Many people probably read the term “postpartum anxiety” and immediately think, nah not for me. It seems extreme, as though one must be having panic attacks at 15 minute intervals and in the supermarket check-out line to be considered anxious. While, this sure can occur, I think the most common form of postpartum anxiety is less mild, more subtle and far more widespread than one might think.
- pinpoint an issue
- draw out how it’s affecting you
- label what you don’t like about it
- determine areas of responsibility
- figure out how it’s showing up
- say what you’d rather happen
- brainstorm solutions
My personality type (which is obviously A if you have read more than even one article over here) produces in me a natural tendency to worry. I can rationalise most things and explain away this and that, but the propensity remains. Worry and anxiety stem from fear and fear can take root when we are in situations that are unknown, potentially frightening or out of our control. To a certain extent, bringing new life into the world and nurturing it, can be all of the above.
Thoughts on postpartum anxiety.
1) The first few months with a newborn bring a bit of surrealism home.
I don’t know about you but at my house the first six weeks with a new baby feels surreal. I feel like I’m in a partial daze and still suffer from lingering effects of pregnancy brain. I believe you know what I’m talking about. Things no longer seem normal. Routine is different from before. There is a new person in the house and they are incredibly demanding. There may be other younger humans in the house attempting to adjust to a partial takeover and coup d’etat of their mother’s attention. All of these circumstances make for an unsettled mother.
If you are super laid back and go with the flow (then good for you) then you may not slip into anxiety, but if you are prone to worry then this may be a challenging time. I tend to feel off-center, nervous and slightly anxious. Even though I feel this, I just can’t put my finger on why. I keep going, keep moving, keep working to establish a routine and some household consistency and day by day it lessens, but it still surfaces from time to time. During this season in our life my husband works in the evenings, and for the first few months after the birth of our son I got anxious every evening as the sun went down.
The sun going down meant I’d be left alone with two babies, lots to clean up and no help. I’d feel stressed because there was so much to get done and I didn’t have enough arms to do it all. Following some good advice I started managing my expectations of what I’d be able to accomplish in the evenings, and little by little the situation improved.
2) Their health is both under our control and out of our control.
Another reason we feel anxiety is simply this: we are in charge of raising a tiny person. Certain aspects of their health we can control, ie whether they are well fed, clean and monitored. Other parts of their health we are not. Some things that affect babies generally outside of our control are colic, reflux, birth defects and (even typing this word makes me want to pop a handful of xanex) SIDS. We can position our babies to thrive, but ultimately it is out of our hands. At times like this I’m glad I know God (who is bigger than me) is in control.
Because of this fact, however, mothers tend to worry. Are they eating enough? Are they sleeping enough? Why are they so red? They sound like they’re going to cry themselves to death. It is a natural thing to worry about something that you care so much for. You incubated this baby in your belly for 9 months, no wonder you feel so protective. I (because I am truly neurotic) take it to the next level. I hope by typing this, I’ll feel so embarassed that I’ll stop doing it, but somehow I doubt it. I still, and my youngest is 7 months old, wake every 2-3 hours in the night to make sure he is breathing. He sleeps 7:30 to 7:30 solid. I know I should hit the pillow and not wake until they get me up, but I can’t help it. The other night I slept 4 whole hours – FOUR WHOLE HOURS – and thought it was a miracle.
I did the same thing with my daughter – now 19 months – and by the time she was about one year I was able to stop myself and keep sleeping. I don’t use an alarm, I don’t do it on purpose. I just roll over and wake up just enough to know that if I don’t check on him, I’ll never go back to sleep. This, my friends, is anxiety.
3) Exhaustion, helplessness and frustration lower our emotional and mental defenses.
Psychologists and counselors worldwide tell you that when you are tired, weak and stressed you will not make the best decisions. Well, with a newborn, who isn’t tired, weak and stressed? It is an amazingly joyful time. You couldn’t be happier to have added life to your family, but at the same time, you’re sleeping less, getting to know how your little one works, and still trying to make sure everyone is fed, in clean clothes and not living in a pigsty. This is where the desperate housewife syndrome can kick in. In the first few weeks there are so many variables with our newborn (not to mention our normal life) that we can begin to feel under it all.
Your nerves are tense, your emotions are on the surface and you are likely to have a breakdown at any moment. This won’t be everyday and it may only be once a week or so, but it is common. And, in these times, we can often feel anxious. It may not be something you need to visit a doctor over, but just talking and sharing with other mothers may be what you need to know you are not alone.
4) We spend most of our time outside of ourselves.
I don’t know about you, but I like to focus on myself. Oh, yes. Manicures, pedicures, going to the gym, shopping, reading a book, drinking a diet coke, eating a Reese’s (without having to share), and watching a movie. Not a cartoon, but a grown-up movie. But, alas, with tiny people, we often spend most of our day focused on them. And I have to go on record saying I think being a stay at home mom (although I do work part-time from home as well) is the best job in the world. I wouldn’t trade it for anything at all.
However, it is super tiring to focus on someone else all day long. It takes a lot of energy, a lot of patience and a lot of sacrifice. It is all well worth it, but it can take a toll if our other resources are depleted. I find that I am most anxious when I have gone long periods without any time to myself. If I can let my husbands watch them for a spell while I rest in the room, take a bath or read a book, I can get my wits back about me fairly quickly. If I can’t manage this, then I often find myself pretty low emotionally.
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I guess I say all that to say that, this too, shall pass. If I found myself very anxious and unable to cope I’d go to the doctor for treatment, without a doubt. But I believe my low-level anxiety is due to many of the factors above and, with time, will improve. They did with my first child and I suppose they will soon enough with my second. Now that we’re in a great routine and the baby has been sleeping through the night for a few months, I already feel better. I know I’ll keep waking at regular intervals until the major ‘danger’ period is over, but that’s life. I can’t help it.
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Being a mother has brought me joy unimaginable (unless you also have that joy) and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It can be hard, it can be challenging, and it may cost some their figures, some friends, and a career. But really… when I am old and grey and on my deathbed, I won’t be thinking about my abs. I hope I’ll be busy staring into the faces of my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And I’ll know that all the anxiety, worry, concern, and sleepless nights were worth it a million times over.
*I am not a medical practitioner nor am I writing from a medical viewpoint. The opinions expressed are my own and do not replace medical advice.
I have to say that I envy you for a 7 months old baby that sleeps 12 hours… my 14 months old one doesn’t sleep more than 5 hours in a row, most of the times less… However, no matter where the sleep deprivation comes from, I sure think it feeds anxiety, don’t you think?
A Mother Far from Home says
I totally think so. I think being tired, like exhausted tired, puts us on constant survival mode. And for me, survival mode makes me feel a low level panicky feeling and boy do I get anxious! Sometimes it’s a passing phase and can’t be helped but it is soo hard!
I just found this post (and your blog) today and think we might be the same person ;) This post hits home today especially for me. I have a 17-month old and a 3-month old, am totally type A, follow babywise, and have two well behaved and well rested little girls. However, I’m just now starting to not have my anxiety be such an issue when I leave the house with the babies. I would start getting the shakes even thinking about leaving in the he first month. I’m starting to relax now that the new one is getting older and even more predictable, but anxiety is definitely a postpartum symptom I never imagined having to deal with. Thanks for this!
Rachel Norman says
Oh Afton you are not alone! I didn’t know what hit me when I first started experiencing anxiety I felt like an alien! Luckily it did pass for the most part but even now I must be careful to not get caught up in fears in my head. Do you love having them close together? :)
Thank you for sharing this. I am 10 Mos pp and have struggled with a lot of anxiety. There is a lot of information about postpartum depression but not much about anxiety. Glad to hear others have struggled in this area and how it improves. Thanks again.
Rachel Norman says
Anne, you are right about there not being much on anxiety. I had major anxiety during the first trimester of two of pregnancies felt that the doctors didn’t believe me. I felt very alone and “crazy” for a time, but it did improve!
I have just found your blog after googling something about being stressed with little ones!!!! I could not stop reading your entries as I think we are the same.exact.person! I almost thought I had written a couple of these!!! I love Jesus with all my heart and I have two little boys, 2 and 1…..we just moved in with my parents while we build our new home, and while I have always wanted about 5 children I’ve started to wonder if I am cut out for having any more. I, too, am anxious…..Over protective, and, let’s face it……fearful. I crave organization and structure…..I need routine to function well…..(I’m about to buy your book, btw, about routines!!!) Anyway, just reading your blog has encouraged me a lot. I’m so glad I’m not the only one!!
Rachel Norman says
Jill, you are in no way the only one!!! And, I completely understand the overwhelm. But do know that moving, living with other people, and being in a transition period makes everything feel more heavy and anxious than it is. Wait until you’re in your beautiful new home. You may get clucky :)
How do you determine when you should see an anxiety counsellor and when you just need to make it thru the current season? As I’ve been reading your blog this weekend what you’ve described as low-level anxiety fits me well. I too have been through some of the major life stressors in a short time you talked about in your survival mode post and feel really overwhelmed. When do you know if something needs more processing or just more time?
Rachel Norman says
Elizabeth, so glad you asked this. I had another reader recently ask me about anxiety as well and I am working on a post where I’ll answer this exact question. It is so important and I know many moms. I’d answer you here, but I need to collect my thoughts more!
I am so happy I found this! My baby boy is exactly one week old and I am haing anxiety mainly about his safety. Sleep deprivation makes it worse so I try to nap but my brain won’t let me ! As much as I love these times when he is a fresh little baby, I must say I am looking forward to days with less panic about EVERYTHING
Rachel Norman says
Yes keep going Paula!
Hi Rachel, thanks for sharing. I also read your post and can really relate. I have this constant feeling of anxiety in my stomach like a big nervous knot and can’t put my finger on why it’s there. It’s not that I’m worried that my 3 mo and 4 yr old aren’t safe cos I know they are. I think it’s a fear of failing somehow and it’s constantly with me. Its also been a while since I had a newborn demanding my attention. I’m looking forward to going back to work so I have a chance to miss them both.