It’s time to talk about mental health during pregnancy and postpartum. I was honored to have Dr. Dawn Kingston on The Core Connections Podcast to bring awareness to the stress, anxiety and depression that can occur during all stages of motherhood. As moms, partners and friends, we are surrounded by women who feel that there are certain expectations that accompany motherhood. Dr. Kingston wants to bring authenticity back and remind women that nobody’s perfect and nobody said you had to be. Join Dr. Kingston and I as we talk through how to effectively create strong emotional health in pregnancy, postpartum and beyond.
Dr. Dawn Kingston and her team are passionate about helping women and their families have the best start to life by improving maternal mental health. She is Canada’s only endowed research chair in perinatal mental health, and also holds the prestigious national New Investigator Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Her research focuses on improving perinatal mental healthcare by developing and evaluating approaches for screening and treating women who struggle with depression and anxiety during pregnancy. She and her team are leading the field in using e-technology for screening and therapy in pregnant women so that women can get help whenever they need it, wherever they are.
Dawn started out as a neonatal nurse with a focus on mental health. She became interested in preventing pre-term birth and while getting her masters, she realized that the biggest connection to pre-term births was stress.
The more she got interested in the topic, the more she realized that it didn’t just have to do with stress, but also anxiety, depression and overall mental health. Through her research, she realized that a baby’s prenatal years were framing the well-being of the child going forward into adulthood. But what stunned Dawn is that other professionals weren’t doing anything about it.
Since then, Dawn and her team have been working to change the system so there can be early detection and mental health care that sets women up for the years to come.
ANXIETY + DEPRESSION DURING PREGNANCY
A big myth around anxiety + depression during pregnancy is that it has to do with hormones. Women don’t always recognize the symptoms and therefore do not seek help, because they think it’s something that comes with pregnancy or being postpartum.
Dawn explains that there are 4 things that relate to prenatal + postnatal anxiety and depression. Dawn and I are firm believers that any of these points are areas that women can work to change or manage.
PRIOR ANXIETY OR DEPRESSION
There is no shame in having experienced, or are experiencing, anxiety or depression in your life. If you have a past with anxiety or depression, this could lead you to have a greater vulnerability for anxiety or depression during pregnancy or postpartum. But, by knowing that, you are able to better manage it throughout your pregnancy journey and life as a new mom.
MINIMAL SOCIAL SUPPORT
Strong social support doesn’t relate to the number of friends or family that you have in your life, it has to do with the quality of those relationships to help be there for you in this journey. The other side of that is how much are you investing to connect with those quality relationships. Life gets busy, but it’s important to keep those connections strong to better ensure strong emotional health.
Now, there is such a thing as good, healthy stress. Good stress is a type of stress that an athlete might feel that pumps them up and helps them perform better. Toxic stress comes into play when that stress becomes too high or you have it for too long and you can no longer manage it. In our current world, social stress plays a big role in taking us to that chronic stress threshold. Yes, dealing with high stress during pregnancy can have an impact on the child + moms quality of life, but it also is one of the main factors that can evolve into anxiety and depression for women.
There are two personality tendencies that are more vulnerable to experience anxiety or depression during pregnancy or postpartum. The first one has to do with perfectionism and guilt. About 30% of women are in this category where they have a high drive for unrealistic goals that they have set for themselves or others. The second personality type is neuroticism. This means that someone is a bit more emotionally reactive in situations. These aren’t negative traits, it’s just something to be aware of when learning to manage anxiety and depression.
This formula is a wonderful tool for life, so what does it mean? E stands for event, it’s the scenario that happens in your life. O is the outcome, it’s what happens in result of that. And the R is the one that you have control over and that is your response. The response piece relates to the brain and how you control your thoughts which control your feelings. Neuroscience says that you can redirect the meaning behind certain thoughts or correlations in the mind. Many find that it does take time to take an old thought pattern and turn it into a new thought pattern, but it all starts bringing your awareness to that R.
Remember that stress doesn’t always relate to one thing, it could be multiple things that are causing you to experience high stress. These stressors are different for everyone, so it’s important to identify those high stressors in your life so you can work to manage it. But here are some ways that Dawn recommends you work to manage the stress in your life
- Most common high stressors have to do with relationships, so that’s why social support plays a key role in working to minimize anxiety, depression and stress in your life. Check in on those relationships and work to make them better.
- Throughout your day, focus on the small wins to help bring in positive energy to your life.
- Ask yourself this question, what would you need tomorrow in your life to feel some relief? This helps you focus on one small thing that you have the power to change to better manage your stress levels.
- Other common ways include exercise, getting out into nature, journaling, meditation, yoga and mindfulness.
Whatever first step you take, it has to be small enough to show yourself that you can do it. It also has to be the one that helps give you some measure of control back into your life because often that stress comes from feeling out of control.
Dawn touches on two types of expectations that many experience when it comes to motherhood and pregnancy. The first is self-expectations that you create for your own behavior and actions. The second is social expectations that can be created by others. More times than not, social expectations are what triggers anxiety and depression during pregnancy. This is where social media gets involved as some feel the pressures of seeing what others are doing that you’re not or not doing as well. This causes you to doubt yourself and your instinct. Dawn and I encourage you to trust in yourself and your intuition as a mother.
MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
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