Expert advice on how to deal with the crazy, endless anxiety that comes with having a kid.
I hated being pregnant. I hated not being able to drink cocktails or eat what I wanted. I hated sitting on my butt, because a complication meant that I had to limit my activity. I hated being thirsty all the time, being hot, the weird dreams, the sore feet. But most of all, I hated the anxiety.
I worried constantly that my baby was going to die. I was certain before every early ultrasound that she would be dead. After she started kicking, if she stopped for an hour, I was sure she was dead. I was worried ALL THE TIME. And I worried that my worrying was going to kill the baby. Because stress IS BAD.
I figured I’d calm down after she came out. But that didn’t happen. I couldn’t sleep for the first two weeks of her life, terrified she’d stop breathing the minute I closed my eyes. Now my daughter is seven months old and there’s always a reel of horrible scenarios playing in my head. I see myself dropping her on her head, her stroller getting hit by a speeding car, my husband spilling boiling water on her, a horrible childhood disease. I worry that I’m doing something wrong. Am I feeding her enough? Is she getting enough sleep? Am I stimulating her enough? Is she going to be permanently damaged from getting the wrong amount of sleep, BECAUSE I CAN’T STICK TO A ROUTINE AND AM THEREFORE A TERRIBLE MOTHER?
Karen Kleiman, author of several books on postpartum depression and anxiety, and founder of The Postpartum Stress Center, says “All new mothers experience anxiety; this is indisputable and unconditional. Almost every single new mother experiences some degree of obsessive thinking.” Great. So, I’m not alone. But that doesn’t make me any less anxious. Is all this outfreaking cause for alarm?
Kleiman says not necessarily. “Symptoms can skyrocket and totally overwhelm a new mother who is desperately trying to sort out what is okay and what is not. If she can get through her day with minimal interference, even though she doesn’t feel great, there is no cause for alarm. If, on the other hand, she is paralyzed by the thoughts she is having or the feelings she experiences, then it’s time for her to seek support from her healthcare provider so she can get relief.”
But there are things you can do on your own to calm the eff down. These include:
Distraction: such as reading, listening to music, exercising, hobbies, playing games, counting, cleaning, painting, anything that keeps you busy. Kleiman says, “Distraction techniques work to momentarily take the mind away from the worrisome thought and redirect it. By keeping your brain busy as much as you can, you are less likely to experience the anxiety. ”
Breathing, Relaxation, and Mindfulness: “When in a relaxed state, the heart rate slows down, breathing becomes more controlled and slower, muscles loosen, and blood pressure stabilizes. Research bears out that relaxation exercises work by calming your body and quieting your mind. Learning to breathe in a controlled manner and refine your relaxation response takes time and practice, but it can pay off both in the short and long run.”
Journaling: “Writing down your thoughts has been shown to be an effective strategy for decreasing anxiety and can provide some self soothing benefits.”
Self compassion: “New mothers forget to take care of themselves. They forget to be tolerant when they are overwhelmed. They forget to expect that change will be uncomfortable and things that are unpredictable will continue to challenge them. When possible, if this temporary state of instability is better understood and embraced, it will feel less distressing.”
Naturopathic Doctor Lisa Doran also offers the following herbal suggestions for coping with anxiety, adding that Vitamin D and fish oil are extremely important as well.
Eleuthrococcus senicosis: Siberian ginseng is an adaptogenic herb which helps your body deal with stress and anxiety by lowering your stress response to every day situations.
Ashwagandha: an aryuvedic strengthening herb used to assist in postpartum recovery. Has documented anti-stress and anxiety lowering properties.
Holy Basil: another stress busting or adaptogenic herb used to elevate mood, lower cortisol levels and assist in postpartum recovery.
Lemon Balm: most often used as a tea or sometimes in the bath. A lovely soothing herb. Its volatile oils appeal to the limbic system of the brain, inducing pleasure and a calm state of mind.
All of these, she says, are safe for breastfeeding mothers.
Finally, Kleiman says, “If you are having scary thoughts remember this: Good mothers have scary thoughts. Anxiety feels awful but it does not mean anything terrible is happening.”
Just knowing that should be enough to calm us down. Or maybe not. After all, one day my daughter will be off to school and I won’t be able to watch her every day. Then she’ll be a teenager…then she’ll want to go out at night, and be off to college and…Oh, lord. Excuse me, I have to go do some breathing exercises…