POSTNATAL ANXIETY: Why Is No One Talking About It?
It was around the 3 month mark following the birth of my second child, that it became apparent my anxieties had gone way beyond the levels of normal.
Unable to focus, my heart started pounding; my mind racing and all I wanted to do was run around screaming out of sheer panic. Why? Because my husband, after dropping me at the gym, had driven off with the boys to visit his mother, a mere 15-minutes away.
Yes, I know how absolutely ridiculous it sounds but despite all my rationalisation, I could scarcely contain my fear of something ominous on the horizon, truly believing that I may never see my beautiful, new family again.
Now, I wish I could say that that was my one and only episode of irrational anxiety, yet over the last few months I have found myself in many a state of panic, totally and utterly convinced of some inevitable doom.
There was the flight back from Turkey, when during some mild turbulence I started shaking uncontrollably, thoroughly convinced that the plane was going to crash, unable even, to hold my own baby. The endless sleepless nights freaking out that every lump, bump, twitch or rash is a life threatening disease. Not to forget my ongoing fear of global warming, terrorism, Donald Trump and anything and everything that could be a threat to myself or my family, all of which are guaranteed to bring me out in a cold sweat and make me want to run for the hills (until that is, I start thinking of all the possible dangers on the hill and start freaking out again!).
Before I’d even fallen pregnant with my first son I had been aware of postnatal depression, thanks in many parts, to the massive (and much needed) awareness campaign of recent years. I knew the risks, the symptoms and vitally, how important it was for not only myself but those around me to be vigilant of any warning signs. Yet in the four years since I first conceived, I have not had one person talk to me about the risks of postnatal anxiety disorder.
A cousin to postnatal depression, so prevalent is postnatal anxiety disorder, that two recent scientific studies, both in the United States and Germany, have found that woman are two to three times more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders after giving birth than depression. Which begs the question, why is no one talking about it?
The crucial difference between postpartum anxiety and depression is that women with anxiety tend not to feel the overwhelming sadness, guilt, and lethargy of postnatal depression. Postnatal anxiety paralyses in a different way.
In a constant state of restlessness and worry, woman with postnatal anxiety are unable to relax. Worrying about the baby's health and development, their ability to be a good mother and any potential threat to themselves or their family, it is not only incredibly disturbing for the sufferer, it’s exhausting.
For most new mums, the worry experienced in those first few weeks following the birth is just mental noise which they learn to dismiss and the thoughts stop cropping up. For those of us suffering with postnatal anxiety this isn’t the case and along with the mental worry, we can start experiencing physical symptoms like a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, nausea and insomnia.
So what causes postnatal anxiety and is there anything we can do about it?
Well for starters there’s the huge hormonal shift of our estrogen and progesterone levels, which increase from 10- to 100-fold during pregnancy and fall to what is essentially zero within 24 hours of delivery. Add in the trauma of birth, sleep deprivation, changes to your relationship, a brand new schedule and responsibilities, no time to yourself, plus the round-the-clock care of a newborn and is it any surprise that our mental health can take a dip?!
Then we have those of us who are especially vulnerable to postnatal anxiety. These include women with a personal or family history of anxiety or previous experience with depression, certain symptoms of PMS (such as feeling weepy or agitated), eating disorders, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and women who have had a miscarriage or stillbirth.
Having suffered with an eating disorder as a teenager and a miscarriage a month previous to my second pregnancy, I would have appreciated being warned that I was a high risk for postnatal anxiety. By being fully informed about the risks of postnatal anxiety, in the way that I was with postnatal depression, perhaps I might have spoken up sooner instead of just thinking I was loosing my marbles.
A work in progress, I am currently under going hypnotherapy to help combat my anxiety however there are many more woman who are struggling with extreme anxieties and are not seeking help, simply because they have not been informed and are not aware that what they are experiencing is postnatal anxiety.
If you are experiencing signs of postnatal anxiety, alongside speaking to your doctor, activities that have shown to help include; exercise, hypnotherapy, mindfulness training, cognitive behavioural therapy, sleep (easier said than done when you are feeling anxious and you have a new baby, I know) and meditation (especially when done before bedtime time to facilitate sleep).
Most importantly, don’t’ suffering in silence, postnatal anxiety if far more common than you think, so speak out seek help!
Your Postnatal Anxiety Checklist
Obsessive, intrusive thoughts that keep popping into your mind.
Feeling scared all the time
Panic attacks and feeling unable to leave the house or wanting to avoid places.
Compulsive behaviour like checking
Constantly thinking about worst-case scenarios.
For more information on postnatal anxiety, visit www.anxietyuk.org.uk or call 08444 775 774.
Words by Alicia Irvine-MacDougall