by Amy Stuart
Vanessa’s first several months as a parent were marked by debilitating anxiety. She was terrified of leaving the house and felt certain something terrible would happen if she did. She obsessively checked on her infant as she slept to ensure she could both see and hear that she was still breathing. She had an irrational fear that her new baby would or had already contracted a life-threatening illness. Intrusive thoughts overwhelmed her and heightened the sense of anxiety that already paralyzed her. Finally, her concerned husband told her, “We can’t go on like this.”
Vanessa sought help from a mental health professional and was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety (PPA). She admits, “I often tell my husband that I feel robbed of the first three months of my daughter’s life because I wasn’t myself. I remember so little of the good things and all of the bad.” She is not alone.
PPA impacts approximately 10% of mothers. The disorder may manifest itself differently depending on the person, but many women report feeling a constant sense of worry or dread, racing thoughts, changes in their sleep or appetite, restlessness, or even physical symptoms like dizziness or nausea. Fortunately, there is hope. Here are four ways you can begin to regain a sense of normalcy if you believe you have PPA.
- If you or someone you care about is experiencing symptoms of postpartum anxiety, admitting your need for help and meeting with a mental health professional may be the first step to recovery. It is brave to admit that you need help. You can be a stronger person as a result of getting help.
- Mental health professionals are not the only ones who can offer support. As challenging as it can be, it’s also incredibly important to seek assistance from trusted friends and family. It may feel difficult, but vocalize your need for meals, childcare, or whatever else you may find helpful during this season of your life so that you can focus on caring for yourself.
- Look for ways to nurture yourself both physically and mentally. Inadequate sleep, limited exercise, poor nutrition, and insufficient water intake can have a substantial impact on how you feel not just physically, but mentally. Something as simple as a short nap, a walk to the mailbox, a handful of blueberries, or a glass of water may end up boosting your mood. Pair this with activities that engage you mentally like reading a short book, listening to music, or talking to a friend. If this seems overwhelming, keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be a huge time investment. Even just 15-20 minutes can make a difference.Ideally, this is in conjunction with the oversight of a mental health care professional who is aware of your situation and can advise you on how to best manage your anxiety, including making you aware of other treatment options and possible medications to consider.
- Another step is simply remembering you are not alone in experiencing postpartum anxiety and that it can happen to anyone. In Vanessa’s experience, her anxiety distorted her perception of reality. It told her that she was the only one who struggled this way. It skewed the way she viewed her support system and caused her to believe that she had to manage things on her own. However, many other parents struggle with PPA and you may find rest and reassurance in community with others who have wrestled in a similar way.
Because of her spouse’s encouragement, Vanessa met with a mental health professional, who prescribed medication for her anxiety. Within a matter of days, she noticed a substantial improvement in her mood. The sense of loss and isolation that she felt early on has driven her to help other parents experiencing anxiety in the hope that they would seek treatment and be able to find healing as well.
Today, Vanessa feels like a new person. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. She acknowledges that for those who are currently overwhelmed by the symptoms of their postpartum anxiety those words may sound hollow, but she is proof that PPA doesn’t last forever. It is with relief that she concludes, “I got better.”
Amy Stuart describes herself as both an avid writer and as someone with a desire to be a passionate advocate for those in need, particularly for those impacted by mental illness. She completed her B.S. in Justice Studies at Arizona State University, where she also studied English and history, tutored writing, and was a columnist with The State Press. She later worked with at-risk students and young adults. Currently, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading, writing, working out, baking, and volunteering in her community.