Erika Mitchell brings us a reflective story for the New Year.
After the chaos and emotional intensity of the holiday season I find January and February can be blue months. In December I am kept so busy traveling or organizing holiday gatherings or planning extravagant meals that the sudden return to normalcy can be a let down. January brings a return to routine, and with two small children I find myself longing for the extra hands that had been exasperating just a few weeks before. However, once settled into the old routine and schedules I feel a relief as well. The kids are easier to manage without the hype and excitement and misguided input by well meaning family members. Eating and sleeping slowly return to normal and there are fewer blood sugar crashes. I also look forward to longer days beginning to creep up on us.
Another benefit of starting off a new year is that after a few weeks of schedule disruption I have a perfect opportunity to create new habits and practices that will better serve the whole family. It is an excellent time to look at my routine and see where moments can be taken for mindfulness or self care. I can plan on enjoying my favorite brand of tea for 10 minutes every morning, or I can make a mental note to take 10 minutes at lunchtime to try out my new adult coloring book. I can let myself put dinner on the table 10 minutes later than normal and get outside for a short walk with my family when everyone is home for the day or I can get down on the floor with my kids and just play – giving myself permission to ignore the dishes, laundry and cleaning that are always demanding my attention.
A new year provides the opportunity to create positive behavioral changes that can hopefully lessen the effects of postpartum depression. A 2015 evolutionary psychology article by Jennifer Hahn-Holbrook and Martie Haselton poses the idea that postpartum depression is a ‘modern disease’. The authors describe a number of modern conditions that may predispose us to postpartum depression. These include diet, which is typically low in fish, low in omega-3’s and high in saturated fat, our busy schedules that leave little time for daily exercise, our low sun exposure resulting in chronic Vitamin D deficiency, the societal pressures surrounding breastfeeding and our isolated existences with little or no family support. These five conditions create a perfect storm resulting in high incidences of postpartum depression. The article emphasizes that these areas need to be further researched specifically because some of them have simple solutions that may alleviate a lot of suffering.
What I found interesting in their discussion was that, if correct, simple lifestyle changes might make the difference between slipping deeper into depression or lowering overall risk. Eating a more balanced diet that includes more fish and omega-3’s, being physically active whenever possible, taking a vitamin supplement and creating stronger family and friend connections likely won’t cure depression, but they are positive changes that can increase physical health and possibly put us on the road to recovery and prevent a relapse at this dark and contemplative time of year.
As I am writing this I am looking out at the soupy mix of wet snow and rain under the dark grey skies that are typical of this time of year on the west coast. My two young children are fighting over Christmas toys and it is very tempting to curl up under my blankets and just go back to sleep. But I can also see snowdrops poking their way through the slushy ground, a determined little hummingbird bravely avoiding the drips to get to the feeder and chickadees surrounding the little pine cone feeders we put out for them on Christmas eve. Their plucky courage is inspiring, so I am going to make myself a cup of tea, wrestle my kids into their wet gear and then we will all go out to search for signs of spring and the new beginnings they represent.
Hahn-Holbrook, J., & Haselton, M. (2014). Is postpartum depression a disease of modern civilization?. Current Directions In Psychological Science, 23(6), 395-400. doi:10.1177/0963721414547736