Whether you’re a first time mom or on baby number six, one thing is true for most moms: a healthy level of anxiety is almost a given. It keeps us on our toes between choking hazards and daredevil toddlers and makes us some serious multitasking ninjas.
That said, anxiety can also be like a runaway train, and before you know it, you’re a completely different person. When anxiety rules your life, your interests change, you lose passion for the things that were once important to you, and the world of what-ifs becomes all-consuming.
The good news is, you’re not crazy mama. There are a massive number of women in the world suffering from this problem, and therapists are offering answers.
Postpartum anxiety is a condition that has only recently been recognized by healthcare professionals. Now that physicians are aware of it though, it’s becoming clear how widespread of a problem it is. It’s estimated that 11% of mothers experience postpartum anxiety, compared to the 6% of mothers who experience postpartum depression. The really crazy part? About 30% of those cases actually start during pregnancy.
It’s a very real thing, and the effects can be lifelong if left unchecked.
Postpartum anxiety is related to postpartum depression, but isn’t necessarily accompanied by the same feelings of disconnection and sadness. In cases of extreme anxiety in mothers, the ones classified as postpartum anxiety are so intense that they trump any rationale or reason.
Anxiety becomes more than just new mom jitters when it starts interfering with your health. Common symptoms can include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Hot flashes
- Rapid heartbeat
- Changes in eating habits
Why Is It so Common?
So what’s going on? Did the numbers always used to be this high?
In cases like this, typically these disorders have existed for longer than we realized — we’re just now realizing that it can manifest as more than just helicopter parenting and light paranoia.
However, it’s suspected that postpartum anxiety is becoming more pervasive because of a simple, recurring theme: the modern world expects too much of moms. The social pressures of parenting can cause parents to feel inadequate, placing them in a perpetual cycle of worry and cynicism.
In addition, it’s possible that the social media component of modern parenting plays a role. Besides seeing every parent’s worst nightmare played out in our news feed every day, social media can trigger a hormonal response that actually increases our cortisol levels, giving them a heightened sense of stress.
When Butterflies Become Postpartum Anxiety
When your fears aren’t rational, when you feel like you can’t sleep or leave the house without something bad happening, and when your anxiety prevents you from taking care of yourself or your children, it’s time to talk to a professional.
Avoiding everyday activities is a major red flag, as is skipping meals and insomnia. You’re not crazy, you’re just crazy about this little life you’ve created, and that can make anyone a little paranoid.
What You Can Do
The great news is, there are a LOT of things you can do on your own to stop postpartum anxiety before it becomes a lifelong affliction:
- Skin to skin — Making physical contact with your baby will trigger the release of dopamine and help you relax, so get all the cuddles, mama! Babywearing is a GREAT way to cuddle when you have too much to do!
- Get more sleep — Getting sleep with kids around is always easier said than done, but it’s absolutely critical to your mental and physical health. Whether it’s a safe co-sleeping arrangement or a compromise on night feedings with your spouse, find a way to get at least seven hours a day.
- Watch your caffeine and sugar intake — If you’re already wired, sugar and caffeine aren’t going to help you relax. Besides the immediate effects, too much sugar in your diet long term can actually cause hormonal imbalances that exacerbate mental health problems.
- Unplug from social media — Hide posts from the people who constantly post horrifying things to Facebook (we all know at least one), but take a break from it if you can. Too much social media can have a chemical effect on your brain, and limiting your exposure will help you to relax.
- Get outside — It’s amazing what some fresh air and vitamin D can do. Sunlight is critical to healthy hormone regulation, so get at least 30 minutes of fresh air a day.
- Meditation — I know, this one is SUPER hard with kids, but even if it’s just 15 minutes a day, practice sitting still and calming your mind. Start with five minutes and work your way up gradually until you can quiet your inner frenzy.
- Get active — Regular exercise is absolutely critical to mental health. In a study done by the University of Georgia, six weeks of resistance training led to a 60% remission rate in women with anxiety disorders. Make time, and make it a priority, mama.
Have you ever struggled with anxiety? What did you find helped you the most?