Overcoming postnatal anxiety: Five tips from someone who’s been there
In 2016, six months into my maternity leave, I received a call from my HR Director to tell me that my role no longer existed and I was at risk of redundancy. Over the following months I found myself struggling to cope with sleep deprivation and episodes of intrusive thoughts. After mustering the courage to see my GP, I was diagnosed with postnatal anxiety.
Most people are aware that you can become depressed after having a baby, but less people are aware that many women experience anxiety after pregnancy too. Having a baby is a huge adjustment for any family. It is reasonable to expect some anxiety or stress about things like your baby’s sleep, or your ability to be a good parent. But for some, those thoughts and feelings can become overwhelming and you may need to ask for help.
My baby, like so many others, was not a good sleeper and sleep deprivation played a huge role in my anxiety. I would lie awake dwelling on a negative experience, thinking it over and over in my head. I would start worrying about events that hadn’t actually happened yet and were, frankly, very unlikely to. Sometimes it felt like the world was speeding up around me. On more than one occasion I found myself in the kitchen in the middle of the night with an overwhelming desire to cut off my hair.
No one else was aware of my feelings, but I had become unrecognisable to myself. It was at this point I knew that I needed to ask for help.
Here are five recommendations for getting help with postnatal anxiety
1. Visit your GP
This is without question the most important piece of advice I can offer. It was daunting to walk into my doctor’s surgery, but I felt so much better as soon as I had told someone what I had been experiencing. You will be offered advice and reassurance, and they will not think badly of you.
2. Consider CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)
CBT is a type of talking therapy that can teach you coping skills for dealing with different problems or scenarios. I was referred by my doctor, and underwent a six week course. At each session I was given practical exercises to work on at home, and these played a big role in the process. CBT helped me learn how to stop negative thinking and changed the way I felt in challenging situations.
3. Take some time for yourself
Getting a few hours’ child care per week, whether it was through a nanny, family member or friend, gave me the opportunity to get some time to myself that was desperately needed. Simple things like taking a nap, walking in the park, or having a coffee in a café on my own, helped me to start feeling like myself again and gave me the space I needed to think clearly.
4. Try some breathing and relaxation apps
Apps like Headspace, which offer simple guided meditation, or Clementine, which is designed specifically for women, are helpful. They have exercises and techniques to help you feel calmer, sleep better and overcome anxiety. Even just a few minutes a day of deep breathing exercises helped me to feel calmer.
5. Join a group with other mums
Classes like BuggyFit, Baby Sensory or a Stay and Play session were great for providing a bit of a support network. Chatting with other mums at similar stages in parenting helped to boost my confidence when I realised we were all having similar experiences. Conversely, it also helped me to recognise when my feelings weren’t that common and helped me acknowledge that it might be a good time to ask for help.