Similar to postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety begins during pregnancy or just after having a baby. While it’s normal to worry about your baby’s health and well-being, postpartum anxiety comprises anxious feelings that have become overwhelming and persistent.
If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety after childbirth, know that you’re not alone. Postnatal anxiety affects about 10% of new moms. And while some mothers experience anxiety on their own, others experience it alongside postpartum depression.
If you need help managing anxiety as a new mom, today’s article is for you. We’ve interviewed the experts, and now we’re revealing the symptoms of postpartum anxiety, as well as some helpful coping tips. Keep reading to discover strategies that will work for you.
What Is Postpartum Anxiety?
So, what is postpartum anxiety anyway? Well, as the name suggests, it’s a kind of severe anxiety that occurs during the postpartum period. Ashley Comegys, LCSW, says “It is perfectly normal to find yourself feeling anxious when you are expecting – as well as after you’ve delivered your baby.” But sometimes, “the normal anxieties of pregnancy and postpartum can become intense and feel all-consuming and develop into an actual anxiety disorder.”
“When your worries cause mental and emotional distress to the point that they create challenges in your functioning at home, at work, or with friends and family, you may be dealing with postpartum anxiety,” says Comegys.
Risk factors for this mental health condition include a personal or family history of anxiety, previous prenatal anxiety or depression, or a thyroid imbalance.
What Are the Symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety?
“It’s important to keep in mind that the symptoms of anxiety can start showing up during pregnancy,” Comegys tells us. “And, if you’ve struggled with anxiety before becoming pregnant, you may have a greater chance of developing postpartum anxiety during or after pregnancy.”
Sometimes, it can be difficult to differentiate normal new-mom anxieties from postpartum anxiety. However, here are some signs to look for:
Maybe you just can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong. You might constantly search the web looking for a diagnosis for yourself or your baby. Or, you might frequently call your pediatrician to verify that everything’s okay.
Feeling Irritable or Rageful
Are seemingly small things getting the best of you? If you find yourself overreacting to things that normally wouldn’t bother you — like the way your spouse folds the laundry — you might have postpartum anxiety. Drastic changes in perinatal mood can indicate you’re struggling with postpartum anxiety.
While feeling exhausted is a normal part of postpartum life, moms with postnatal anxiety have a particularly hard time falling asleep, as their minds and bodies refuse to settle. And once they do fall asleep, it’s not uncommon for them to easily awaken. Therefore, sleep deprivation is often a side effect of this medical condition.
Struggling to Concentrate
Being unable to concentrate on tasks — whether at work or at home — is another symptom of postpartum anxiety. You might find yourself distracted by racing or intrusive thoughts and unable to concentrate on the task at hand.
Feeling Restless or On Edge
Sometimes, postpartum anxiety is characterized by a nervous energy that makes it hard to sit still. Maybe you feel like your body is vibrating, or you’re unable to physically relax.
Having Physical (Somatic) Responses
Some postpartum women experience the physical responses associated with anxiety disorders. These physical symptoms include (but aren’t limited to): muscle tension, heart palpitations, panic attacks, shortness of breath, and digestive issues.
Coping with Post-Pregnancy Anxiety
If you’re one of the 10% of mothers struggling with postpartum worry and stress, here are some tips for coping with post-pregnancy anxiety:
Join a Postpartum Support Group for New Moms
Postnatal anxiety can feel lonely and isolating, and many new mothers feel like their friends and family members can’t relate. If this is the case for you, joining a postpartum group for new mothers can offer some much-needed emotional and social support. Postpartum Support International has groups and support available in each state. They also offer online support groups if that’s something you prefer.
Limit Social Media
While social media has the potential to normalize your experience as a new mom, it can also trigger anxiety. If you find that you’re more anxious after scrolling through Instagram, this might indicate that social media is hurting your mental health more than it’s helping. If that’s the case, we recommend setting a timer, silencing your notifications, unfollowing triggering accounts, or removing the apps altogether.
Get Some Exercise
Time and time again, studies show that getting 30 minutes of exercise three to five times per week can significantly reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. This happens because exercise releases feel-good endorphins that enhance your sense of well-being. It also helps take your mind off your worries.
Hire a Postpartum Doula
Postpartum doulas offer new parents guidance, nutrition, education, confidence, information, and physical/emotional support during the postpartum period. Therefore, if your postpartum anxiety stems from the physical acts of motherhood — or from having to navigate this season on your own — having a postpartum doula by your side can offer some relief.
Utilize Resources and Books
Motherhood is an experience unlike any other, and there are a variety of resources, apps, and books available to guide you through the process. If you’re unsure where to start, the parenthood section of our website is full of helpful guides, articles, and resources designed specifically for moms.
Talk to a Therapist
Therapists are specially trained to help people overcome their anxious feelings. And if you’re unable to overcome postpartum anxiety on your own, they can offer a variety of tools and techniques to help. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, works to identify and address how a person’s thoughts or behaviors interact to create anxiety. It also helps with postpartum OCD.
Of course, having a new baby can sometimes make it hard to leave the house – especially during the first week or two. However, the good news is that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person, and it allows you to get support from the comfort of your home.