After giving birth, whether you’re a new parent or you’re more experienced, your mind might be racing with worries. Is my newborn sleeping well? Are they healthy? Wait, is my baby crying too much or too little? While these concerns are natural, if your anxiety feels out of control, you could be experiencing postpartum anxiety. If you feel like you’re on edge after birth, this article will provide several strategies for postpartum anxiety that are accessible to practice at home.
What Is Postpartum Anxiety?
If you’ve heard about postpartum depression, that’s wonderful (more awareness is needed), but do you know about postpartum anxiety? It’s still a very common type of perinatal mood and anxiety disorder that mothers can develop post-birth. According to Postpartum Support International, “Approximately 6% of pregnant women and 10% of postpartum women develop anxiety. Sometimes they experience anxiety alone, and sometimes they experience it in addition to depression”. Moreover, it can cause all-consuming daily anxiety and fear over a range of events that are unlikely to happen.
What Are the Symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety?
While many of the symptoms of postpartum anxiety overlap with postpartum depression, the main difference is excessive worry. Additionally, here is a list of common physical and emotional symptoms a mother might experience;
- Constant worry
- Persistent unwanted thoughts
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feelings of dread over fears
- Chest pain
- Racing heart
- Panic attacks
- Trouble relaxing
- Feeling distracted
- Difficulty controlling emotions
What Causes Postpartum Anxiety?
Similar to other anxiety disorders, there are several risk factors and theories that might make a mother more vulnerable;
- Fluctuating hormone shifts. If this isn’t already obvious, a mother’s hormones experience intense shifts after giving birth, causing them to be more prone to anxiety, dread, and fear.
- Existing anxiety disorders. If you experienced anxiety before pregnancy, you may be more at risk.
- Biological factors. Your genetics also play a role.
- Other factors. A history of eating disorders, previous pregnancy loss, traumatic childbirth, sleep deprivation, lack of support, domestic violence, and childhood trauma, to name a few.
7 Self Help Strategies for Postpartum Anxiety
1. Set realistic expectations
It may be tempting to be a supermom and do everything perfectly, but setting realistic expectations is necessary for your mental health. Firstly, there is no such thing as perfection, and secondly, you just had a baby and you’re recovering at the same time. Try to remove the pressure and go one day at a time – small steps forward will maximize results over time.
2. Make time for yourself
This tip is challenging, especially after giving birth to a baby. But making time for yourself is vital to your overall wellbeing. Try to watch your favorite movie, eat your go-to comforting meal, or pamper yourself with an at-home spa day. For example, when you put your baby down for a nap, have a bubble bath, wear a sheet mask, and have a cup of tea. Or, if you’re really pressed for time, prioritize a daily 10-minute meditation – consistent practice will do wonders for your anxiety.
3. Ask for help
It’s okay to ask for help, actually, it’s needed, especially after having a baby on top of experiencing anxiety. Postpartum anxiety is common, and your loved ones will understand. Reach out to anyone in your immediate circle, hire help (if possible for you), or ask a friend to watch your baby for a few hours while you sneak in a nap. The more rested you are, the happier you will be, and the easier it will be for you to control your anxiety levels.
4. Move your body
Once you’re cleared by your physician, begin incorporating physical movement back into your routine. After everything you’ve experienced (hormonal shifts, pregnancy, delivery, etc.), moving your body can provide powerful benefits for your anxiety. It releases endorphins, combats stress, boosts your mood, and even better, it’s one of the most accessible strategies for postpartum anxiety – walking outside with your baby counts!
5. Connect with other mothers
You may feel like you don’t have the time, but connecting with other mothers can help you validate your emotions, and help you feel less alone, misunderstood, or overwhelmed. For example, you can connect to an online support group, talk to your friends who are also mothers, or find an in-person group if possible. Their support will provide a safe space for you to disclose any concerns and receive empathy from those who understand your experiences the most.
6. Cuddle your baby
Yes, you read that title right. Cuddling with your baby can actually help you overcome postpartum anxiety. A study shows that when you cuddle your baby or anyone you love, a love-inducing hormone called oxytocin releases, which can lower your anxiety levels. So, if you’re a bit on edge and need a coping mechanism, look no further than cuddling your baby and receiving all their love to reduce your stress.
7. Look after your overall health
No time is more important than the present to focus on your health, especially after birth. This health shift should include eating well-balanced foods (try these foods that boost serotonin naturally), increased hydration, and adequate sleep. Above all, try to practice acceptance and self-love. Anxiety can cause low self-worth and make you feel there’s something wrong with you, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Remember, you’re not alone, and what you’re experiencing can happen to anyone. Therefore, shower yourself with love, practice positive affirmations, and tell yourself you’re doing your best – you’re enough.
When to Seek Help
While it’s important to remember that worrying about your newborn is perfectly natural, if your anxiety persists and affects your daily functioning, it’s worth contacting a mental health professional. The baby blues tend to go away after a few weeks, but postpartum anxiety can last longer. Ann Smith, CNM and President of Postpartum Support International notes, “Perinatal mood disorders don’t always disappear on their own. In fact, in some cases, if left untreated, they can set women up for a lifelong bout with mental illness.” Therefore, if your symptoms are mild or severe, it’s better to ask for help sooner. In the meantime, practice these strategies for postpartum anxiety disorder to help take care of yourself and your baby. Also, remember you’re not alone.