Your own needs often get pushed aside when you become a new parent, but taking care of yourself and keeping yourself healthy is as important as taking care of your baby – especially as you’re facing new pressures and challenges every day. Exercise, healthy eating, regular preventive check-ups – there are a lot of things we do to take care of our physical health even if nothing is wrong. When it comes to mental health, taking preventive measures is a lot less common. Since mental health has a huge impact on your quality of life, this can be a problem.
One kind of preventive care for mental health is meditation, which can be helpful whether you’re going through a rough patch or cruising steadily. In recent years, mindfulness meditation has gained credibility as a healthy, valid part of mental health treatment and maintenance.
Getting the most out of meditation
As a new parent, it can feel like the last thing you have time for is meditation – if you’ve got a spare minute without a newborn attached to you, there are a hundred things on your to-do list clamoring for attention! But taking a minute or two now and then to focus on your breathing, and quiet your thoughts down, can help you feel more present, both when it comes to cutting that over-sized to-do list down and to the time you spend with Baby.
Mindfulness through meditation has been shown to have benefits for physical health, but it’s the mental health benefits for which many people turn to meditation. Mental health benefits associated with mindfulness meditation include:
- Reduced stress
- Reduced anxiety
- Increased concentration
- Better emotional control and stability
Meditation can be used as a strategy for preventing depression and depression relapse, as a part of treatment for a substance use disorder, smoking cessation, and as a treatment for ADHD and anxiety symptoms.
People with histories of depression or trauma may have trouble guiding their own meditation early on, due to intrusive thoughts, or cyclical emotions or thoughts getting in the way of focusing on the moment. 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 meditation that is guided, rather than jumping in on their own.
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, secluded, quiet moment to meditate. Instead of waiting for the perfect time, take good times whenever you find them, even for shorter periods of meditation. 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 to meditate, 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’re getting started, try to begin with short meditation sessions, and eventually work up to longer stretches – this can help set you 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 the distraction, acknowledge it, and let it 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.
- Julie Corliss. “Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress.” Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Health Publishing, 8 January 2014. Retrieved 21 June 2018. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967.
- Michael McGee. “Meditation and psychiatry.” Psychiatry. 5(1): 28-41. January 2008. Retrieved 21 June 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2719544/.
- “Even a single mindfulness meditation session can reduce anxiety.” Science Daily. Science Daily, 23 April 2018. Retrieved 21 June 2018. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180423135048.htm.
- “Meditation: in depth.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, April 2016. Retrieved 21 June 2018. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm.
- “Mindfulness practices may help treat many mental health conditions.” Psychiatry. American Psychiatric Association, 1 June 2016. Retrieved 21 June 2018. https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/apa-blog/2016/06/mindfulness-practices-may-help-treat-many-mental-health-conditions.