Postpartum Anxiety: Learning to Listen to Your Instincts Without Letting Fear Take Over

All the noise and distraction that anxiety creates can drown out what you know about yourself—- your strengths and good instincts about how to be the mom you want to be.
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When you were anticipating getting pregnant and having a baby, it's likely that you expected yourself to feel happy, excited. Maybe even confident and in charge of the situation. You probably didn't imagine feeling consumed with worry that keeps you up at night, or terrified at moments when certain thoughts cross your mind. Yet this is how many women experience their first months or years of motherhood. Feeling out of control, overwhelmed, and helpless. This kind of anxiety is like a thief, robbing you of the ability to enjoy the time you have with your brand new baby.

Most new moms experience a certain amount of fear and anxiety. However, some women become overwhelmed, preoccupied, and ruled by their fears. According to Postpartum Support International, 6% of pregnant women and 10% of postpartum women develop anxiety- sometimes alone, and sometimes with depression. When anxiety and fear begin to change your behavior and inform your decision making, it can become very hard to trust yourself, and hard to ask for help from people who might be able to support you. Moms with a history of trauma or abuse may be especially vulnerable to anxiety and constant worry about the safety of your own children. Unwanted thoughts, fears of something bad happening or disturbing memories make it difficult to think clearly and make good decisions for yourself and your baby. Relationships can become strained, and sleep deprivation makes everything worse.

All the noise and distraction that anxiety creates can drown out what you know about yourself--- your strengths and good instincts about how to be the mom you want to be. When anxiety takes over, it takes a lot of work to remind yourself of the parts of you that are strong and resilient and to listen to your own voice. If you're struggling with anxiety, here are some things to think about:

Arm yourself With Information About Postpartum Anxiety

If you're struggling with postpartum anxiety, it's important to know that it's not your fault and you didn't cause this to happen. Anxiety is treatable and with help you'll feel better. Getting support to help you manage anxiety is an important step to take. Learning to recognize and cope with your symptoms so that you can get to the root of what's causing your anxiety is a good starting point. Every woman's anxiety is experienced differently, but there are some common symptoms that you can begin to identify for yourself. Some good resources to educate yourself are:

Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts: Breaking The Cycle of Unwanted Thoughts by Karen Kleiman and Amy Wenzel

The Pregnancy & Postpartum Anxiety Workbook by Pamela S. Weigartz and Kevin L. Gyerkoe

Postpartum Support International Website postpartum.net

Carefully Consider Your Expectations of Yourself

One of the most common things women express to me is the belief that they're a bad mom because of how their anxiety is affecting them. Even if you've felt capable, competent, accomplished and in charge in other areas of your life, having a baby can lead to feelings of doubt, overwhelm, even a sense of failure. In Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts(by Karen Kleiman and Amy Wenzel, 2011), the authors write:“The period following the birth of a child is a transitional time that can challenge a woman in profound ways. She is deprived of precious sleep, she is hormonally compromised, and sometimes she is thinking things she cannot believe are crossing her mind. If a new mother experiences thoughts that are uncomfortable to her during a time when her family, friends, and society expect her to feel blissful, she is likely to be overcome by guilt and a crushing sense of failure.”

Learning how to quiet your anxiety and tune into your own instincts about how to be a mom is no easy feat. Moms are bombarded with all kinds of messages about the “right” way to parent, and how you’re supposed to feel about being a mom. There is no shortage of judgment, real and perceived. Becoming a mother changes your sense of who you are, and it's important to allow yourself explore how you're changing, growing—and how you're struggling. You've taken on the role of “mom”, and you may feel like there's no room for you to be anything else right now. It's important to acknowledge aspects of yourself and your life that feel lost or out of reach, and to make room for yourself to feel whatever you feel about how much your life has changed. Your values and beliefs, your hopes and dreams, and your most important life experiences can help you find your way to being the mom you want to be.

Getting Help For Postpartum Anxiety

Postpartum Depression and Anxiety are treatable. Opening up a conversation about how you're feeling can be difficult, but remaining silent or trying keep up the appearance that everything is okay usually just prolongs the problem. The sooner you get help, the more quickly you'll find relief and get back to feeling more like yourself. If you'd like to learn more about how I can help, please contact me for a free phone consultation at (626) 808-5463 or write to me at hollyaevansmft@gmail.com