Managing emotional wellbeing for expecting and new parents affected by natural disasters or global crises

This article from PANDA is an excellent resource to help parents manage emotional wellbeing when affected my natural disasters, global crisis or concerns for the future.

tips for managing stress and anxiety for parents

***********

Reactions to disaster and other crises

Natural disasters and other major global crises like viral epidemics, wars or acts of hate can have major and long-lasting impacts for many people. These can reach far beyond the individuals, families and communities directly affected by the events themselves and can last for a significant period of time.

People may react in different ways to traumatic events, and sometimes the true impacts may not appear for some time. Those directly affected by a disaster or crisis may be injured or ill or feel grief from the loss they have endured. They may also experience shock, difficulty sleeping, inability to focus or plan ahead, be overwhelmed, feel unsafe or constantly replay the traumatic event in their minds.

Climate change and the effect it will have on our planet is another long-standing and common concern for many. Anxieties related to climate change can build up over time leading to the erosion of a person’s belief in what the future holds for themselves and their families.

How it affects expecting and new parents

Climate change, natural disasters or other global crises can have a major impact on how expecting and new parents feel about being pregnant or bringing a new little one into the world. It can be hard to balance the joy and excitement of pregnancy or having a new baby with a concern for what the future holds. In addition, there may be direct concerns for your health or the health of your baby from fires, smoke, an epidemic or other event.

It’s important to remember that any and all of these responses to these events are normal. It’s also important to remember that worrying about the future and the health of your baby is something that has been felt by parents forever! And there are ways to manage these feelings and maintain emotional wellbeing on your journey to building a family.

The following tips for expecting and new parents who are worried or experiencing symptoms of anxiety related to natural disasters and other crises have been compiled by PANDA’s team over many years drawing on evidence-based research and the experience of our callers and others who have accessed PANDA’s services.

Practise self-care

One good way to keep worry and anxiety related to disasters or other global events at bay is to be conscious of your own needs and go a little easy on yourself, including:

  • Take time out for yourself.
  • Be realistic about how much you can do – it’s good to have goals to keep you motivated but try not to take on too much, or expect too much too quickly.
  • Look after your own needs – after caring for your little one so much, be selfish occasionally!
  • Eat as well as possible without being afraid to keep things simple when you need to.
  • Surround yourself with those you love.
  • Accept help from your support networks including family, friends and other new parents (when they offer, resist the temptation to say “No, I’ll be OK”!)
  • Stick to routines if you can – unpredictability can add to stress.
  • Engage in hobbies, yoga or meditation if these things bring you peace or joy.
  • Recognise that this difficult period will end, while giving yourself time to recover.

It can also be a good idea to avoid too much media coverage (including social media) of the events that are worrying you. Consider deleting your Instagram or Facebook app from your mobile device for a little while, just to break the need to check for updates or be exposed.

“It doesn’t have to be manicures and massages (as nice as these are) but instead can be daily ‘rituals’ where you take five or ten minutes for yourself at different times during the day.”

Physical activity

We know how important exercise is for our physical health, but it can help us manage anxiety too. Exercise can:

  • Lift mood
  • Ease stress, tension and mental fatigue
  • Boost energy and motivation
  • Increase self-esteem and a sense of achievement
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Create social connection
  • Bring joy and happiness.

Anxiety can alter how we think and feel and can leave us feeling trapped, robbed of the energy and motivation to exercise, or too agitated and stressed to be able to plan anything. Here are some tips to help get you started on building exercise into your daily life. The key is to take small steps:

  • Set achievable goals that you can succeed at and build upon.
  • Increase activity levels gradually. Gardening, a brisk walk around the block or to the shops might be easier than a marathon first up!
  • If you can, include other people. Exercising with family and friends can build on feelings of connectedness and provide opportunities to socialise.
  • Make a plan. Schedule your activity or workout at a time of the day when your energy is at its highest. Try to stick to your plan but be flexible to allow for life to happen. Consider what exercise you can do with your baby – a gym that has a crèche, swimming/water familiarisation, join a pram walking group (or start one), do mum and bub pilates/yoga.

“Do what is enjoyable. Any activity that gets you moving will make a difference.”

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is about trying to be present in the moment, staying calm and simply experiencing your emotions and physical feelings without being overwhelmed by them. Learning to sit with strong emotions instead of pushing them away or numbing them can take some practice! However it can also help us to process and resolve anxiety and fear caused by things we feel are out of our control.

  • Notice your anxiety. Create space for it. Step away from your baby if you need to and take a few minutes to yourself.
  • Tolerate your anxiety if you can without taking action. Let yourself feel it. Give it some compassion.
  • Breathe your way through it. Name the anxiety if that helps. Notice how it feels in your body (this can also help you recognise the signs in yourself if it comes again)
  • Notice any thoughts sitting alongside the anxiety: “Will the future be OK for my baby?”
  • Remind yourself that you are ok and that this will pass. Then reach out to your supports.

Be kind to yourself as you practice mindfulness of your emotions and try to remember the value of being a ‘good enough’ parent.

“We hold our breath without knowing we are doing it if we’re stressed and tense so feeling this and letting it go helps us both physically and emotionally. Try to build a couple of mindful breaths into activities you have to do anyway, like brushing your teeth, making lunch for the kids, or when you’re stuck at traffic lights.”

Ask for help

It can be hard asking for help. You may feel shame because you are not coping with the anxiety of expecting or caring for a baby in addition to the worries around a disaster or other event, or guilt because the anxiety is affecting you so deeply.

Try to remember that it is completely normal to worry about yourself and your baby at difficult times like these. And please ask for help if you feel it is all becoming too much. This might be your family, friends, members of your local community, a health professional like a doctor or a psychologist, or PANDA’s Helpline.

For more anxiety management strategies, visit Beyond Blue.