While postnatal depression has been a topic of discussion in medical journals and mums groups alike, little attention has been given to its lesser-known and lesser-studied sister, postnatal anxiety. According to the NHS, postnatal depression affects 1 in every 10 mothers within a year after giving birth – with fluctuating hormones, major lifestyle changes, and recovery from a major bodily trauma, it’s no surprise that 10% of postpartum women experience clinically significant depression. But experts believe we need to shine a light on another equally debilitating mental health condition affecting the same number of women who experience postnatal depression – postnatal anxiety.
What is postnatal anxiety?
Any anxiety experienced after childbirth that has a negative impact on a mother’s quality of life is known as postnatal anxiety. This can be short-lived or it can develop into an anxiety disorder, so it’s important to recognise the signs and seek help as soon postnatal anxiety appears.
Mind, the UK-based mental health charity, explains that a woman with postnatal anxiety may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Muscle tension
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Increased sweating
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Sleep problems
- Nausea or diarrhoea
- Panic attacks
- Racing thoughts
- Feeling worried or tense
- Feeling restless or tired
- Feeling a sense of impending doom
- Feeling emotionally numb
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, it’s best to speak with your GP who can advise you on the best course of action which may include talking therapies, medications or lifestyle changes. Depending on your personal situation, your GP might also recommend a number of self help activities to help you heal – so we’ve scoured through all sources available to us, to find the best ways to help you prevent, manage and heal postnatal anxiety through self help.
Self help: prevention
Part of preventing postnatal anxiety is understanding your risk. Mothers-to-be from all walks of life are at risk of developing postpartum anxiety, but women with a history of mental health issues, limited support from family and friends or a poor relationship with their partner may be at increased risk of developing the condition.
If you’re at risk (and even if you aren’t), begin by keeping a journal of what you’re feeling during and after your pregnancy. Write out long-hand entries in a paper journal, or make brief notes on your phone – it doesn’t matter how you track your feelings, as long as you have a log to reference. This will help you understand how your mental state is changing, and you’ll be the first to know if you need to seek additional help.
Depending on your support network, it might also be a good idea to tell close friends and family about what you’re experiencing. Not only will your loved ones be able to help you monitor your anxiety levels, speaking about your feelings has long been proven to help relieve feelings of anxiety and low mood. Remember, just as your mum may have told you as a child, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’.
Self help: management
Whether your doctor has diagnosed you with postpartum anxiety or you’ve begun feeling a bit ‘on edge’ since giving birth, there are a number of self-help activities that can help alleviate postpartum anxiety. In addition to keeping a journal of your feelings each day, you might also like to join a support group for mothers experiencing postpartum mental health issues, a new mums exercise class or a mums book club. Surrounding yourself with women like you will help you understand that you’re never in this alone.
If you’re a bookworm, ask your GP to recommend a self help book best suited to your needs – at &SISTERS HQ, we love Be Calm: proven techniques to stop anxiety now by Dr Jill Weber and Awake at 3am: yoga therapy for anxiety and depression in pregnancy and early motherhood by Suzannah Neufeld. Self help books will not only provide you with techniques to relieve your anxiety symptoms, but they’ll help you feel empowered to take control of your own recovery.
Although new mums are some of the busiest people in the world, you might also like to consider taking up a new, mindful hobby. Have you always wanted to learn to crochet? Have you had your eye on a musical instrument since you were a child? Still don’t know how to cook? Now is the time to spend a little time on yourself, whether that means learning a new skill or simply enjoying a candlelight bubble bath – a happy mum means a happy baby.
Self help: how to heal
Once you’ve come out the other side of postpartum anxiety, it’s normal to feel a sense of relief, trauma, worry, or a mixture of all three. To keep yourself well for future pregnancies and beyond, continue using journaling, support groups, new hobbies and whatever else works for you to maintain your mental wellness. Should you wish to become pregnant again (or if you notice your anxiety making another appearance), chat with your GP who can help support the wellbeing of both you and baby.