Postnatal Anxiety: The Challenge of Becoming A Mother and How I Coped

I suffer from anxiety.  Sometimes its crippling, but mostly its manageable.

I’ve always been a worrier.  Even as a child, I’d fret about homework and house points and even Santa.  I worried about my friends, my brothers friends, and whether my teachers liked me.  I was the child at a sleepover who cried because they wanted to go home.  The perfection I strived for in my art coursework had my parents despairing, as I tore page after page of my work to pieces, and started again.  I wasn’t necessarily shy.  I enjoyed performing in assemblies, reading in church and even appeared on stage at my local theatre.  But that was all practiced and perfected.  I struggled with the unknown and the uncontrollable.

Throughout adulthood my anxiety has waxed and waned.  Mostly it is an undercurrent, managed with the tools I’ve gathered along the way.  Occasionally, it’s caused me real problems – time off work, unable to go out alone, medicated and in therapy.  Thankfully, I can count those episodes on one hand.

After giving birth to Baby Bee my anxiety reared its ugly head.  She was 3 days old, it was the middle of the night and I had a panic attack.  My mind told me I was having a break down, that I’d be taken away, and little Bee would be all alone.  I couldn’t see how she could possibly survive without me and the pressure of that was overwhelming.  I could barely sleep or eat for the next four days, as I forced down mouthfuls that my instinct told me I needed, to nourish my post-birth, breastfeeding body.  Visitors came and went and I smiled through it all.  This was supposed to be the most amazing couple of weeks of my life after all.

I saw the doctor, anxious about my anxiety, but she told me it was just the baby blues.  That it would pass in a few weeks.  Well, it did ease off eventually, but it didn’t disappear with the hormones.

Slowly, as the weeks morphed into months, I was able to reach into my bag of tools again and manage the anxiety I was feeling.  The post-birth shock, dehydration, lack of sleep and baby blues had made it impossible before.

The anxiety I experience since becoming a mother has changed.  Its focus has shifted.  It’s still about the unknown and the uncontrollable.  But now, everything I worry about is compounded with the thought of Bee.

My fear of being separated from her.

My fear of dying and leaving her.  No longer being there for her.  Not being able to comfort her.  Missing out on the rest of her life.

It’s even hard writing about it now, as I usually go to great lengths to avoid my triggers.  For many months I couldn’t watch or read anything that had someone dying in it.  I even struggled spending time with Bee’s grandparents, and avoiding them wasn’t really an option.  Thankfully, I’ve learned to find a way through, and I even (albeit by accident) watched a film this week in which a mother died of cancer – and I coped with it.

I practise mindfulness, to live in the present.  It doesn’t always work, but nine times out of ten I head my anxiety off before it can take hold.

Self-Care

Be kind to yourself.  Don’t add to your anxiety by throwing in negative thoughts about yourself.  You are beautiful, you are enough, and you are worth it.  Find time to treat yourself.  Create space to just be you.  Practice relaxation.  Or, if like me, you actually find relaxation/meditation anxiety-inducing, then do whatever helps you calm down and slow down.  I like to listen to music, take a candle-lit bath or snuggle up on the sofa with a fluffy blanket and a cup of tea.  If you practise at being relaxed, it should be easier to call upon the same tools when anxiety strikes.

Company

Sometimes we all need to be looked after.  And when the world gets scary, finding sanctuary in the arms of someone who cares is a brilliant medicine.  Touch releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin.  It makes us feel safe.  Anxious thoughts are so often fuelled by feeling alone.  Sometimes, being in the company of people who care is enough to get you through.

Reason

Anxiety is a physiological response to an imagined threat.  It’s our fight or flight response.  Sometimes a particular thought, object (think phobias) or situation mistakenly triggers our fight or flight response, making us feel anxious.  The next time we encounter that thought, object or situation, our body remembers, and prepares us for action.  In anticipation of fight or flight, the body releases cortisol and adrenaline into our system.  In turn, they raise blood pressure, increase the heart rate and breathing, slow digestion, and can induce shaking and tunnel vision.  The body is getting ready to fight or to run.  Breaking the false connection, and teaching the body that your trigger does not warrant the fight or flight response, is a major step in overcoming anxiety.

Distraction

If anxiety wins out and you find yourself ruminating on worrying thoughts and scenarios, then I find distraction is often I good strategy.  Sometimes I can’t reason my way out of a thought, or I’m too wired to calm myself using relaxation.  Find what distraction works for you.  It depends how your mind works.  Watch TV, read a book, exercise.  For middle of the night distraction I keep a puzzle book by the side of the bed.  It keeps my mind engaged enough that there’s no room for the thoughts I’m trying to avoid.

Nature

One of the best ways to combat anxiety is to reconnect with nature.  Research has found that being in nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, but reduces heart rate, muscle tension, blood pressure and the production of stress hormones.  Nature soothes us, it absorbs us and distracts us.  It connects us to the bigger picture and grounds us to the here and now.  Spend time outside on a regular basis.  Walk on the beach, take up gardening, hike on the moors.  And in times of high anxiety don’t forget it as a useful tool.  I spent many an evening during Bee’s early months, deep breathing at the bottom of the garden.

anxiety woman with blonde hair carrying a toddler in a bear suit on Ilkley moor

For support with anxiety, talk to your doctor, friends and family.  There are also many organisations that can help, including:

Mind

PANDAS

 

Post Comment LoveMummy Times TwoDiary of An Imperfect Mum

3 Little Buttons
Dear Bear and Beany

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Follow:

30 Comments

  1. January 15, 2017 / 8:11 pm

    I don’t suffer with anxiety but I did put myself through the ringer, constantly doubting myself when I first became a mum. We put so much pressure on ourselves to create this ‘perfect’ image that society expects (or we think it does). It’s bonkers. All your baby needs is you. You are enough. I hope this reaches the people who need it, They will be grateful someone has written down how they are feeling and may find answers and support in your words xx

    • catherine
      January 17, 2017 / 10:02 pm

      Thank you. We do put so much pressure on ourselves as mothers, and sometimes the support and recognition of that is lacking.

  2. January 15, 2017 / 8:41 pm

    Some lovely words of reassurance Mama Cat. Some words I needed to hear. Lovely post.
    #EatSleepBlogRT

    • catherine
      January 17, 2017 / 9:35 pm

      Thank you lovely.

  3. January 15, 2017 / 11:34 pm

    This is great advice! As a military kid and now wife, I sometimes suffer anxiety because there are so few things within my control. I can’t determine where I live or for how long, and we can’t just quit the job when we’re tired because the enlistment is a contract. It’s great to hear how you cope so I can use some of these tips. #EatSleepBlogRT

    • catherine
      January 17, 2017 / 9:36 pm

      Well done for living with that kind of lack of control over things, I’d really struggle. Keep going lovely.

  4. January 16, 2017 / 8:04 am

    Brilliant advice. I am not very good at the company thing, when I am feeling anxious I tend to shut myself away and I am not so good at allowing others to take care of me as I want to take care of everybody. Thank you for linking up to #EatSleepBlogRT 🌟

    • catherine
      January 17, 2017 / 9:38 pm

      It’s especially easy for us as mothers to keep it all to ourselves – we’re so used to putting everyone else first. But a hug is sometimes really therapeutic.

  5. January 16, 2017 / 8:32 am

    This post really resonated with me. I’ve has anxiety and OCD since I was a child. After I had my son in 2013 it got worse until I had a breakdown in NY 2015. I was diagnosed with GAD, given medication and therapy and although I’ve had my moments since, I’m much better than I was. Anxiety is so hard but it can be managed. I’m a huge advocate of both CBT and mindfulness. Having a child is such a huge thing, mentally, emotionally and physically. We all need to be kind to ourselves. #EatsleepblogRT

    • catherine
      January 17, 2017 / 9:40 pm

      So true. It sounds like you’ve really been through it and come out the other side with some brilliant tools. Well done Mama, big love x

  6. January 16, 2017 / 11:23 am

    Thank you so much for sharing such a difficult time of your life with us at #PostsFromTheHeart. For a long time I was a single mum, I spent many many nights lying awake worrying about what would happen to my daughter if I wasn’t there, so to some extent I can understand this anxiety. Now we are a family, most of the time at least, I worry less. There is safety somehow in Number, and maybe less pressure too. I love the tips you have given and am sure your list will be an inspiration for many.

    • catherine
      January 17, 2017 / 9:43 pm

      I don’t know what I would have done without my other half in those early days. Well done for getting through on your own, big respect.

  7. January 16, 2017 / 3:03 pm

    I wax and wane as well. Now that I am older I have recognized and accepted that this is part of who I am.

    #postsfromtheheart

    • catherine
      January 17, 2017 / 9:44 pm

      We learn to live and cope with who we are and how we work. I just sometimes wish I was a ‘don’t give a damn’ kind of person.

  8. catherine
    January 17, 2017 / 9:41 pm

    There’s some mind control for you. Good luck with the teeth.

  9. January 18, 2017 / 6:01 am

    I totally get this and think these are really good suggestions for helping with anxiety. I’m like Rach and have found mindfulness really helpful for my anxiety but I know it’s not for everyone. #eatsleepblogRT

    • catherine
      January 19, 2017 / 1:10 pm

      I think in its own way mindfulness is for everyone, some people just don’t recognise they’re doing it or call it by a different name. I’d be lost without it.

  10. January 19, 2017 / 12:11 pm

    I’m lucky enough not to suffer with this though I am a notorious worrier so can sympathise on some levels. I think that these types of posts are invaluable to other sufferers and can be a lifeline to people who need to see a light at the end of the tunnel and know they are not alone. I hope this reaches and helps those who need it, will be sharing xx #SharingtheBlogLove

    • catherine
      January 19, 2017 / 1:11 pm

      Thank you, I’ll be happy if it helps just one person.

  11. January 19, 2017 / 6:45 pm

    I’m so sorry you went through, I had this too after a traumatic birth. An amazing therapist helped hugely as did a move closer to family and also my blog. Hormones and the enormity of parenthood, sleep deprivation and all that comes with it can prove for a tough time. Sending love. Thanks for writing this and helping others. I have a post on my traumatic birth which took 5 years to write on the blog x

    • catherine
      January 19, 2017 / 9:34 pm

      Thanks Vicki. I definitely found it therapeutic to write. x

  12. January 20, 2017 / 3:20 pm

    This is such great advice for anyone suffering with anxiety. I had quite bad anxiety when I was younger and feel grateful that I managed to get it under control with the help of medication and employing lots of the tips you’ve covered here. I still sometimes feel it come up, but I’m able to recognise it better now and put things in place to stop it happening again. I know I definitely saw it happening again after I had my son – I think it’s such a difficult and overwhelming time for new mothers that it’s understandable that anxiety can take such a hold. Thank you for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove

    • catherine
      January 21, 2017 / 4:38 pm

      Thank you.

  13. January 21, 2017 / 10:07 am

    I’ve always suffered with anxiety and at the height of them of suffered panic attacks which made education very difficult for me. Only a few years back I needed Hubby to look after our bank accounts and finances as the idea of running short would make me physically sick.
    Having Ben made my anxiety and Depression rears it head but thankfully with my family as a support network and some pills I feel like i’m getting back to my old self.
    Dont worry lovely, we’ll get there in the end! #dreamteam

    • catherine
      January 21, 2017 / 4:40 pm

      We all need to look after each other. Hugs x

  14. January 22, 2017 / 9:50 pm

    Thank you for writing this, it was a post that I needed to read. I know that I need to get better at putting things in place when I see the triggers and I know that it would help not just me, but everyone around me. Thank you for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove x

    • catherine
      January 23, 2017 / 8:39 am

      Thanks Laura, I hope you find some tools and tricks to help.

  15. January 23, 2017 / 5:35 pm

    Sorry to hear you struggle with this. Anxiety is a strange thing and I expect the more negative you feel, the more it flares up. It’s great that you are able to dip into your tool bag as such for coping mechanisms. This post is a fab reassurance post for those going through the same thing. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with the #DreamTeam x

    • catherine
      January 24, 2017 / 3:02 pm

      Thank you Annette 🙂

  16. February 17, 2017 / 10:28 am

    I love that you’re using your own anxiety to help others. Your list of tips is great and I’m sure a lot of women will find it helpful. Thanks for linking to #pocolo
    (sorry for the epicly late comment!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *