By Alyssa Pebbles, with contributions from Analin Flores, LMFT
Parenting a toddler is both a lot of fun but also utterly exhausting––so if you are struggling, you are not alone. You’ve reached the milestone of the first year and maybe you expected things to get easier from here on out, but have been blindsided by the constant attention and energy your now-toddler needs from you. It is not uncommon to develop anxiety or depression as your child transitions into this demanding stage, especially if he or she is your first child.
Postpartum Depression and Anxiety After One Year
We often think of postpartum depression (PPD) and anxiety (PPA) as only occurring in the first few months of the postpartum period, right after the baby is born. And while this is the experience of many moms, some women also experience it later on––for instance after the child’s first birthday passes and he or she becomes a toddler.
The perinatal period is actually defined as the first two years after a child is born, and mood disorders such as PPA and PPD can develop anytime during this two year period. While the beginning stages of infancy are difficult, so are the toddler years.
If you are suffering from one or both of these mood disorders, it’s important you seek out help in the form of therapy and/or medication. However, there are also ways you can begin to manage your stress on your own to make your days a little easier.
When you are experiencing overwhelming negative emotions, one of the best ways you can deal with them in the moment is by simply accepting them and letting them be what they are, instead of trying to ignore them or judge them as “wrong.”
When we tell ourselves we should not be experiencing such emotions and shame ourselves for feeling them, we make them even more unbearable. Our emotions are trying to give us information, and it’s important we listen to them, or they will grow more intense until we do.
The next time you feel overcome by negative emotions, take a minute to breathe deeply and simply let yourself feel it. Tell yourself it is okay and normal to be feeling this way. You are in a hard parenting stage, and it makes sense to feel what you feel.
You may notice as you let yourself take this moment to feel, the feeling will pass quicker and you will be able to go on with your day, instead of becoming stuck or debilitated by it. Validating our emotions is a way of releasing them, instead of carrying the weight of them throughout our days.
Self-care is critical when your child is a toddler. He or she requires so much of your energy and resources throughout the day that you have to replenish yourself, or else you will become completely depleted and burned out.
There are numerous ways to take care of yourself––you have to find what works for you. A good place to start is looking at what you enjoy doing, and try to find ways to incorporate those things into your day.
For example, if you love getting outside and going on runs, buy a jogging stroller and take your child with you. If you enjoy a hot bath at the end of a long day, take one after you get the kids in bed. If cooking lights you up, explore new recipes while your child is taking a nap. Whatever rejuvenates you, find time every day to do it either with or without your kids.
Bonding With Child
When you are struggling with anxiety and/or depression, it can be easy to miss the good moments in your days. A good way to combat this is by intentionally spending time with and bonding with your toddler, instead of just trying to survive through the day with them.
This could look like getting on the floor and playing with them for ten minutes before turning on a TV show, or teaching them a new skill. You could read to them or sing a song together. Pursue the activities that make you feel closer to your child, and you will find more purpose and meaning in the mundane every day.
Building Social Support
Whenever we are going through difficulties in life, community and social support are of the utmost importance. You can’t do this alone––and you don’t have to. You need a tribe of people to be there for you and give you support, whether that is other moms, a church small group, or just close friends. It really does take a village.
If you are not already plugged into some kind of mom group, now is a great time to. You will find solace and encouragement in other moms who are in the same stage as you, or ahead of you with wisdom to impart. You can find groups online or through your church.
It can be intimidating to find a community with a toddler, but know it is well worth your time and effort. Having other people around who get what you’re going through and are there to support and encourage you can make all the difference for your mental health.
Deep Breathing and Calming Skills
Sometimes all you can do when you are experiencing heightened negative emotions is to simply calm yourself down in the moment when you feel you are in crisis. For example, if you feel yourself starting to panic, there are a number of techniques you can use to relax. You have to find what works best for you, whether that is prayer, mediation, or deep breathing.
Simply stopping to take a few deep breaths––even if your child is crying uncontrollably and demanding your attention––can return you to the mind space you need to be in to deal with said child instead of becoming completely debilitated by anxiety.
Whatever you need to do in the moment to calm yourself, do it. Put everything else on hold for just two or three minutes so that you can attend to yourself. Your child will be okay, as long as they are in a safe place or in your view. It is more important to take care of yourself in the moment so that you can then take care of your toddler once you have calmed yourself.
Finally, it is key to learn how to be flexible when you have a toddler. The days are going to be unpredictable, so the more you hold onto expectations of how your days should look or what you should be able to accomplish, the more stressed out you will feel.
Recognize that this is just a season of your life, and that it will pass. For now, things are going to be a bit messy and chaotic, and you have to be willing to accept that. Be okay with things not going according to plan, and allow yourself to relax. It’s okay if the dishes don’t get done right away or the laundry piles up.
Do what you can and let the rest go––worrying about it will not make you feel any better. Some days you will be able to accomplish a lot, and other days the house will be a mess and nothing will get done. It’s all okay. What matters is that you take care of yourself and your child, and everything else can wait until later.
Offering Group Counseling for Moms
Faith-Based Emotional Support Group for Moms with Little Ones
If you are a new mom or a mom with little ones who is feeling overwhelmed in your motherhood journey, we invite you to participate in our next Faith-Based Group Counseling of Emotion Support for Moms with Little Ones. Learn more by clicking on the image.