Understanding Postpartum Anxiety 

Postpartum anxiety is confusing - it can be hard to distinguish from regular new mom worry. What we look for is severity - has worry completely taken over? Are you unable to relax and enjoy your baby? Are you unable to rest at all? Are you having trouble turning off your brain? Are you worrying about everything? Is it difficult to focus on one thing?  Do you have nervous energy? Do you have a relentless to-do list? Are you ‘present’ but really in your head the whole time? Are you having sleep difficulties due to excessive thoughts? Is your appetite non-existent? Did you quickly lose your pregnancy weight? Do you have perfectionist traits? Are you focused on trying to do everything 'right' (when there is no right way to care for a new baby)? Are family members constantly telling you to just relax or calm down but you can’t?

Postpartum anxiety is experienced by approximately 10 percent of new moms. It can be related to having a history of anxiety before or during pregnancy, or from birth trauma or a newborn health concern. It can be impacted by higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), which are present during pregnancy and early postpartum. Postpartum anxiety can be challenging to identify – it often gets grouped under the more commonly known postpartum depression, but is its own maternal mental health concern. It is a common concern in SF - I see more moms with postpartum anxiety in my practice than postpartum depression. One of the biggest regrets I hear from moms with postpartum anxiety is they feel they wasted their maternity leave worrying and constantly doing, rather than just slowing down and being with their baby and enjoying this special time. 

It is not always easy to tell others that you are having scary thoughts or excessive amounts of worry. Please know there is much strength in being open with others about feeling this way. If any of this describes your experience, please reach out for support to help manage these thoughts and stabilize your mood.

I’m glad to see that postpartum anxiety has received more media coverage in the past year. Below are links to some helpful articles.

Postpartum Anxiety Is a Thing—Here’s What to Watch Out For
https://greatist.com/live/postpartum-anxiety-symptoms-and-treatments

This is What It's Like to Have Postpartum Anxiety
https://www.scarymommy.com/postpartum-anxiety-exhaustion/

Postpartum Anxiety Affects 1 in 10 Moms
https://www.vogue.com/article/postpartum-anxiety-vogue-april-2018

The Lonely Terror of Postpartum Anxiety
https://www.thecut.com/2017/08/the-lonely-terror-of-postpartum-anxiety.html

Plan of Attack for Anxiety

Feeling anxious? You are not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly 18% of American adults are affected by anxiety disorders. To help manage anxiety, learn a few self-care tools to have handy to take care of yourself and cope with anxiety symptoms. If your anxiety causes severe impairment, please seek specialized help. 

1 Begin to notice thought patterns
Create a thought record to track thoughts and learn to understand the connection between triggers, thoughts and feelings.

2 Challenge unhelpful thoughts
Ask yourself:
Is this thought useful? Is it even true?
Am I catastrophizing or jumping to conclusions?
How will I feel if I believe this thought?
Find another way of looking at things.

3 Practice deep breathing and relaxation daily
You don’t need a formal meditation practice, just take a few minutes each day to focus on the breath, without attaching to your thoughts.

4 Do some sort of daily physical exercise
Even a 20 minute walk will do wonders to reduce anxiety symptoms.

5 Practice good nutrition
Reduce (or ideally eliminate) caffeine.
Eat healthy, nutritious meals.
Drink plenty of water.

6 Practice coping skills to stop anxious or racing thoughts
Take deep breaths throughout the day.
Name it to tame it.
Opposite action.
Utilize distraction. 
Get up and move around to get out of a thinking state and into a sensing state.

7 Practice self supportive statements
I am having a hard time in this moment. I can be kind to myself.
This feeling is temporary - I’m not always going to feel this way.
I can handle this.

8) Increase your self-compassion
Treat yourself with loving kindness as you would a friend experiencing anxiety.