Exercise, healthy eating, regular preventive check-ups – there are a lot of things people do for their physical health, especially during pregnancy. Taking the time to take care of mental health is less common, but just as important.
The physical and hormonal changes of pregnancy, as well as the huge life change that comes with having a new baby, can have unpredictable effects on mood, stress levels, and anxiety. This is why it’s really important to keep an eye on shifts in mental health during pregnancy.
Meditating can be a great way to take care of your mind and protect your mental health. Meditating can be helpful whether you’re going through a rough patch or cruising steadily. In recent years, meditation has gained credibility as a healthy, valid part of mental health treatment and maintenance. More than that, though, meditation can be a great way to take a moment for yourself, especially while preparing for a new baby, which can often feel chaotic or stressful.
Getting the most out of meditation
Meditation has been shown to have benefits for physical health, but it’s the mental health benefits that many people turn to meditation for. Mental health benefits associated with meditation include:
- Reduced stress
- Reduced anxiety
- Increased concentration
- Better emotional control and stability
Meditation can be used as a strategy for preventing depression or depression relapse, as part of treatment for a substance use disorder, or as part of ADHD and anxiety treatment.
People with histories of depression or trauma may have trouble guiding their own meditation early on due to intrusive thoughts or cyclical emotions. This doesn’t mean that people with histories of depression or trauma can’t benefit from mindful meditation, it just means that, early on, they may benefit from guided meditation.
Guided meditation just means that meditation is supported by an external guide – usually the sound of someone’s voice, or a voice and music, to help set the tone and encourage focus. This doesn’t mean having to find a group or class – while many people find meditation groups and classes helpful, meditation videos and audio tracks can often be found online and through apps, both paid and free, and can be used at any time, in any convenient setting.
How to meditate
Very rarely will life give you the ideal, quiet moment to meditate. Instead of waiting for the perfect time, take good times whenever you find them, even for short periods of time. Finding a meditation center, or a group associated with your local library, community center, or a religious group, either for your first few sessions to get a feel for it, or regularly to help make sure you’re setting aside time, is also a great way to start to build strong meditation habits. If you don’t have access to in-person meditation groups, or there are none that are convenient for you, meditation apps, online meditation videos, and meditation podcasts can all be helpful for establishing this habit.
When you first try meditation, it can be helpful to start out with short meditation sessions, and eventually work up to longer stretches – this can help set yourself up for success. When you’ve got a few minutes or so, find a quiet, comfortable place to sit, and get started.
- Take a moment to notice any feelings or thoughts you’re having about starting to meditate – whether that’s nervousness, excitement, or skepticism. Acknowledge those thoughts and feelings, then refocus on meditation.
- Choose whether to close your eyes, or to focus your gaze on a neutral space in front of you.
- Breathe, maybe starting with a few deep breaths, but mostly just as you normally breathe – the difference is that, during meditation, you’ll make a point to notice the physical sensations and process of breathing, all the parts of your body that are involved in breathing, the way they feel as you breathe in, and the way they feel as you breathe out.
- Keep focusing on your breath for the next ten minutes or so, but don’t worry if, the first few times you try, you find yourself more focused on your thoughts than on your breath. Instead, just gently turn your thoughts back to your breathing.
- Notice any distractions, acknowledge them, and let them go.
Meditating shouldn’t be something that adds extra stress to your life, but if you can find a little space for it on a somewhat regular schedule, it can be a great addition to a strong physical and mental health routine.
- Self-care during pregnancy: finding time to recharge
- Natural treatments for depression during pregnancy and postpartum
- Julie Corliss. “Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress.” Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard University, January 8 2014. Retrieved July 2 2018. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967.
- Experimental Biology 2018. “Even a single mindfulness meditation session can reduce anxiety: People with anxiety show reduced stress on the arteries after 1-hour introductory session.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 April 2018. Retrieved July 2 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180423135048.htm.
- Michael McGee. “Meditation and psychiatry.” Psychiatry. 5(1): 28-41. January 2008. Retrieved July 2 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2719544/.
- “Meditation: in depth.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, April 2016. Retrieved July 2 2018. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm.
- “Mindfulness practices may help treat many mental health conditions.” American Psychiatric Association. American Psychiatric Association, June 1 2016. Retrieved July 2 2018. https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/apa-blog/2016/06/mindfulness-practices-may-help-treat-many-mental-health-conditions.