Bringing new life into the world can be empowering and rewarding. It can also be anxiety-provoking and filled with concerns, worries, and uncertainty about the many day-to-day decisions required of us. Mix this in with sleep deprivation, changes to your relationship with your partner and family, and juggling all your usual work and responsibilities, and it is only natural that many new parents will experience a surge in anxiety.
What Is Postnatal Anxiety?
In the most general phrasing, anxiety is a term that describes body sensations which may include a racing heart, faster breathing, shaking or trembling, dizziness, dry mouth, sweaty hands, nauseous stomach, restlessness and fidgeting. Our thoughts and thinking are also affected by anxiety. We may experience more catastrophic thoughts that bad things could happen, worry more frequently about things outside of our control, and the sense of a racing mind that won’t switch off. Anxiety can result in difficulty falling or staying asleep, panic, avoidance of things for fear that something bad may happen, and seeking reassurance from others that everything will be ok.
Postnatal anxiety refers specifically to the anxiety you might experience following the arrival of a new child. There is a term specific to the anxiety you might experience after birth because this is one of the most stressful and challenging times in a person’s life. It can feel overwhelming, exhausting, and as though you are ‘on edge’ most of the time. You may feel the constant need to check up on your new baby, have thoughts or visions of something bad happening to you or your baby, or feel terrified that you or something else may harm the baby. This level of anxiety also has a range of effects on your relationships to others, as well as how you feel about yourself.
How Can You Assist Yourself?
In most scenarios, postnatal anxiety will fluctuate naturally and can subside as you become more familiar with your new baby, and with your role as a parent. Give yourself some time to adjust to this new normal.
However, if the feeling sticks around and you find yourself in a near-constant state of stress and anxiety, or you think that you are not coping at any stage and you would like extra support, then these are some things you can try to help ease the worry:
- Journaling: Writing to yourself about how you are feeling is always a good place to start. You may start to notice patterns in your emotions, which will help you figure out where to go from here. Taking time to write about how you feel, or what you worry about, can help to get the thoughts outside of your mind and give you some clarity.
- Consulting a trusted loved one: Sometimes all we need is for someone to listen to our experience. Don’t be scared to reach out to friend or family member for a coffee or a walk, and to ask them to just listen to what you have been experiencing lately. There can be comfort in sharing our feelings with others whom we trust, even if all they do is listen.
- Practice self-compassion: Notice how you speak to yourself and treat yourself. Are you being tough on yourself? Are you being critical or judgmental about how you are behaving or how you are coping during this difficult time? See if you can offer yourself the same kindness and compassion as you would offer to a friend or someone you loved in this situation. What would you say to them? How would you show kindness to them, and how can you do this for yourself too?
- Notice your breathing: In moments of high anxiety, our breathing changes. See if you can just notice your breathing at these times, and focus on deepening and slowing down the breath very gently, even for just 30 seconds. Your breath can be your anchor in times of high stress, and focusing on it can help to take you away from all the racing worries running through your mind.
- Ask for, and accept, help: You don’t need to do this alone. Having a child is a tremendous change to your life, even if you have had a baby before, so allow yourself to reach out for support and help. And try to accept offers of support from others when you receive them. You are not a failure if you accept help. After all, as the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. The support of others is vital at this time, and is a sign that people care about you.
If you are struggling to cope with postnatal anxiety and worry, contact Sydney City Psychology; we are well-equipped to offer the help and guidance you need. We would love to give you the space and time to reduce your anxiety as you go on this adventure of becoming a parent.