Secure Your Own Oxygen Mask First
Make sure that you are eating, drinking water and getting some rest. I realize all these things sometimes seem impossible but find ways to make it easier. If your budget allows, keep bottled water and a few healthy convenience foods on hand such as fruit and protein bars. I sometimes make a large batch of something like baked oatmeal at the beginning of the week and then heat up a piece each day. This only takes a couple of seconds and makes sure I eat breakfast when I otherwise might not eat until 11 or 12. I also fill a reusable water bottle first thing in the morning and try to keep it near me all day.
While I’ve only rarely been able to manage this, when possible get up before your children. If not, then stage things the night before, lay out clothes, have breakfast ingredients ready or even precooked. Starting the day feeling in control rather than frazzled or constantly in crisis mode can go a long way towards preventing that horrible sinking feeling of being overwhelmed.
Make Self-Care a Priority: This falls into securing your own oxygen mask, but I wanted to highlight this specifically anyway. This is one that I have really struggled with. But I have found that one too many days spent in my pajamas does nothing for my mood. Find clothes that are comfortable, sturdy and if possible flattering. Maintaining a positive self-image is a major contributor towards warding off depression. Whenever possible, get dressed as soon as you get up. Sometimes, I don’t even go to the bathroom first because invariably before I’ve gotten down the hall I’m dealing with a crisis or three and the next thing I know my husband’s coming home from work and I’m still in my pajamas. If putting on makeup makes you feel more confident, then create an easy, expedited routine that practically guarantees you get fit it in first thing in the morning.
Exercise, we all need it, and it’s hard to fit into being a mom. Pop the baby in the stroller, walk while the older kids ride their bikes. Put on music and dance around the house. Exercise if good for your body and your mind. No one says you have to join a gym, unless of course you want to. Get outside, even if just for a few minutes. The fresh air and sunlight have both physical and psychological positive effects.
Know Your Triggers
Know your triggers for stress, anxiety and negative feelings. If you know that not getting enough sleep makes you more anxious, then make sleep a priority. If not showering makes you feel subhuman, then make sure that you get a shower first thing in the morning (even if it means the kids have to fuss, or in my case scream, while you do it.) Watch your influences. I gave up certain TV shows and movies years ago because I found that I began getting anxious nightmares, and during the day I was agitated and negative about my life.
Avoid social media if it makes you feel too down about yourself. For some women Pinterest is huge trigger that leaves them feeling depressed and hopeless about their less than perfect lives. My husband hates when I watch HGTV because he says I always come away from it feeling dissatisfied with our life. There may be relationships in your life that are making you feel depressed or negative. Minimize time spent with these people or at least create healthy boundaries. If that person is your husband, seek couples counseling immediately. Things like this don’t get better on their own. If you don’t want to see a counselor find a mentor couple you can meet with, perhaps a pastoral couple or long time married couple from your church.
Develop a Defensive Strategy
The flip side of knowing your triggers is having coping mechanisms ready when facing those stressful situations you have no control over. Those coping mechanisms are unique to each person. This is where employing positive self-talk and memorized scripture can be very helpful. Also useful are deep breathing and reciting a comforting scripture or singing a soothing song. Invest in yourself through personal devotional life, and hobbies or interests. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this publically but I have always struggled maintaining a consistent devotional life. But I try to cram it in wherever I can. I’ve read my bible nursing the baby first thing in the morning, while pumping in the middle of the night and I even keep a short devotional in the bathroom. Use whatever time you have, wherever you are. Some women manage to have a quiet time with God at the same time and place each day. I have rarely been one of those women. But whatever you do, get it done. Connection to God is crucial. Jesus is your lifeline, your anchor.
Find time to do things you enjoy. Follow favorite TV show, read a book you enjoy, make a snack just for you. I find yoga, and Pilates are helpful both as exercise and to de-stress (this is more effective when I can do it while kids are sleeping or elsewhere). Knowing what to do when the stress comes is important because then you don’t slide into panic.
As a quick sidebar: Men suffer from depression too, even forms of post partum depression. But men are much more likely to suffer in silence. Depression more often manifests itself in excessive focus on work, anger, extreme isolation. Women turn inward with our depression. Men are more likely to turn outward. If your husband is showing symptoms of depression, look for help both for yourself and for him.
I know this hasn’t been the happiest of topics but it’s an important one that we don’t probably talk about enough. We need to depend on each other and hold each other up in times of difficulty, both external and internal difficulties. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you won’t ever suffer from depression any more than being a Christian means you won’t get diabetes. It is an illness that can be treated in both medical and non-medical ways. But depression does have a unique spiritual component. It can be used as a tool of the devil to isolate us from each other and from God. But as sisters in Christ, we don’t have to let that happen. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus in each other’s lives.