Headshots of Jackie Boyce and Kira Liss in an old film slide-style border.

In this series, we’re speaking to Unity Health Toronto experts about the strategies they use to help their own mental health and recommend to others too. 

Jackie Boyce and Kira Liss are social workers in the Women and Children’s Program at St. Joseph’s Health Centre.

What’s one good thing new parents can do to help deal with stress?

Kira: In the short period that I see parents post-partum, I’m noticing a lot of anxiety about feeling so isolated. Many of the social programs that used to exist for new parents like community circle times and parent-baby swim lessons have disappeared or gone virtual. Under “normal” circumstances, being a new parent can be isolating, and this feeling has magnified during the pandemic.

One way to counter some of the isolation is to reach out to people and share how you’re feeling. Find ways to connect that you feel comfortable with, whether that’s calling a friend or going for a walk with someone – these small things can make a big difference.  

Another strategy is to practice mindfulness. There’s a misconception out there that mindfulness is meditation, which a lot of new parents can’t relate too. But mindfulness is just about taking the time to check in with ourselves, our feelings and our bodies. There are impossible expectations put on new parents about how they’re supposed to feel and how to provide care, but those expectations aren’t realistic, certainly not during a pandemic.

Be gentle and compassionate with yourself and recognize that this is hard. These are really difficult circumstances and, while it’s cliché to say, it’s OK to not be feeling OK.   

Jackie: During the first wave of the pandemic, and even now with Omicron, I’m seeing a lot of new parents worrying about how contagious COVID-19 is and managing who can come see their baby and how to do that safely and responsibly. I’m also seeing a bit of grief from new parents that their birthing experience and parental leave may not be what they had expected it to be. I’m speaking a little bit from personal experience, as I gave birth to my daughter at the end of March 2020.

One thing I personally found helpful was to find peers in my community. I posted on my neighbourhood group on Facebook about having a four-month-old and feeling a bit lonely. I found other parents who felt similarly and we organized socially-distanced walks and socially-distanced play dates at the park.

Here at St. Joe’s, we emphasize the importance of mindfulness. Things like deep breathing, taking breaks and spending time outside are all helpful coping strategies.

It’s important to give yourself grace and allow yourself to feel all the feelings. This is a hard and challenging transition and that’s OK. Reach out to the people who love and care for you, because they really do want to help – having that support is so invaluable.

-As told to Marlene Leung. This interview has been edited and condensed.