What to do if you're feeling distressed and overwhelmed

How to Ease Distress and Overwhelm

Feelings around fertility, pregnancy and parenthood can seem overwhelming & distressing. Let the experts from Little Shadow guide you toward feeling better

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 mum+  Expert Article by  Little Shadow

How to Ease Distress and Overwhelm

You can feel distressed around pregnancy, birth, trying to conceive, baby loss, miscarriage and into the toddler years. We call it ‘perinatal distress’ at Little Shadow. Welcoming a baby is a life changing event – for any parent – and brings with it a range of emotions and changes that can be challenging to cope with on your own. You might need extra support to get you through – that’s where we come in. Read on for our tips to help you when you are feeling overwhelmed, blue or anxious.

A quick, grounding sensory exercise

This is a great exercise to do if your feeling overwhelmed. Try to do this outside if you can. Think of your five senses. Now, try and identify something that each sense is experiencing. For example:

What can you see? Trees, a painted wall, a favourite photograph, a streetlamp…

What can you hear? A dog barking, cars, birds singing, the tap running, the kettle boiling…

What can you taste? Cool water, a hot sip of tea…

What can you feel? A sharp breeze, a blanket on your skin, the warmth of the sun…

What can you smell? Fresh laundry, baking, dinner cooking, cut grass…

What to do if you're feeling distressed and overwhelmed

Self care

Making yourself a priority can be really tricky, but it’s vital to your wellbeing. It can take some organising, and often requires getting others to help. Everyone is different, and needs different things to feel good. Here’s some self care ideas to help you get started:

Listen to your body
Check in now, are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Take some time to meet these needs. Make a list of food and/or drinks that are nourishing and that you like. If they are difficult to access in your new routine set aside some time (with a partner, or through online shopping) to stock up and do some prep for easy access through the week. Keeping your body nourished is key to feeling good emotionally and mentally.

When did you last have a shower, or a bath?
Enlist some support with this if you have a small baby. Prioritise a time of day that this works – either during nap time, when your partner or support person is around, or in the evening. The simple act of washing away the day, or beginning the day fresh can be a huge mood boost.

Social media and the internet
Some people find social media and being online triggering at this time, for many different reasons. Try unfollowing anything that makes you feel bad, and following pages with uplifting and relevant content. Uninstall apps on your phone if you’re finding yourself ruminating online, or spending too much time on your phone.

Turn off message notifications from anyone who isn’t bringing you goodness. It’s ok to take a holiday from the noise of the online world for a while, and focus on yourself. Install Headspace or another good mindfulness app and have a go at working it into your day. Try not to google a million different things that might be wrong with your baby. Seek out recommended books and resources from reliable sources instead if you can.

What to do if you're feeling distressed and overwhelmed

Outsourcing and letting go
If you have a list of thank you’s to write, errands to run, or small tasks that just feel impossible to achieve and are getting you down – think about how to outsource them. Enlist support, or make a plan to review them again in a few months time. If it helps, you can set a reminder in your diary to check in with yourself about whether these tasks seem doable yet.

Usually external expectations people might have on new parents, expectant parents, or those experiencing a loss are minimal, if they have any at all. Try to reach out for help with tasks, ask for some company, or remind yourself that it’s ok to take your time, you’ll get there.

Time for you
Whatever it is that makes you feel good and closer to being ‘you’ – try to claim some time for it. If this is exercise, simply organising time for a walk around the block, or incorporating your little one into this routine can work really well. If it’s time alone, make this happen regularly with the help of a support person.

Whatever your ‘thing’ is – reading, knitting, cooking, gardening, making something, staring into space, working on your car, hanging out with a friend – claim it, make it a routine, get your support person/s on board. Write it in their calendar if you need to!

What to do if you're feeling distressed and overwhelmed


Lack of sleep can often affect your mood and impact your family. If this is happening to you, know that it’s ok to ask for help. Your baby may be struggling with sleep – or you may find you’re unable to switch off and sleep when your baby’s sleeping – whatever the cause, it’s important to get help quickly. Talking with your GP, Midwife, Well Child nurse, partner, friends and family are all good places to start.

Every baby is unique and will respond differently to sleep strategies. Safe co-sleeping works well for some families and implementing routines benefits others. If some advice doesn’t sit well with you, it’s ok to keep looking until you find something that does. It’s important that whatever approach you take, that everyone involved is on the same page, and feels united about how you tackle sleep.

Consider enlisting support from friends and family. Ask them to help with cooking and cleaning so you can prioritise rest. Even if you don’t sleep during those times it ensures you have more physical and mental energy to explore and implement strategies for sleep.

What to do if you're feeling distressed and overwhelmed

Feeling triggered

Feeling triggered by something is often the result of trauma. Certain events, emotions or situations can cause you to suddenly become overwhelmed, and respond in a way that is out of your control. This can effect your wellbeing, your ability to socialise, your parenting, your relationship with your partner, and the ways in which you cope with stress.

Triggers could originate from trauma from a miscarriage, losing a baby or giving birth, in response to past or present abusive relationships, physical injuries or childhood issues. Often, triggers can surface as you interact with your partner or children. They can also happen randomly, in response to memories, emotions, sounds, smells or phrases, or even hospital visits.

They can compel you to act in ways that you don’t like or can’t control. Involuntary responses like this are best worked through with the help of a counsellor or other professional. Having support from those close to you is also key.

ease distress and overwhelm

What you can do now to cope:

Write a list of situations, emotions, events – any of the things that trigger you. Once you’ve identified your triggers, work towards ‘practising the pause’ before you react. You might not perfect this immediately, but keep trying.

Pause, and try this:

  • Counting to 10 or 20, with a big deep breath between each number
  • The five senses exercise
  • Repeating a sentence or affirmation in your head e.g. “I am strong, I am kind, I can breathe, I can wait”
  • Singing a song, a verse or chorus that calms you or makes you feel happy
  • Saying to yourself “oh, there it is, I’ll wait for it to pass”, and waiting
  • Waiting and watching the clock for 60 seconds

Whatever works for you, try to just wait for a little while before you respond. This pause will enable you to respond from a place where you are in control of your actions. If you do end up responding to your child or partner in a way that you regret, remember that it’s all about the repair.Acknowledging the behaviour, committing to improve, and taking responsibility for any hurt caused is a great first step.

Counselling can provide clarity and a fresh perspective

We can help you find inner strength

Little ShadowAt Little Shadow we offer counselling and support for parents experiencing perinatal distress, including baby loss and infertility. (Perinatal means anything to do with pregnancy, birth and the first years of a baby’s life.) We provide you with a safe, non judgemental space to seek healing, resilience and empowerment.

Our counsellors are professionally trained to help you navigate perinatal distress. From depression to grief, loss, anxiety and trauma. Our counsellors genuinely relate – many have experienced perinatal distress, and all of them are parents.

Find out more by clicking below, or sign up to our newsletter.

Expert Profile: Little Shadow

Providing counselling services, support, information & education for families suffering perinatal distress

Little ShadowLittle Shadow were founded in 1989 and have grown into a Wellington-based service offering counselling, support and information for those experiencing perinatal distress.

Little Shadow  walk beside you in your journey, working collaboratively with health professionals and other organisations to help you on your journey to wellness. They’d love to hear from you. Find them online or on social media.



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