How to manage the invisible struggle of postnatal anxiety and enjoy parenthood
Congratulations, you’ve just brought a tiny human into the world! You’ve probably got a million thoughts racing through your head right now – “Am I doing this right?” “Why won’t they stop crying?” “How long can I survive on four hours of sleep a night?” – the list goes on. But what you may not have anticipated is the possibility of postnatal anxiety. While it’s a serious condition, it’s also one that’s very common among new parents.
In this article, we’ll talk about what postnatal anxiety is, how to recognise it, and what you can do to get the help you need.
What is postnatal anxiety?
Postnatal anxiety is a form of anxiety that occurs after the birth of a baby. It affects both men and women and is characterised by feelings of worry, fear, and unease. It’s important to note that postnatal anxiety differs from postnatal depression, although they can occur together.
You somehow gear yourself up for the sleepless nights, the endless diaper changes, and the unending stream of unsolicited advice from relatives and strangers alike. But what happens when all those little stressors start to add up and you find yourself feeling overwhelmed?
When that anxiety starts to take over your thoughts and interfere with your daily life, it may be time to take a closer look at postnatal anxiety. It’s a condition that affects many new parents and can make the already-challenging task of raising a baby even more difficult. Other than the most evident causes, there are a number of stressors that lead up to it. For instance, if you have had a traumatic birth experience or a difficult pregnancy.
It’s important to keep an eye out for the symptoms of postnatal anxiety, so you can address them early on.
Symptoms of postnatal anxiety
Postnatal anxiety symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Here are some of the most common symptoms to look out for:
1. Excessive Worrying:
It’s totally normal to feel a bit worried about your baby’s health and your own parenting abilities. Trust me, we’ve all been there! Sometimes those worries can really ramp up though, and it’s important to recognise when they start to feel overwhelming or pervasive.
2. Panic Attacks
One of the ways that postnatal anxiety might show up is through panic attacks. These sneaky little buggers can hit you out of nowhere and leave you feeling like you’re gasping for air. As a symptom of postnatal anxiety, panic attacks can be really tough to deal with. They might come on suddenly and unexpectedly, making you feel like you’re losing control or even having a heart attack.
3. Trouble Sleeping
It’s totally normal to have trouble sleeping when you’re a new mum. Between the feedings, diaper changes, and general baby shenanigans, it’s hard to catch some z’s. But sometimes, postnatal anxiety can make it even tougher to drift off. Your mind might be racing with worries or you might feel restless and on edge.
4. Physical Symptoms
Postnatal anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, and nausea. These symptoms can be distressing and may make new parents feel like anxiety is taking over their bodies. However, it’s important to understand that these physical symptoms are a normal part of postnatal anxiety and can be caused by the body and mind working together (or against each other) to cope with the stresses of parenthood.
5. Avoiding Social Situations
Some new parents dealing with this may find themselves avoiding social situations like the plague. Yes, that’s right, playdates, family gatherings, and all kinds of social events might feel overwhelming or even impossible for them. It’s like the anxiety is trying to keep them locked up at home, away from the rest of the world.
How to cope with postnatal anxiety
If you are experiencing postnatal anxiety, know that you are not alone, and there are ways to cope with it. Here are some tips that can help:
1. Practice self-care
Being a parent can be quite a rollercoaster ride. It’s easy to get so caught up in taking care of your little one that you forget to take care of yourself. So, here’s the deal: you need to make time for yourself. Yes, I’m talking about that precious “me-time” that we all crave.
Whether it’s hitting the gym, reading a book, or hanging out with friends, find an activity that brings you joy and makes you feel like yourself again. Trust me, it’s worth it. You’ll be a happier, healthier parent and your little one will thank you for it.
2. Seek support
Talking to other parents who have been through it can be a total game-changer. They get it. They’ve been there. They know what it’s like to be knee-deep in dirty diapers and sleepless nights.
So, don’t be afraid to reach out and join a support group or chat with a therapist. Trust me, they won’t judge you if you show up in your pyjamas with a baby on your hip (hey, it’s a look!). These folks are there to help you navigate this crazy parenting journey and give you some solid coping strategies. And who knows, you might even make some new friends along the way.
3. Take breaks
You know what they say, parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. And let’s face it, we all need a break every once in a while. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Call up your mum, your bestie, or that neighbour who’s always asking to hold the baby (you know who I’m talking about). Take a few minutes to yourself and do something that makes you happy. Take a walk, listen to your favourite playlist, or just sit and enjoy a cup of tea. You deserve it! So go ahead, take that break, and come back feeling refreshed and ready to tackle whatever parenting throws your way!
4. Get enough sleep
I can sense an eye roll on this one. I hear you, I have been you. It’s just not possible to “sleep when the baby sleeps”. I get it. I remember having moments aching to catch some Z’s for myself while soothing the baby to sleep. You finally get the baby to sleep, and you’re like “YES! Freedom!” and then you realise you’re too amped up to actually sleep.
Let’s be real, having your hands free is like hitting the jackpot when you’re a parent. It’s like finally being able to scratch that itch you couldn’t reach, except it’s your whole body. So, I get it, it’s hard to resist the urge to stay up and enjoy your newfound freedom (especially when you have a backlog of Netflix shows to catch up on).
But, here’s a little secret: you can have both! Soothe the baby to sleep and then give yourself a few minutes to bask in the glory of having your hands back. Then, once you’ve got it all out of your system, take advantage of that quiet time and catch some much-needed Z’s. Your well-rested self will thank you in the morning.
5. Consider prenatal depression treatment
In some cases, postnatal anxiety may be severe enough to require professional treatment. If you’re experiencing severe postnatal anxiety symptoms, your doctor may recommend prenatal depression treatment, which may include medication or therapy.
As a new parent, I remember feeling overwhelmed and anxious about every little thing. I worried constantly about whether I was doing things “right” and whether my baby was healthy and happy. I had trouble sleeping, and I felt like I was on edge all the time.
At first, I thought these feelings were just a normal part of adjusting to parenthood. But as the weeks went on, my anxiety became more intense, and I knew I needed to seek help. I spoke to my doctor, who recommended a therapist who specialised in postnatal anxiety.
Working with the therapist was a turning point for me. She helped me to identify the negative thought patterns that were contributing to my anxiety and taught me new coping strategies, like deep breathing and mindfulness meditation. It has been such a game-changer for me that I have added it to my daily routine. It’s been almost a decade now and I’m still going strong. And the best part? My kid has now hopped on the meditation train too.
Postnatal anxiety is a common condition that affects many new parents. It’s important to keep an eye out for the signs of postnatal anxiety and seek help if you’re struggling. Remember, reaching out and seeking help when feeling overwhelmed is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. With the right coping mechanisms and support, you can overcome postnatal anxiety and enjoy the joys of parenthood.
Always remember that it’s okay to ask for help, and you’re not alone.
Postpartum care: Why mothers need support in the weeks after delivery
6 things no one tells you about mental health as a new mum
6 things you need to know about self-care… (in the first year)