Being active has mental health benefits, Dr Lou Atkinson tells us more!
Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week - The Power of Connection, 2-8 May 2022
You Are Not Alone
Although for many people pregnancy is a time of great joy and excitement, it is also estimated that as many as 1 in 5 will experience depressed mood during their pregnancy. The expectation that pregnancy should be a happy time can prevent many people from being open about their feelings, and many do not seek help, worrying that they will be considered strange, or worse, not fit to be a mother. Yet, it is really common to feel anxious or stressed during pregnancy, as mums juggle the social, financial and identity changes that pregnancy brings with it, and there is a lot of support available. If you are pregnant and feeling low, talk to your midwife or other healthcare professional, and try to open up to someone close to you who can offer a supportive ear. You might also find these resources from Mind helpful.
Physical activity really is good for you!
Being active can support and improve your mental health. Research has shown an active lifestyle to be associated with a decreased risk of depression and anxiety during or after pregnancy. Exactly how physical activity protects us from developing these mental health problems is not yet known, but it is likely to be a combination of physical and psychological effects. For example, mood-boosting hormones are released during activity, and sleep quality often improves with regular activity.
Many women also tell us that physical activities provide valuable ‘me time’; an opportunity to clear their minds or distract them from their worries, and/or to stay connected with an important part of their identity that is not just about being a pregnant person or parent. In our own survey during the pandemic, 88% of respondents said they have used physical activity as a way to manage their mental health.
Whether you’re new to activity or already active, our FindYourActive resources are there to support you in maintaining an active lifestyle throughout pregnancy and after childbirth. Go on, check them out!
Mental Health Can Have an Impact
We want as many people as possible to enjoy the benefits of being active during and after their pregnancy, but if you are experiencing mental health problems, this can make being active feel more challenging, or even unachievable. Individuals with anxiety or mood disorders can experience tiredness, difficulty concentrating or remembering to do things, sleep difficulties and low self-esteem, all of which can make it more challenging to regularly get active.
If you are struggling with your mental health it is really important not to make being active another pressure on you. Focus on doing activities that make you feel good, when it feels right for you. Sometimes a bath, a nap, or meeting a friend for a cuppa and a chat will be the right thing for you.
If you feel you want to do something physical but are struggling to make it happen, it can help to make a plan for when & what you will do and with whom, as this can stop other things from taking over. You can also look at how to make everyday tasks more active, so that you don’t have to make it something extra to fit in. Walking to the shops, dancing in the kitchen while the kettle boils, and playing silly games with the kids are all great ways to get moving that won’t add a lot to your physical or mental load. For pregnancy and post-natal workouts you can do at home, check out our Active at Home videos.
The #MaternalMentalHealthAwarenessWeek is a week-long campaign dedicated to talking about mental health problems during and after pregnancy. The week is organised and led by the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership who launched the first-ever UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week in 2014.
Dr Lou Atkinson is a Pre-/Postnatal Instructor & Lecturer in Psychology at Aston University, and a member of our Scientific Advisory Board
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