Anxiety seems to be rearing its ugly head all around me at the moment. I’ve read a number of posts from attendees at the Problogger Event who were anxious about attending and we’re dealing with it in our family at the moment, so yesterday’s workshop was timely. Here’s a brief summary of what Renée discussed in the context of pregnant or new mums – but it is relevant for all of us who suffer anxiety or know someone who does.
For new or expecting mums, it is normal to feel some level of anxiety. It’s when it becomes problematic anxiety and causes life interference, that’s when you need to seek help. How is it impacting on your lives? Poor sleep, snappiness at partner or with baby, eating too much or not enough, is it causing significant distress? For me, back in the day, I lost an incredible amount of weight, I was as tense as anything with a sore upper back and neck for months. I also had insomnia – waking during the night for at least two hours for months on end, even though Mitch was sleeping through most nights.
We then need to look at the biopsychosocial (bio/psycho/social) model around anxiety. Is there a genetic / biological vulnerability? Was your mum a worrier or experience PND or depression? What’s your own mental health history? Family of origin is a very important factor in your experience of becoming a mother. How were you parented?
Are you sensitive to hormonal change? Do you catastrophise? Prone to pessimism, black and white thinking, worry, perfectionism? How is all that not serving you well now? For me, pretty much yes to all those questions. And no, it didn’t serve me well at all.
In the model of anxiety, the physical symptoms of anxiety come first (fight or flight): tight chest or stomach, shallow breathing, sweating, etc. Then the thoughts: intrusive thoughts, the what ifs (oh yeah, the what ifs), the shoulds…
Then the behaviours as a result of those thoughts: avoidance, rigidity of behaviour. Is it manifesting itself as aggression or anger? Drinking too much coffee or alcohol. Over or under eating. Neglecting the baby or other children. And at the very worst self harm or harming the baby.
What to ask and say (and what not to say)
Do not say “you’re going to be okay”. What we can say is “it’s not uncommon but there is a way to recover” and that it’s normal in pregnancy and after to feel a higher level of anxiety. We can ask: what’s the worst thing that could happen…then what would you do? What would you say to a friend if they were in the same situation? Probably not what you’re saying to yourself! What evidence do you have to support this thought? Let them tell their story.
What we can do to help
Validate that some anxiety is normal in pregnancy and postpartum. Deep breathing exercises (through the diaphragm) are a proven way to reduce anxiety. After exploring what exacerbates and reduces anxiety, implement strategies. Help identify high expectations (ugghhh), are they helpful (for self, family, your relationship)? Come back to what IS versus what IF thinking: being mindful about what is happening now rather than would COULD happen in the future. Encourage exercise and help them accept uncertainty.
Of course anxiety inducing what ifs happen to all of us – whether we’re a new mum or not. If we’re anxious there is an over-estimation of threat or danger. It’s important to bring yourself back to the moment now. For me, the deep breathing is a no-brainer. It works.
Anxiety completely sucks to live with and watch in others. I’m a catastrophiser from way back and have to constantly call myself on it.
Is anxiety a part of your life?