Coping with postnatal anxiety

In the first couple of weeks after giving birth, we are told to keep an eye out for the ‘baby blues’. It’s common for a low mood to settle in during this period. But there’s an expectation that it will lift soon after. If our mood doesn’t improve, then it’s important to keep a watchful out for what’s happening. It’s at this stage that we often talk about postnatal depression. When a sense of depression continues into the postnatal period.

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What is postnatal anxiety?

But I’d like to shine a light on something that isn’t so widely discussed. And that’s postnatal anxiety. If we are feeling depressed, then we might experience a low mood, sadness, and lethargy. Anxiety, on the other hand, feels different. It’s a sense of feeling worried, frightened or overwhelmed, as if we are under threat in some way. And we might experience a set of physical and emotional symptoms that accompany or characterise our anxiety. Spiralling thoughts, a racing heartbeat, tightness in our chest or shoulders, sweaty palms, and an inability to relax.

Feelings of anxiety are often dismissed. Well-meaning friends and relatives might suggest that we try to relax and calm down. We might feel embarrassed or ashamed of how we are feeling. Especially in the postnatal period when we are likely to be tired and recovering from birth. And doing our very best to be a good mother. If we are trying to understand our anxiety, this might lead us to ignore it and try to pretend it’s not there.

What if we treat our anxiety as a signal?

If we are experiencing the physical or emotional sensations of anxiety, we can be curious about why it’s there. When we ask ourselves this question, we can start to understand our fears and worries. We might be anxious because we’re worried about our baby’s health, about feeding, about sleeping, about whether we will be a ‘good enough’ mother. We might be feeling overwhelmed by the intensity of the experience. Or disconnected from how we are ‘meant’ to be feeling.


Tips for coping with postnatal anxiety

So once we understand that our anxiety is a signal of what’s going on underneath, what’s the best way to cope?

Voicing our fears. Dan Siegal tell us that we can ‘name it to tame it’. I’d suggest that this is of immense value. Voicing and unpicking our fears and worries. So that we can understand how we are feeling, and where it’s coming from. This is where a qualified Counsellor can offer us the supportive framework that we need, without fear of judgement.

Seeking support. Once we have understood what’s making us so anxious, we might discover that we need some practical support. Perhaps we need some advice or guidance on feeding or sleeping. Perhaps we need to ask someone for an extra pair of hands so that we feel less overwhelmed. And it’s useful to notice at this point, how we feel about asking for help. For some of us, it comes naturally. For others, it can be more difficult.

If we are used to pleasing others, if we feel embarrassed about asking for help, or if we don’t want to be a burden. If we are not asking for the help we need, then this is in some way a form of self-sabotage and merits further exploration.

Challenging anxious thoughts. When negative or anxious thoughts come our way, it can feel as if they take us over. And they might spiral or worsen or build over time. This is why it can be useful to record and track these thoughts. To understand the exact nature of our anxiety and to notice any specific triggers. We can look back on a ‘thought diary’ and challenge our anxious thoughts, to see whether they were rational and accurate, or whether they were irrational.

Everyday coping strategies. We all experience anxiety in different ways in our minds and our bodies. If we start to tune into our physical experience of anxiety, then we can design our own coping strategies. If anxiety hits us at night-time, then it might be useful to tackle our sleep hygiene. If anxiety makes our heart race, then it might be helpful to consider a breathing exercise (like ‘five finger breathing’) to help us to soothe ourselves. If anxiety makes our shoulders tense, then we could consider some gentle stretches when we feel it coming on. This gives us the opportunity to try and self-soothe and to retain a sense of control.

Looking backwards. We might feel as if our anxiety is solely related to pregnancy and motherhood. But this part of our life doesn’t happen in isolation. So it might be useful to explore our previous experiences, with the help of a qualified Counsellor. The more we get to know ourselves, and to consider our past history and relationship patterns, the more we can understand the role that our anxiety plays in our daily lives.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Radlett WD7 & Reading RG1
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Written by Georgina Sturmer, Online Counsellor, MBACP www.georginasturmer.co.uk
Radlett WD7 & Reading RG1

Georgina offers online counselling to people across the UK. She specialises in supporting women through the challenges that they may face during different parts of their lives. Through her work, she helps people to understand what is holding them back from being happier and more confident in their life and relationships.

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