preventing me from sleeping when my baby sleeps. How can I manage my racing brain at bedtime and ensure better sleep without medication?
If you’re having trouble sleeping and getting control of your racing thoughts, you might try keeping a bedtime journal so that you can put your worries on paper and get them out of your mind. That paper can be a Post-it Note that you throw away the next morning or a running list that you keep, but the idea is to put it outside your brain so you can decide to look at it and deal with it the next day if it’s still a worry. If it’s no longer a worry, there is no need to return to it.