PERFECTION!!! has been one of the underlying factors of anxiety in motherhood. Anxiety related concerns are one of the most common issues that motivates patients to therapy, and for mothers of newborns, anxiety can be so debilitating. Often, patients who are in the beginning stages in treatment would share this unrealistic perception that therapy is meant to aid them in eliminating anxiety from their lives. This hopeful thought process cannot be met because anxiety is a normal and healthy experience. Yes I know! you are wondering how I can make this statement when I indicated above that anxiety can be debilitating? Anxiety is a emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure (www. apa.org). Anxiety is a healthy response when faced with potential harm and disruption to one’s psychological equilibrium via unexpected or expected changes. Similar to anger (which is a healthy emotion as well), anxiety alarms one to assess and address their environment and make appropriate changes to regain healthy balance. When one’s inability to make the necessary adjustments at an early stage of the anxiety trigger, it can become overwhelming, irrational in thought and action, feeling paralyzed or suffocated to name just a few. Ultimately, the goal of therapy is to aid one to manage appropriately the symptoms of anxiety in the early experience of the symptoms to prevent the duration or severity of an anxious feeling. Those who have in treatment with me, we begin with increasing their awareness of their physiological response to anxiety.
In my opinion, anxiety can be a learned coping mechanism. I often would ask my patients, “who taught you to be anxious?” and the patients would be able to state a close relative who impacted their lives during their childhood. Anxiety is also genetically linked and research has proven this to be true.
So how does the experience of the early stages of motherhood and anxiety co-occur. Mothers with history of anxiety, career professionals with anxiety but have used it purposely and have experienced success, mothers with unrealistic expectations about motherhood, perfectionist/ rule makers and rule followers, trauma during the birth, unsupportive partner, lack of sleep, breast feeding disappointments, low birth weight of the baby, and other unforeseen complications with the baby and so many more. Given the fact that a newborn baby with no instruction manual who needs one’s undivided attention for their survival, anxiety is a NORMAL and HEALTHY response. The work begins with VALIDATING your experience as a mother and that the unknown of 5 mins from now, and the unknown of this afternoon and the unknown of tomorrow is KNOWN. CHOOSE your FOCUS! Choose to focus on the here and now of your experience, have awareness of your physiological response to your anxiety, identify the triggers, validate your experience, recognize some other underlying feelings, and use appropriately CBT coping mechanism to manage the anxious feeling. Over time, the overwhelming anxious feelings will dissipate as your healthy use of the appropriate coping mechanisms will increase. Thus, a new pattern of management will emerge to create the psychological equilibrium.
You are not alone! Recent studies from the University of British Columbia, revealed that anxiety and related disorders affect about 15% of pregnant women and 17% of women in early postpartum-more than three time the incidence of postpartum depression. Seek a mental health professional to receive the support you deserve.