The COVID-19 pandemic began as a sprint but turned into a marathon— one that’s taken its toll on women. Many have had to juggle careers with online learning, keeping kids masked and socially distanced from friends, and helping aging parents. Compounding that stress, a recent Pew Charitable Trusts study shows that, during 2020, mothers of small children lost work at three times the rate of fathers. Job losses were even more severe for single moms, deepening during the school year for districts that conducted virtual learning.
New mothers have struggled, too. In January, Psychiatry Research Journal reported that 36 percent of new mothers were suffering from clinical levels of depression. The survey also showed that, saddled with overwhelming at-home responsibilities, new moms are taking longer than usual to re-enter the workforce. “This is one population that’s especially struggling,” says Sofia Chernoff, a psychologist and assistant director of cognitive behavior therapy programs at Bala Cynwyd’s Beck Institute.
As a result, many have neglected their own needs, says Elizabeth Bland, a social worker and director of Main Line Health’s Women’s Emotional Wellness Centers in Newtown Square and King of Prussia. “We’re the caretakers,” says Bland. “Our needs go to the bottom of the list.”
Mother’s Day is the perfect time for women to put themselves back on their personal to-do lists. The first step is to take a self-inventory. Identify what you need for your own mental, physical and social health. “It’s a change of mind— of philosophy—to make time to check in with yourself,” Bland says.
Set goals, but make sure they’re realistic. Being selective about what you can and can’t do helps manage anxiety. Would you have the same expectations of a friend or colleague? “The answer is typically no,” Chernoff says.
Chernoff suggests getting organized and planning ahead. Take 10 minutes, sit down, and list all tasks and responsibilities for the upcoming week or month. Also note your needs and wants, then set workable time frames. Predictable routines help alleviate stress. Especially important are those “that include some protected time for self-care,” says Chernoff.
Walks, runs, books, baths, time alone, time with friends—however you define self-care, make it happen on a regular basis. “Once in a blue moon isn’t enough,” says Chernoff. “Incorporate this into your schedule on a weekly or daily basis.”
Being selective about what you can and can’t do helps manage anxiety. Would you have the same expectations of a friend or colleague? “The answer is typically no,” says Chernoff.
Even 15 minutes every day can make a difference. That’s plenty of time for deep-breathing exercises or meditation “with the purpose of bringing yourself back to the present moment,” says Bland.
If feelings of anxiety and sadness persistent for two weeks, ask for help. “Contact family, friends or local organizations if you need practical or emotional support,” Chernoff says.
Mental health professionals, primary care physicians and support groups can help. “Don’t wait,” says Bland. “When we talk to others, we realize we’re not alone.”
Getting professional help has never been easier. Main Line Health’s Women’s Emotional Health Center offers telehealth services, a transition made this past March. Virtual mental health services are now the norm at Penn Medicine, Chester County Hospital, Einstein and Crozer Health, and most independent practices.
As the world eases back into normalcy, Bland warns that it won’t be a “light-switch” return. Women should continue to make their mental health a priority, no matter the challenges ahead. “Overall, women—mothers, all of us—have quite a bit of resilience,” says Chernoff.