Motherhood and anxiety
Becoming a mum is a huge life changing event, which can impact greatly on our mental health. We are told that pregnancy and post-pregnancy are one of the happiest times of our lives.
So what happens when it isn’t? We feel that there is something wrong with us. We compare ourselves to other mums. We end up feeling overwhelmed and anxious. We hide how we feel. We put on our ‘mask’. The mask hides the often panicky and anxious feelings, the mood swings, the tears and the low confidence.
“How are you?”- someone asks.“I’m grand, fine, I’m good”- you answer.
How many times a day do you tell yourself or tell other people this? The mask you have created shows the world “I’m grand, fine, I’m good”. It does not show the world the depths of fear, worry and depression you feel. Yet wearing this mask can be exhausting.
When someone asks you “How are you?” part of you might want to tell them the truth, BUT then fear hits us. Fear feeds Miss Anxiety, allowing her to create negative thoughts, assumptions and beliefs, leading to thoughts like; “Will I be judged? Will I be seen as not coping? Will they think I am a bad mum? Will I be a burden to them?” So you answer “I’m grand, fine, I’m good”. Whilst telling ourselves, that these feelings will pass, I am a modern mum, just keep going. BUT what if these feelings don’t pass, what if you don’t talk, will you be wearing your mask for years?
If you can relate to this, please know you are not alone.
If you find yourself unable to sleep due to racing and repetitive thoughts. If you find yourself making excuses to avoid meeting friends, going places or phoning into work sick. If when you get in your car or close the front door, you start to cry, know that you are not alone. Know that you are not a failure. Know that you are not a bad mum.
It is believed we have over 60,000 thoughts per day. Yet the thoughts we attach an emotion to can become very real to us. We create a story and play out what will happen in our minds. We convince ourselves this is what is going to happen. We are feeling the emotions involved and our body is physically responding by our muscles tensing, our stomachs feeling sick or we have a panic attack. All this from a thought, a thought that if you break it down, you probably have little or no evidence to back up. Yet we assume that these terrible things will happen.
Examples of Anxious Negative Thoughts:
- “I can’t”
- “What if”
- “Yes, but”.
“Coping with anxiety can be overwhelming. It may trigger your fight or flight response, while using all of your physical and mental energy”.
Living with anxiety every day can be exhausting. It is always present no matter what you are doing, or how much you need to focus on different tasks. It can impact on your daily life, and spill over into other areas, such as your relationships, your job and completing household chores. This can make you feel even more overwhelmed.
- The impact of anxiety on your brain
During times of increased anxiety, the brain can be so overwhelmed with stress, that it will reduce the levels of energy it provides to different areas of your body. This can lead to digestion problems or tension headaches, which can be caused by feeling more stressed and overwhelmed.
- The impact of anxiety on your mental health
When we talk about feeling overwhelmed, we are talking about how anxiety usually causes us severe stress that affects our thoughts. Anxiety makes it so hard to focus on anything other than your anxiety, therefore the more you focus on anxiety, the more anxiety you will feel. Some people may feel a lot of emotional distress, causing them to cry, become more irritable or lose hope that their anxiety will stop.
Anxiety or panic attack sufferers often feel that they have no control over their situation, and that anxiety is now controlling them.
- The impact of anxiety on your physical health
Anxiety can lead to physical symptoms; however physical symptoms can often lead to anxiety. Severe anxiety leads to physical ailments especially during an anxiety attack such as:
- Heart palpitations
- Tightness of the chest
- Difficulty in catching a breath
- Feeling sick
Anxiety can be managed. The best way to stop feeling overwhelmed from anxiety is to learn to control it. Below are some tips that may be useful, in overcoming the mental and physical symptoms of anxiety:
It can be difficult to distract yourself when you are feeling overwhelmed. However, it can be done. By calling a friend and talking on the phone, your mind finds it hard to focus on your anxiety and talk on the phone at the same time.
- Go For a Walk:
Walking also makes it difficult for you mind to focus on your anxiety. Listening to music, or a radio programme can also distract your mind from anxious thoughts. Walking also moves blood around your body, and this helps to control your breathing and your heart rate.
- Controlled Breathing:
Controlling your breathing is important, as anxiety symptoms can create new anxiety symptoms. Breathing in slowly, and breathing out slowly can help if you are hyperventilating. When someone experiences a panic attack, they can hyperventilate. Hyperventilating stops your body from creating enough carbon dioxide, because you are breathing it out too quickly. This can lead to chest pains and feeling dizzy.
- Keep a diary:
When your thoughts are too overwhelming, another effective thing to try is writing your thoughts down. This has been shown to have a positive effect on our mind. Our thoughts have been released from our mind and we can now see them in black and white. This can also help to clarify your thoughts.
Exercise is also a powerful tool to combat feeling overwhelmed. It uses up energy and tires out your muscles, whilst improves your breathing so that your symptoms are not as severe. Exercise is not only beneficial for your physical health, but for your mental health too.
CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is a technique used in counselling to help manage anxiety. You can try this at home by separating yourself from your thoughts by rewording them. For example you may say to yourself: “If I go to that meeting, I will make a fool of myself” or “I’m having the thought that if I go to that meeting, I will make a fool of myself.”
The power of this new way of thinking is that you are taking a step back from your anxious thought. When you add “I’m having the thought that…” you take away some of the anxiety’s fear. It’s not always about stopping anxious thoughts but about changing them.
So what can you do?
- Mammy Meet Up
Find yourself a group of other mums. There are a number of groups such as Mama Squad in Letterkenny and Tea & Toast in Buncrana. You may find that it is through a Parent & Toddler group or a Breastfeeding support group that you find a group. For others it may be just a group that meets to go for a walk or go to the gym. What matters is that you find others that you can talk to – and have some fun along the way
If you feel you are struggling with your emotions then counselling may help. Counselling offers you a safe space to talk about how you’re feeling. You will not be judged. Your doctor can refer you to a counsellor, alternatively you can see what counsellors are available in your area. If you feel anxiety is controlling you, and you are constantly feeling overwhelmed, talking to a trained professional can offer you the support and help you need to move forward.
(Contributed by Sarah Barr New Beginnings Counselling 0864477867)