How to manage mood swings

Cranky, teary and irritable? Psychologist Liv Downing shares how to deal with the tears and the rage.

Written by Medibank

Mix raging hormones with enormous physical changes and things are bound to get testy. But when even the sound of your partner’s breathing is enough to trigger intense rage, the reality isn’t so funny. The good news is, you’re not alone.

Clinical psychologist and mother-of-two Liv Downing knows this all too well. As well as running mindfulness workshops for pregnant women, Liv teamed up with beyondblue and Smiling Mind to develop a mindfulness app targeted at mothers-to-be.

We talk to Liv about how to deal with the rage and the tears: about the value of curiosity, self-compassion, honesty, and realising you’re not alone.

Why do mood swings happen in the first place?

An important thing to know is there are no set rules. But for a lot for a lot of us, it could be around fatigue, where we’re just generally more tired – because we’re building eyelashes and fingernails! There are changes in our metabolism, and then the change in hormones like oestrogen and progesterone, and that change impacts the physiology of the brain, which regulates our mood.

READ MORE: 5 tips for a less stressful labour

How might our expectations surrounding pregnancy affect our mood?

We all have these pictures in our mind about how pregnancy should be, and sometimes it’s the reality, but most often it’s not. When our experience doesn’t line up with our expectations, then we can start to become anxious or depressed. And I think it’s that fight with reality which causes us a lot of problems.

What’s a good way to deal with this disappointment?

Often when we fight or deny something then that thing becomes stronger. A quote I love is, “what we resist, persists”. So the opportunity we have is to notice this experience and accept it: to know that it’s common; to know that we’re not alone. Talk to other people, or other pregnant friends about it. [But] if the symptoms last for longer than two weeks and start to impact your appetite, sleep cycle, ability to connect with others and levels of irritability – that’s when it’s time to seek additional help and see your doctor. Practising acceptance is something that can be very powerful.

How can we be kinder to ourselves?

Being pregnant is a very big change for us, and we can often be much harder on ourselves when we find ourselves in new or changing situations. A question [you] might like to ask is, “What would I say to a friend in this situation? Can I show myself some more patience and compassion? Can I be kinder to myself?”

From my personal and professional experience, this is a great practice to prepare us for motherhood. It’s incredibly difficult to be kind and patient with other people if we can’t be kind and patient with ourselves first.

What’s a good way to practice self care while dealing with daily demands?

There are no right or wrong answers. I think a really common misconception is that self care is selfish – it’s not, because if we don’t stay well, then we can’t care for other people.

Prioritising ourselves is something women don’t typically do: we’re often raised to be selfless. But asking for help – saying, “I need a break” – and perhaps establishing some kind of regular meditation practice is important. I see meditation as a radical act of love not only for ourselves, but for our community. And I believe mothers are the most important members of our community, because mothers are creating the future.

How might meditation and mindfulness be useful in dealing with changes in mood?

Rather than getting stuck in the mood swings, one of the things [you] could ask yourself is, “What are the thoughts or beliefs that are happening leading up to these mood swings? What am I thinking? What are the recurring thoughts?” Examples might be, “Will I be a good parent? Am I ever going to fit into my jeans again? Am I ever going to have my career back?” Then the question to consider is, “Is there an opportunity to be noticing [these thoughts] – to be curious about them, to be interested – but perhaps not allowing them to control us as much?”

READ MORE: Common fears of new parents

What’s another good way to deal with mood swings?

Do some exercise, move the body. Go for a long walk or a swim, or do some yoga. Exercise and yoga are two very important things, even as just general maintenance leading up to the birth. [Or] listen to some music. Research tells us that music has great ability to soothe and nurture, and change the brainwaves.

Finally, what’s the most important thing to remember when we’re feeling irritable or sad?

I think many of us can feel alone when we’re pregnant; it can be a very isolating experience. But it’s perfectly normal to feel this way, and important to remember that you’re not alone.

Written by Medibank

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