Her newborn was sleeping, but Sarah Lynch wasn’t tackling household chores, or having a shower, or even napping herself – any of which would have been preferable to what she was doing, which was mindlessly scrolling on her phone. “I realized it was making me feel bad about myself, anxious and more tired than I needed to be,” she says. “I understand, because I’ve been to therapy, the kind of person that I am – I can get caught up in negative thinking or feeling anxious. And I didn’t need any more of that stress in my life.”
What she did need was meditation, as it turns out. She downloaded an app, committed to a year’s subscription and started doing guided meditations when her son went down for his morning nap. And she saw the benefits immediately. “After about 10 minutes, it’s over and I feel better. It doesn’t even take that long – but I’ve taken that moment for myself, I’ve actually paid attention to my breath.”
Lynch’s meditation practice is just one example of mindfulness, which is “anytime we are purposefully paying attention,” says Stephanie Kersta MSc, RP, a psychotherapist and the co-owner of Hoame, a meditation studio in Toronto. According to Kersta, you can eat mindfully by paying attention to the sight, smell, texture and taste of your food. You can drink coffee mindfully. You can even walk mindfully. And there are real benefits, including “decreased anxiety, decreased depression, improved sleep, increased energy, increased productivity, increased focus, increased immunity, decreased pain response and [an] overall happier mood,” she says.
This is especially true for new moms, who may feel isolated from their partners, family and friends while on maternity leave, which can make anxiety and other negative emotions worse. Kersta points to a 2017 study published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, which found “mindfulness practices during the postpartum period may contribute to a mother’s psychological wellbeing.” And, a 2016 study in Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found pregnant women with a history of depression who tried mindfulness-based cognitive therapy reported “significantly lower” rates of depressive episodes – and when they did have those episodes, they were not as severe.
And Lynch is right – it really doesn’t take much. If you can swing it, it can be easier to get into a meditative state at a class outside of your home. But apps are great options, too. “Try Calm, Headspace, or we really love Insight Timer as it is a free option, which is helpful with reduced mat leave pay!” Kersta says. “We also really encourage to start small: three minutes per day, and build on that.”
You can also add mindfulness into other parts of your day, whether that’s while you’re drinking your morning sup of coffee, as you take your baby for a walk or while you’re having a shower. And, she says, it’s important to breathe deeply. Stress can cause us to take shallow breaths, which signals to our brain that there’s an impending threat.
“Your brain kind of scrambles after you have a baby,” Lynch says. “But programming mindfulness into my world is a positive thing for me. It’s giving myself permission to be kinder to myself. I know, on one level of my brain, to take care of myself first is to take better care of my son.”