Beyond Medication: Other Treatments and Self-Care

Medication, while important for many, really shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all when it comes to treatment of postpartum mood disorders. I’m not a doctor, of course, but I’ve learned this lesson over and over throughout the journey of my own mental illness. 

There are things I’ve discovered that each of us can do, on top of what we’re already doing with our doctors, to further our own treatment. I truly believe it’s just as important to be a vigilant advocate for our own mental health care, as it is to have good doctors.

“Self-care” is a word thrown around a lot. To me the word “self-care” means ways I can take care of myself to be a better woman, wife, and mother. Ways to put myself as a priority, to make myself feel good, less stressed or anxious, and more confident. Putting the oxygen mask on myself first before tending to others, so to speak.

I’ve talked to a lot of women who’ve fought PPD and mental illness in my own advocacy work and blogging about mental illness and suicide prevention. So the below  tips are a compilation of my own ideas and others’ experience as well.

What can we do to actively participate in our own treatment?

Here are my top 10 suggestions (in no particular order, except the first one).

#1 Sleep.
Without a doubt, the number one thing I can do to improve my mental health is get better sleep. It’s not always easy with a new or young baby, I know. Really I do. But it’s vital for our well-being. If that means asking a family member to come over and watch the baby while you take a nap, or asking your spouse to let you sleep in on a Saturday, then do it. They say “it takes a village” for a reason. You cannot do it all alone on little to no sleep.

#2 Healthy Eating.
Personally I’ve found limiting carbs and gluten to be a big help in decreasing my anxiety. Getting good protein, fresh fruits, and veggies too. It’s been a bit of trial and error with my diet to figure out what works best for me. But I encourage you to think about your own diet and how it might be affecting your mood.

#3 Exercise.
I admit, I’m not personally good about this one. But I have so many friends who get a boost from walking/running, yoga, swimming, or dance. I also know that the motivation to get out and exercise can be practically non-existent when you’re in the midst of depression. So this one might be an option down the road a bit when you’re starting to feel more like yourself. But if you can manage it, exercise is a great help.

#4 Creative Outlets/Hobbies.
For me, during my postpartum depression and anxiety, making jewelry was my savior. Now it’s drawing and writing/blogging. I know it may seem strange, but finding ways to distract the mind and calm you can really help. Knitting, crocheting, reading, gardening, cooking, singing, taking care of animals, scrap-booking, photography; the list goes on and on. A friend actually just had knitting “prescribed” by her doctor for anxiety. I just love that.

#5 Talking/Therapy.
Of course talk therapy with a doctor can be exceedingly beneficial, but so can talking to a friend. Even joining online support groups and “chatting” with those who get it, like the amazing Postpartum Progress community via our Facebook page or our private Smart Patients Forum, helps immensely. I say this all of the time: “Saying the words takes away their power.” Opening up to someone you trust and sharing your feelings and fears can absolutely help.

#6 Supplements.
From vitamins to minerals to herbs, there are a lot of things that might help you. It’s best to work with your doctor or naturopath to come up with what’s right for you. Things like Vitamin D or Magnesium deficiency can contribute to low energy and depression for example. St. John’s Wort has on occasion helped my anxiety. A friend of mine uses a tincture of herbs prescribed by her naturopath that has practically eliminated her chronic anxiety. Supplements are certainly worth a look.

#7 A Hot Bath or Shower.
I know new moms don’t always feel like they have time to shower. I certainly didn’t on many days. It’s a simple thing, but taking a nice hot bath or shower goes a long way to helping you feel human again. It’s very relaxing, especially if you can find someone to watch the baby while you do it. I’m not talking about a 60-second-wash-down with baby in the bouncer, but a really fabulous hot, steaming, non-stressful shower.

#8 Avoiding Triggers/Negative Experiences.
Discussions on social media or negative news events can be big triggers for someone with PPD. It’s really important to increase the positive and decrease the negative, and be kind to ourselves when the news starts to affect us. It’s okay not to listen to it, to . It’s okay to step away from the computer or TV news for a bit.

#9 Physical Relaxation.
Examples include massage, chiropractic,
acupuncture, even a facial. Oh, such a great forms of self-care! And you SO deserve it.

#10 Alternative Mental Health Treatments.
There are many alternative therapies that you can discuss with your doctor. I’ve actually used hypnotherapy in the past to great affect after a trauma. Others I know have done a therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) (which isn’t actually an alternative treatment but a recommended psychotherapy technique used to treat postpartum depression and PTSD) that was helpful to them. Meditation and mindfulness therapy are other examples. I don’t know all of the options, but it’s worth asking your doctor if an alternative treatment may be right for you.

What do you think of these ideas? Do you have any other suggestions? Would love to hear if something has worked for you. You never know who might benefit from your experiences.