Battling Postpartum Depression: 9 Practical Steps You Can Take Today
This week on the Monumental podcast, I told the story of my fight with postpartum depression after the birth of our second child. I know that this is a common struggle, so if you find yourself battling depression in your own life, here are nine steps to take today.
- Stop getting hung up on the definition or diagnosis. I was so sure that what I was battling wasn’t postpartum depression, because I thought it would have kicked in immediately after my son’s birth. Instead I just spiraled out of control over the course of two months. And because I didn’t think I qualified for that particular diagnosis, I didn’t name the problem or seek outside help. If you are battling irrational fears, anxieties, despair or uncontrollable negative emotions, call it what you will, but get help. If you have recently given birth, take a look at the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.
- Schedule a doctor appointment. There are many other problems that can trigger or contribute to depression or desperation, and professionals can often connect the dots that we don’t see. Thyroid problems, vitamin D deficiencies, birth control pills, and sleep deprivation can all be contributing causes. Ask the doctor to order bloodwork to rule out deficiencies or thyroid problems, or anything else he may suspect.
- Tell someone. Talk to someone you trust about your struggles. Husband, friend, Bible study leader… find someone. Ask to meet with your pastor, or ask him to recommend a counselor. Be honest, and ask for help. As usual, naming the problem is the first step toward finding a solution. And we need accountability when we are stumbling in darkness.
- Pray, and ask for prayer. Plead with God for help. God is our great Physician, and He heals our diseases, physical and emotional. Confesss your sins—sins of fear, anger, apathy, bitterness. Then take a step of faith and thank God for His discipline, in all its forms. Choose to thank Him and worship Him, even if you don’t feel like it.
- Go for a walk. Make exercise a priority, and I don’t mean starting up CrossFit or joining a gym. At the simplest, easiest level, just do something active every single day. If possible, get outside. Exercise is well known to keep us healthy, in body and mind. But new research even shows that it helps to stave off postpartum depression.
- Start taking a good quality fish oil supplement and Vit. D supplement. Bear with me here. I’m not a health nut, but this is one of the simplest and most immediate things you can do to address the physical causes of depression. The fact is, most Americans don’t eat much fish. And fish have a lot of healthy fats in them that we just don’t otherwise get. And those healthy fats affect our mental health. Same goes for Vit. D. For some reason, we just aren’t getting enough of it. Finding the road to recovery might be as simple as taking a few vitamins every day. Here’s the one I take.
- Eat good food. Now is not the time for Whole30 or any other drastic measures, but do your best to eat a well-balanced diet. Try to avoid sugar and caffeine highs and lows. And make the best meal and snack choices you can make, under the circumstances.
- Put down your phone. I’m guessing we all spend more time staring at a screen than we should. From the computer to the phone to the tv, it’s pervasive. But there’s something about depression that makes us particularly tempted to check out of our “real lives.” We have to fight that impulse at all costs. Staying engaged with our families and our surroundings is so important. The articles, pictures, and stories we absorb can fuel our thoughts of negativity, sometimes showing us a version of the world that is so unattainable that we despair, sometimes showing us a version of the world that is so hopeless that we despair. Either way, we despair. Limit your screen time. And make a rule of never checking your phone after bedtime.
- Sleep. Depression often disrupts our sleep and keeps us awake at odd hours. Babies do that too. Combine the two and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. One of the problems many of us moms face is the impulse to stay up late at night after putting kids to bed because it is the one time of day (I mean night) when we can hear ourselves think. We crave some alone time. Or some hubby time. Or some tv time. But in reality, our bodies need sleep more than our minds need alone time. Discipline yourself to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Set an alarm on your phone, telling you when to go to bed. Enlist help from your husband, get accountability from a friend. But make it happen.
There’s a lot to sort out between body and mind when it comes to depression. We find ourselves asking, is this a sin or a sickness? And it’s some a little of both. But we can’t separate one from the other. So begin by confessing your sins to God. Then address the physical side of depression as quickly as possible, and work through the spiritual side of it with someone you trust. Your family needs you, and it’s difficult to give of ourselves when we are in an emotional fog.
Here are a few more resources to check out:
How to Fight for Faith in the Dark, from Desiring God Ministries
Gospel Hope for Post-Partum Depression, from the Risen Motherhood Podcast