Friday, 16 September 2016

Exercise and postnatal depression

Postnatal depression is fucking awful. Depression with a baby or child means you can't wallow feeling suicidal in bed. You have to keep going, and going, and going. So how the hell is exercise going to help when all you want to do is curl up by yourself, sleep and try and escape the hell that is your own head?

It helped me as it forms part of who I am. I love running (no shit) so to be able to exercise again helped me feel more like the old me - maybe with a bit more of a saggy tum - but me all the same.

But for mums who hate exercise it can also help for a huge number of reasons. First, when I talk about "exercise" I don't mean training for a sub 4 hour marathon (though that's cool too if that's your bag), I mean getting out of the house. Putting some structure into your crazy kid-filled day. Peeling yourself away from your phone. Putting on your and your kid's shoes and getting out of the door. Going for a walk around the block. Listening to some music. Coming home, feeling just a little brighter. You will feel better for it. I promise.

It's the change of scene. Raising your heartrate a little, deepening your breathing. Getting some fresh air. Saying hello and smiling at someone. Feeling like you've achieved something with the day. Walking (fast or slow) is really, really good for the soul. It helps clear your head, level the anxiety out a little and settle your mind. Exercise releases endorphins which make you feel better about yourself and the world will seem not quite as tilted as before.

Second, exercise can be as social or antisocial as you want it to be. I know when I'm feeling low I really ought to get out there and be friendly, but sometimes I just can't face it. So I go for a walk (or a run or swim if I'm lucky) with just the baby. But, it really, really does make things infinitely better by going for a walk with a friend. And, perhaps not surprisingly, there are now more and more groups springing up for mums who want to go walking. The journalist Bryony Gordon even set up Mental Health Mates as a non judgmental social place to meet other people who were also suffering from mental health problems and to go for a walk. Double hit. If walking isn't your thing, there are plenty of other mum-friendly exercise classes around like yoga or buggyfit.

Third, if you can find some help, taking time out from being a mum to do some exercise can work wonders to ease depression. I try to go to a yoga class or swimming once a week when my husband is at home, or go for a short run before he goes to work. Even just 20 minutes to go for a walk around the block. Exercise WITHOUT THE KIDS really, really helped my sanity. No one else to think about. Time to breathe, listen to a podcast, do some stretches, whatever. I think that's the key thing about exercise - when your body moves, it allows your mind to be still, and that's worth gold dust in these crazy motherhood times.

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