Are you an anxious mother? Do you feel you worry too much, but aren’t sure if it’s “normal”? If you are always worrying about different scenarios and you have parental anxiety (or postpartum anxiety) at every turn, this will help.
Every hour, all night long.
That is how often I got out of bed to check my babies were still breathing. 10 pm, 11 pm, midnight, and on until morning. If I came into semi-consciousness at all, bam. Up to check on the kids.
Try as I might, I couldn’t go back to sleep without checking.
I’d never have forgiven myself if something happened to them and I simply rolled over in the night.
I would get out of a warm, soft bed, walk down the hall, and as carefully as can be put my hand on their tiny chests. The concentrated act of trying not to wake them up woke me up.
If it was winter, well, forget it. The two minutes of frigid night air was enough to keep me awake 20 minutes before falling back asleep and doing it again an hour later.
Big time postpartum anxiety.
But, this is normal right? Because mothers worry?
Well, yes. But no. Yes and no?
Anxiety is going around. Modern life and lack of boundaries is creating an entire generation of anxious mothers.
Over the years I’ve had enough comments and emails from readers wondering if they just worry too much or if they have anxiety. It’s a fine line. One is a bit of a nuisance and the other can be an affliction.
But how do you know?
Signs you’re just a little worried, but not anxious.
You probably just worry a bit much if the following things can consistently and successfully make you forget your worries or fears.
- Comfort foods (like ice cream, chocolate, or your favorite casserole, for example)
- Media (Netflix binges, movies, etc.)
- chatting with a friend
- a fun day with family
If you can push away your worries by binge watching Gilmore Girls with some chocolate chunk ice cream, then it’s probably not anxiety.
Why? Because anxiety comes from deep within and is not calmed by surface band-aids such as food or fun.
It may be lessened slightly, but it rears its ugly head again quickly.
In fact, anxiety says, “I don’t care about food or fun, leave me alone.”
You see, nothing could have stopped me from checking on my babies. Not food nor fun nor any recitation of a Bible verse to calm myself.
Oh no. Calm only came knowing they were okay. It was compulsive. If I physically stopped myself from checking on them it was mental torment.
Symptoms of “Mild” Anxiety or Worry
- You have recurring worries, but you can generally ignore them.
- Sometimes you tend towards butterflies, feeling nervous, and even sweaty, but it doesn’t stop you from doing what you need to do.
- You aren’t debilitated by panic attacks or fear and you haven’t become fearful of your actual anxiety symptoms. (source)
Basically, if you tend towards worry that isn’t necessarily anxiety.
Worry can be managed and controlled.
Anxiety controls you.
A lot of anxiety comes from lack of boundaries
While there are chemical factors leading to anxiety and depression – surely – a lot of the chemical factors at play are a result of stress hormones being released constantly (source).
Sometimes lack of boundaries cause stress which causes hormonal imbalances which results in anxiety and depression.
That’s the bad news. The good news?
You can figure out your boundaries and learn to hold them so your life is less stressful and more like you want it.
How to figure out your boundaries and use them to relieve your anxiety
Here are some examples of how you’ve become an anxious mother because your boundaries aren’t being kept.
- The house is always a mess and no one helps. | This causes frustration and stress for you, especially if you’re a visual person. Solution? Get a chore system going, hire out help, or get rid of a lot of the stuff making a mess.
- You aren’t getting enough sleep. | Persistent lack of sleep causes mental illness. Full stop (scholarly articles here). Unless your baby is younger than 4 months old, they can sleep through the night with no feeds or 1 feed. Start meeting your child’s need by sleep training then go to bed at a reasonable hour.
- Meal planning and prep and cooking cause you stress. | Lower your standards. Melt some Kerrygold butter over organic noodles. Make cheese toast. Serve Kashi for dinner. For a season, simply do the absolute basic amount until you are out of survival mode.
Those are a few examples. Figure out what is causing you stress and anxiety. Brainstorm solutions (you will think of solutions!) and then keep those boundaries firm.
What triggers your parental anxiety?
Every day at 5 p.m. I felt a dark cloud.
It was around the time my husband left for work. I thought I was a super freak alien, but couple that with the frequent night waking and pregnancy hormones, I knew I should see someone. Turns out, there is a term for that feeling… dread and doom.
My counselor helped me see it was situational, not general parental anxiety. I felt dread and doom when he was leaving for the evening and I had to do all the nightly routines alone.
Things changed when tweaked our routine until it was less stressful, and that helped. I think when we add kids to the equation, it muddies the waters. It’s harder to figure out what’s going on.
But if it relates to the kids specifically, it’s definitely parental anxiety that needs specific solutions.
Ask yourself these questions.
- Does it come at a certain time? If so, what is happening then? Does this relate to being home with all the kids and not having any time alone to recharge?
- Is there something I can do to permanently change that situation? (stressed about cleaning, can you get a cleaner? Need daytime help? Get a mother’s helper.)
- Can I enlist others for help? (asking friends to organize meal delivery if you’re postpartum, for example)
What’s the difference between anxiety and fear?
Fear relates to a tangible circumstance. You are fearful if you think your child is in imminent danger. You fear for your life if a mugger is threatening you. And of course, you fear death if you are diagnosed with a disease.
Fear is our bodies reaction to something we can pinpoint. And truly, perpetual fear leads to anxiety. Why? Because fear releases stress hormones and, over time, these contribute to a hyper aroused state.
Which is anxiety, in a nutshell.
Anxious mothers have a more nebulous feeling or chronic sense of worry or apprehension (source), and often the person cannot pinpoint the source.
Sweats, butterflies, even panic attacks can come and you have no idea what brought them on! Or, you are worried about the possibility of an event happening, even though you have no cause to think such a thing could occur.
Can you pinpoint the onset … like postpartum anxiety?
If you have a baby under a year old and are anxious… it may be some form of postpartum anxiety. There are so many changes that come within the first year.
And in our fast paced modern society, where women are expected to do everything they once did with their newborn, postpartum anxiety is reaching record levels.
Often anxiety sets in due to a stressful circumstance. My postpartum anxiety counselor said of 10 major stressors for women, I’d recently experienced or was experiencing 6.
- I’d recently gotten married,
- was having relationship struggles
- moved homes
- moved countries
- had two babies
- and was pregnant again.
Can you determine when you started having these anxious feelings? Is it money trouble? Or relationship struggles? Is it the weight of day to day caring for a child with special needs?
If you can pinpoint the root of your feelings, the way forward is much clearer.
When Should I See a Counselor?
If you’re asking if you should see a counselor… you should see a counselor.
After a few months of hourly night waking, dread and doom, and other horrible fears, I asked to see a counselor. My counselor suggested, and I agreed, it was likely a result of big life changes coupled with intense pregnancy hormones since I’d had babies close together.
In fact, as soon as I delivered my baby I was back to normal me.
But in that time I’d also hired someone to deep clean the house. And I’d filled the freezer with cooked meals. Not to mention a few other things that took some of the homemaking stress off my shoulders. In the end, I was able to manage it until the biggest root (pregnancy hormones) was no longer a factor.
But only because my anxiety counselor saw a clear picture. She heard my story unbiased. Then, she told me my expectations were too high, unrealistic, and damaging to my own mental health.
That I needed to stop worrying what “should” be done and start doing what was best for us. In short, I owed her my sanity. She was worth it ten times over.
And these days? I’ve added three more children to our family. But instead of waking up hourly, we all sleep like babies.