Supporting mums’ mental health

profile picture of Naomi Humber
Head of Mental Wellbeing, Bupa Health Clinics
04 March 2022
Next review due March 2025

Being a mum is already a full-time job. It’s often done alongside work, caring responsibilities and household admin.

Recent research by Bupa showed that mums are putting themselves under enormous pressure to achieve ‘super mum’ status. This sometimes means compromising their mental health as a result. Here are my tips for improving your mental health and wellbeing as a busy mum.

mum on the phone and laptop with baby on lap

1. Avoid comparison culture

When Bupa asked mums where the pressure to live up to unrealistic standards comes from, nearly half said social media.

Comparing your own life with the glossy posts of motherhood on social media can have a negative impact on your mental wellbeing. “Why don’t I look like that?” you might think, or “she seems to find it so easy.”

But what you see on social media is often a carefully curated snapshot of someone’s life. You don’t know what’s going on behind the camera, or how long it took to take that particular shot. Remember that everything you are looking at is, to some degree, posed – and that social media posts are usually created to get a reaction.

So, when you next look at social media remember that, despite what others choose to share, everyone struggles at times. No one’s life is perfect, no matter how much it looks that way from the outside.

An Instagram style scene of a mum cooking happily, and a realistic scene of a busy living room
Bupa research found eight in 10 mums would like the media, social media and TV to portray a more realistic version of motherhood.

2. Carve out time to relax

Bupa’s research found that more than eight in 10 mums did household chores instead of relaxing when there was an opportunity for a break.

But research shows that taking time out to unwind is very important for your health and wellbeing. Building time into your day to relax will help you to have the energy to support your family.

Try to find time in your weekly schedule to do something you enjoy. This could be anything from reading or going to the gym to going for a walk or having a bath. Make sure that it’s guilt free and that everyone around you encourages you to do it!

Enjoying regular periods of downtime will benefit not only you, but your whole family.

A mum taking a bath to relax, but with thoughts swirling about practical tasks she still needs to do
Bupa research found two thirds of mums didn't feel deserving of time on their own, and about half struggled to ask for it.

3. Try to focus on the positives

Positive psychology is all about emphasising the positive influences in your life. We tend to remember negative events more than positive ones. This means we can sometimes focus more on the less positive parts of our day.

Try to address this by focusing on small wins. It could be your child reaching out to hold your hand or simply enjoying a calm family dinner.

A good time to practise positive psychology is before going to bed. Take the time to list all the enjoyable parts of your day, no matter how small they may seem.

While it might seem like a small shift in mindset, positive psychology can help us become more resilient. In short, we learn how to handle the hard parts of parenting in a less stressful way.

4. Don’t suffer in silence

Parenting is hard work, especially during a global pandemic. Our research found that, without telling anyone, nearly one in three mums had sought professional help for their mental health. And one in four mums had been prescribed medication due to the pressures of parenting.

If you feel like your mental health is suffering, or you have sought professional help, try to tell someone you trust. It could be your partner, a family member or a good friend. Set aside time to discuss how you are feeling and what you need. Otherwise, they may not even guess that you’re struggling.

Establishing strong wider support networks is also important. This could include talking to other parents through parenting groups or classes, or by joining online communities. Having the space to offload and share how you are feeling can show you that you are not alone.

Two mums talking, with one saying she is fine while thinking about being exhausted
Our research found about a third of mums had sought professional help or been prescribed medication due to parenting pressures, but without telling anyone.

5. Be kind to yourself

Juggling lots of responsibilities at once is not an easy task. You may be left feeling exhausted and burnt out. You simply cannot do everything and be everything to all people, and it is okay to ‘drop the ball’ sometimes.

Many of us are great at showing compassion to others, but not at showing compassion to ourselves. If you’ve dropped a ball, or are feeling guilt, shame or anger, ask yourself what you would say to a friend in your shoes. A friend would probably completely understand how you are feeling.

And if you struggle to be kind to yourself in the moment – just remember that tomorrow is a new day.

Handling the pressure

There are many positive ways that mums can address the daily pressures of parenting. Our research showed that meditation and mindfulness, as well as exercise, are used by mums to help reduce stress levels.

Why not learn more about mindfulness and the benefits of exercise? It could be a great place to start if you want to make positive changes. Breathing exercises and yoga are also good ways to deal with stress.

Ways in which mums can cope with pressure, from connecting with friends to exercising
Our research found half of mums talk to their friends to decompress. A third do meditation and mindfulness, and nearly half use exercise as a coping mechanism.

If you’re worried about your mental health, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. You’ll be able to get mental health advice and support usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

profile picture of Naomi Humber
Naomi Humber (she/her)
Head of Mental Wellbeing, Bupa Health Clinics

    • Bupa UK research amongst 1,000 mums in the UK with children aged 0-16, to explore how parenting pressures have impacted on their mental health and self-esteem. March 2022
    • Burgdorf V, Szabo M, Abbott MJ. The effect of mindfulness interventions for parents on parenting stress and youth psychological outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Front Psychol 2019; 10: 1336. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01336
    • Kensinger EA. Remembering the details: effects of emotion. Emot Rev 2009; 1(2): 99-113. doi: 10.1177/1754073908100432
    • Parental mental health worsens under new national COVID-19 restrictions. University of Oxford., published January 2021

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