There are days where you feel like the walls are caving in,
Your heart is pounding out of your chest
And you are struggling to breathe.
Your mind is cloudy and it feels like everything is spinning around you
You have feelings of dread and persistent worry
You feel sick to the stomach and can’t shake your irritability.
You feel weak.
It feels like this moment will never pass…
But it does.
You may not know what is happening but this feeling is anxiety and for some people this feeling will cause a panic attack.
Anxiety can be mild, moderate or severe and the symptoms are not the same for everyone. Anxiety is a common feeling among mothers due to the heightened states of hyperarousal that protecting young children brings. Most people will feel anxiety at one point or another. However, if and when this level of anxiety impacts your daily life and stops you from doing things that you would normally do, then it may be time to seek help from a professional.
Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. Statistics show that on average, one in four people (1 in 3 woman and 1 in 5 men) will experience anxiety at some point in their life. Anxiety and depression often co-occur. Anxiety and depression in pregnancy and in the postnatal period is called perinatal anxiety and depression. This occurs in up to 1 in 10 women and 1 in 20 men (www.panda.org.au).
The following strategies may be helpful for you in managing anxiety and panic attacks.
Increase your self-awareness: learn to identify what your early warning signs are, the nature of your thought patterns and your triggers. It can take some time to build awareness as to what your triggers are because quite often it can feel like the anxiety is coming “out of the blue”. However, the more we notice what is happening internally the earlier we notice our symptoms and have the choice as to how we will respond to these symptoms. Recording your early warning signs and triggers in a diary helps to you notice consistent patterns and increases your awareness around this.
Connect to your breath: once you have identified feelings of stress or anxiety and/or you are reacting towards your children, take a step away and focus on your breath. Slow, deep breaths from the pit of your stomach. You can place your hand on your stomach and feel the gentle rising and falling of your stomach as you breathe in and out. Connecting to your breath in slow, deep, controlled breaths sends a message to your brain that you are okay. Anxiety triggers the fight or flight response in your body, whereas deep controlled breaths calms this physiological response. The more that you consciously practice connecting to your breath outside of moments of anxiety, the easier and more automatic the response is to connect to your breath in challenging times.
Change your negative thought patterns: You are not your thoughts. Thoughts are only a string of words passing through your mind. Learning to detach from your negative thought patterns and shifting your focus from one of negativity to one of self-compassion will be hugely beneficial in calming your anxiety levels. Learning about the principles of mindfulness, self-compassion and gratitude will help you rewire your brain to identify positives over the negatives.
Allow yourself to feel the anxiety: I know this may sound crazy and hard to do but labelling what you are feeling, and allowing that feeling to be, decreases its intensity. Fighting against your anxiety and avoiding it only brings it on stronger. Naming what you are feeling and learning to “sit” with these emotions allows you to ride out this wave of emotion. A lot of suffering comes down to the suppression of emotions not processing and allowing our emotions to be there.
Pull tools from your toolbox: Having a toolbox of tools (strategies) to draw on during the challenging days is fundamental and something that I encourage all mothers to put in place. When you are feeling anxious, you may decide to call a friend, step outside and get some fresh air, go to the park, do an emotional freedom tapping session, exercise, have floor time with your children.
Have effective preventative practices in place: Looking after your own self-care as a mother is extremely important and will only have positive effects over your mental health. Learn to meditate, do yoga, go for a run, eat well, have a regular gratitude practice, journal, and/or join a support group.
Connect with a mantra that works for you: “This too shall pass”, “I am safe”, “This is just a feeling and I allow myself to feel”, “May I be kind to myself in this moment”, “I know I am not alone”.
Seek professional help: Seek professional help from someone that you connect with (e.g., psychologist, doctor, counsellor, midwife, kinesiologist). You can also call a helpline like PANDA (National Perinatal Depression Helpline: 1300 726 306)
Please know that you are not the only mother experiencing this and that you do not need to go through this on your own. Postnatal depression and anxiety is not an indication of your parenting ability. It is not a weakness. It is a health condition and one that deserves to be treated.