Almost every new or expectant parent experiences some anxiety. Anxiety in parents is interpreted differently by different people, families and cultures. But parents’ worry or anxiety during pregnancy and the first year of a child’s life can be challenging to recognise and manage.
How to recognise anxiety in the perinatal period
Becoming a new parent, or adding a new baby to your family, can be confusing and overwhelming. You may not feel like your ‘old self’ anymore and this makes it tricky to recognise your feelings or sensations. But knowing how you feel can help you cope with the day to day demands of pregnancy or parenthood. Here’s how to recognise you may be feeling anxious:
- You feel worried about your baby’s well-being often.
- Thoughts or images about your baby feel repetitive or on a loop you can’t switch off.
- Leaving the house feels difficult or impossible.
- Managing daily tasks of caring for yourself or your baby is overwhelming.
- Making decisions about things like how many layers your baby needs, feels difficult or impossible.
- You find it hard to concentrate or notice being more forgetful than usual.
- You experience physical symptoms like sweating, lack of appetite, nausea, feeling hot or fidgety.
- Experiencing panic attacks or feeling disconnected from the moment.
- Feeling irritable or annoyed, having a ‘short fuse’ or feeling angry.
- Struggling to remain or return to sleep, even when your baby is asleep.
- Feeling scared of leaving your baby with someone else or staying alone with your baby.
How to manage perinatal anxiety
Here are a few tips some people find helpful in managing their anxiety during this time:
- Recognise when you’re feeling anxious and name it. You can say ‘Thank you mind, I know about that issue, and I can manage it…’ as a way of separating yourself from the thoughts.
- Focus on the basics – ensure you are eating enough and are hydrated enough. Try to incorporate a little more sleep by prioritising healthy sleep hygiene.
- Try to remember what you used to enjoy or get relief from before having a baby. Adjusting those strategies to your current situation can be hard, but worth it. For instance, if you loved going to the gym, finding even a few minutes of exercise at home might help.
- Talk to someone in your life about how you are feeling. It can be hard when everyone asks about the baby, so think about who might be able to listen. Finding other parents is often helpful. You can do this through a new parents’ groups or parents forums, for example.
- Think about what self-care means to you. It can be chatting with a friend, having a cup of tea, being creative or anything else you consider refreshing. An activity is considered self-care if you feel more energised afterwards. It may look different from your pre-baby self-care.
- Consider other aspects of your life you haven’t been in touch with since the transition to parenthood. As new parents, many people lose engagement with things like spirituality, social networks or a hobby. Find ways to connect with past interests or sources of support.
- Get comfortable with asking for help. Remember that raising a child is the work of a village and seek out the support you and your baby need and deserve. For instance, ask neighbours or friends to do a clean, a shop or a load of washing.
- Manage your expectations about parenthood. Make sure you have realistic goals for your family that suit you. You can start by limiting the types and amounts of social media you consume, and aim to be a ‘good enough parent’.
Understand that looking after yourself is looking after your baby. By prioritising looking after yourself, you are modelling a wonderful habit for your child.
If anxiety is preventing you from enjoying time with your baby, or from being the parent you want to be, more support might help.
What supports are available
Support for anxiety in the perinatal period is pretty similar to support for anxiety during other times. A change in parenting routines or arrangements might also help. Like with any mental health support, it is about finding what works for you. Here are a few options you can consider:
- Mindfulness practice or meditation. You can try an app like Mind the Bump
- Support Groups
- Online support forums
- PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) website & helpline
- Mother and Baby Unit.
- A trusted GP
- Maternal and child health nurses
The perinatal period often brings new challenges and emotions for parents. Try to recognise when you are feeling anxious and note it down. Knowing how often you feel anxious and how intense your feelings are, can help you figure out what supports or strategies might help.
Where to from here?
If you’re new here, register for our supportive online forums and start connecting with others who get it. It’s safe, anonymous, with counsellors and peer workers in the background.
If you need to talk, reach out to the PANDA helpline on 1300 726 306 (9am-7.30pm AEST/AEDT).
This is a guest blog by Liel K. Bridgford.
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