A few weeks ago I opened up and wrote about my struggle with postpartum anxiety. I was blown away by all of the comments and emails I got from you guys, my readers! Thank you for all of the amazing support, as well as opening up to me about your struggles with anxiety as well. I have been praying for all of you and want you to know that there is hope! I’m sharing this post today in hopes of giving you all encouragement in overcoming postpartum anxiety.
Even though sometimes you can’t see it, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I promise. Sometimes it’s just really, really far away and very dim. But the harder you work on you, the closer and brighter that light will get. The end of the tunnel is possible, and the fog will lift.
I have gotten many questions about overcoming postpartum anxiety, and that’s why I’m going to share what helped me. This is going to be another somewhat hard post for me to write because I’m being very vulnerable for you, but just like my last post, I am doing this to share hope and help to others in the same situation.
In the early months of my postpartum anxiety, I had no idea what was going on and why I was feeling the way I did. I’ve learned so much about anxiety, about self care, and especially about myself.
Some things I’ve learned about overcoming postpartum anxiety:
Be Self Aware
You know how it is recommended to do a monthly self breast exam in case of signs of cancer? Well, you need to do that with your mental health as well. Each month, even if you don’t have a mental illness, sit down by yourself in a quiet spot, and really reflect about your well being. Think deep, do some soul searching, ask yourself those hard questions. How am I doing? What things are bothering me? What has impacted my life in the past month, and how?
I’ve learned that you have to know yourself to be able to help yourself. When I was first experiencing postpartum anxiety, I wasn’t even aware of what was going on with me, because I had fallen so out of tune with my body and my mental state. I was in fight or flight mode, I was exhausted, and in a haze. I was just surviving.
If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, have that tough conversation with your husband. Talk to him about the future, and what he needs to look for to help you. It wasn’t until I pretty much had an emotional break down, that I made myself realize there was something off with me, and my husband helped me realize that. Your husband is probably the person who knows you best, so they need to know the warning signs of any postpartum issue as well.
This is so important in my opinion, because like many other husbands and wives, my husband is my rock, and it was through him that I built up the courage to talk to my doctor. He has also helped and gently encouraged me, held me, and calmed me down when I needed it. (He could probably write a book for husbands of postpartum anxiety wives!)
Know Your Triggers
The main thing I learned in my postpartum anxiety recovery is that there are anxiety triggers, and they can be different for everyone. This was a hard exercise for me to do, because there were times I felt like literally everything in my life was an anxiety trigger, but once I really knew what my triggers were, it benefited me so much. When I pinpointed what truly started my anxious feelings, then I was able to work through those situations and move forward from them. I’ll talk more about doing that in a minute.
For example, my triggers are:
- being in heavy traffic
- being in large crowds of people, especially if it is noisy and busy
- being late or rushed/having people waiting behind me (rushing to get the kids ready for school, people behind me in line at the grocery store, ect.)
- feeling stressed or threatened by others
- being overly busy or on the go
- too many loud noises at once, like kids crying. #momlife, haha!
- any situation that could potentially harm or injure my kids
Even if you think you are in a good mental state, you are relaxed and not stressed, or happy and content with life, I encourage everyone to stay proactive with having a healthy mind. Especially through prenatal and postpartum stages, because those hormones and emotions are so up and down. If you don’t, and you let your guard down, that’s when it can sneak in. I thought I was totally fine and happy, and on the ball with my life. Postpartum/prenatal anxiety was quick and sneaky with me, and it happened so fast that I wasn’t even aware of my feelings before I knew what was going on.
I also wasn’t really aware of all of the possible postpartum or even prenatal mental issues that can happen to you. I was very aware of postpartum depression, but that was it, and I didn’t fit into that category. So that left me feeling even more alone and isolated. That’s also a good reason why it’s so important for both you and your husband to study about the postpartum period together. It’s better to know and be aware, and not have to deal with it, than to not have any idea of what is going on and why you are feeling so horrible.
Also, if you have struggled with postpartum anxiety, but have found ways to overcome it, don’t stop doing those things! You may start to feel better, but if you stop your self care routine, that horrible anxiety will sneak it’s way back in and will hit you again when you’re not prepared.
How I am overcoming postpartum anxiety:
Research, study, apply.
I spent hours reading and learning about postpartum anxiety and how our brains work. I think even just learning more about it helped me.
I got The Pregnancy and Postpartum Anxiety Workbook off of Amazon. I read through this quite a few times actually, and then I applied the things I learned from it. I would set time aside every day to go through the workbook, really do some deep thinking, and even journaling about certain thoughts I was having. This helped me so much! The workbook has many different coping skills and helpful tips to overcoming postpartum anxiety. I can’t recommend this book enough. It was the first resource I used from the beginning, and still use, because there are so many good coping tips in it.
Let my body and mind rest.
Postpartum anxiety is active in your brain, but the effects can leak into your body. This happened to me and I became exhausted and unmotivated (looking back on it now, I’m sure I had depression as well). Many people don’t understand how anxiety can show up physically in your body, but if you think about it, spending months and months worrying and having bad scary thoughts really takes it’s toll. Exhaustion sets in, you can’t think straight, you’re unable to focus, you have high blood pressure, and a rapid heavy heartbeat, along with shakiness and jitters. There are times when you feel like you are watching yourself from across the room, or disassociation.
I had to really cut back in my life to let my body and my mind rest. We stopped going so much, opened up our schedules, and just stayed home to relax. I had to be intentional with my time to make sure I was getting enough rest, and taking time to listen to my body and what it needs. If I was getting stressed and anxious, it was time to slow down.
I used to be against taking naps because I thought it meant I was wasting time during the day on just sleeping, but what I’ve learned in overcoming postpartum anxiety is that sleep and naps are good for you. Besides really working on getting enough sleep at night (which is still hard with a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night), if I felt exhausted during the day, I would just take a short nap. It really does make a difference.
Fuel my body with good food.
I used to think that people only ate healthy to have a fit body or loose weight, but now I’m realizing that some people go on diets for their brains! That was true for me. Here’s how changing my diet assisted in overcoming postpartum anxiety:
– quit drinking pop and any other sugary drinks/cut out almost all sugar from my diet
I’ll talk more about this in another post, but I noticed a huge difference after doing this. Sugar is sooo hard on your body, especially your mind. I honestly went through withdrawals at first, which made my anxiety even worse. But I pushed through and felt much better after a few weeks.
– drink A LOT of water
I always thought I did pretty good with staying hydrated, especially as a breastfeeding mom, but I realized I was cutting myself short. I upped my water intake to at least 3 liters a day, with my main goal being a gallon. At first it was hard, but after keeping at it, it became easier and my body actually craved water. This eliminated a lot of my anxiety head aches and helped with energy levels.
– made sure I was getting good nutrition.
Like I said before, I’ve never really been on a strict diet because I’m not trying to loose weight. And I wouldn’t even really call this a diet, just eating whole foods basically. I tried to cut out as much processed foods as possible, and only eat fresh vegetables and fruit, and meat. Protein is an important nutrient to have in your diet while you are overcoming postpartum anxiety, as well as plenty of Omega 3’s like fish, avocados, and nuts.
-started taking vitamins and supplements
Not only is anxiety a chemical imbalance in your brain, but it can also be a vitamin defiency as well. The main vitamin that aids in overcoming postpartum anxiety is the multiple forms of vitamin B. They work together and help a lot. I also started taking a high quality probiotic, that helps flush out bad gut bacteria, which is proven to help in overcoming postpartum anxiety and depression. Below is a list of the vitamins and supplements I took that made a world of a difference in my mood and outlook on life:
Life 9 Probiotic (9 strain probiotic/prebiotic)
Super B (complete vitamin B with Riboflavin and Thiamin)
OmegaGize 3 (omega 3 supplement with fish oil)
Mineral Essence (core mineral supplement)
Lots of bible reading, praying, and soul searching.
I’ve learned that when you are feeling fearful, stressed out, anxious, or overwhelmed with life; you need to give it all to God. I know some people think it’s hypocritical to say you are a christian who struggles with anxiety, because technically according to the Bible, if you are filled with fear it means you aren’t fully trusting God, and that’s a sin. But I know for myself, as well as many other Christians, anxiety happens. Anxiety is the devil prowling around trying to steal your joy, and you have to lean on God for strength to fight back.
I added scripture reading to my morning routine. Every morning after the girls get on the bus, I sit down with a cup of coffee, and dive into my Bible. At first I felt weird. But after a few days of reading scripture, I began to really think about each verse, pray about it, and apply it to my life. After that, I began to really truly feel comfort from reading certain verses, especially about trusting God to provide for us and promise us great things.
I started journaling about the scriptures I was reading, and then I would add a prayer according to that scripture to my life. I started really truly taking time (multiple times a day, actually) to get to a quiet place that I could focus and talk with God. I honestly felt such a huge relief just sweep over me after a few weeks of doing this. I started seeing little moments in my day to day life that helped me remember I’m not in this alone, and with God it’s possible to find the light in overcoming postpartum anxiety.
Doing things that brought me joy.
I sat down one night with a note pad a literally wrote a list of the things that drain me, and the things that fuel me. This was an exercise from the workbook I mentioned above. It was a lot harder than it sounds, and it took a lot of thinking and soul searching. This made me emotional because it was another reminder of how far ‘lost’ I had felt at times, and how much I had been blinded by my anxiety.
I made it an effort to cut out as much as possible from the drain list, and get back to doing as much as possible from the fuel list. Once again, easier said than done. But once I started putting this practice in to motion, I was able to find joy again in simple things that. I danced and laughed with my kids, and went exploring with them outside. I spent time almost every night to watch the sunset. I went on a day date with my husband and drove go-carts, and acted like a kid. I spent time grooming my horse and being outside with our animals. I remembered what it felt like to crochet. I was making myself be happy.
I’ve done many blogs posts about my love for essential oils. I even did a blog post while I was pregnant about the essential oils you can use for stress and anxiety. I think this was me trying to say, “these are the oils I’m using because I’m struggling with my life right now!”. Anyways, a few months after Joey was born, I realized I hadn’t used my oils for awhile. I was so stressed and so anxious/depressed that I wasn’t even taking my own advice and had fallen out of routine.
I began a new strict oil routine. Ylang Ylang is one of the best oils for anxiety, so I applied one drop on the back of my neck every morning and night. I also put a drop of Lavender behind each ear in the morning, and well as diffusing Stress Away during the day. I would make it a point to take Epsom salt baths with Lavender and Ylang Ylang if I had a hard day. I also diffused Lavender and Peace and Calming at night to reduce bad dreams.
After doing this routine consistently for a good week, I had already noticed that I was feeling calmer and more relaxed. There are still certain situations that make me anxious, but I apply those oils and it really does bring me so much relief. Essential oils have grounded me and been a huge success in overcoming postpartum anxiety.
I know how hard it can be to motivate yourself to do exercise, period. Add anxiety or depression on top of that, and it’s the last thing you want to do. I get it, I really do. When I was talking to my doctor, she stressed to me how important it is to just move your body in some way for at least 30 minutes a day. I didn’t realize how much my anxiety had taken a toll on me, until I made it a goal to move my body more. So I got a FitBit for Christmas, (thanks Santa!), and this made a huge difference.
It dawned on me just how much I was sitting idol during the day. The FitBit helped remind me every hour to get in my steps, and I’ve slowly been hitting goals more. I also try to go on walks, and recently I’ve gotten back into running. It’s hard to force yourself to get up and actually do a workout or any exercise, but once you do, I promise you will feel better.
Some more truth to overcoming postpartum anxiety:
And now I’m getting even more real and raw with you. For 2 1/2 months I was on an anti-anxiety medication. I was terrified and completely ashamed to have to be on a medication for a mental illness. Only my husband, my doctor, and I knew about this, because honestly I was embarrassed and I felt weak.
But here’s some truth in that: taking a medication for a mental illness does not make you weak, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You are treating an illness in your body, just as you would treat an infection with antibiotics. Part of me keeping it such a secret was because we live in a very rural area: like a town of 600 ish. Every one knows every one, including their problems. So I couldn’t let any one find out that I was in the process of overcoming postpartum anxiety, because I have never even heard any one say those words in my town, ever. It’s so taboo. I was afraid people would think I’m crazy, label me as weak, or even a bad mother. Truth is: overcoming postpartum anxiety and depression takes a huge amount of strength and self growth!
But my doctor assured me that I’m not alone, and in fact, in my small area, there’s a lot of moms who are in my situation and who are using medication. So that also tells me there are plenty of others who were scared and ashamed just like me. So I’m saying this to you: don’t be. It’s a normal thing! That’s exactly why I’m pushing the stigma back, opening up, and spreading hope. I will try to help a mom out before fearing other people’s opinions.
With that being said, once I made some drastic lifestyle changes, I was able to go off of my medication. It felt truly freeing. I was scared of withdrawals, but I stayed strong with my self care routine, and things are going great. I truly believe that if you put in the hard work, make positive changes in your life, and have the mind set that you are mentally well, then you will be. Of course some days are better than others, and I still have anxious and stressful moments. But I’m far from what I was a year ago, and there is light and joy in my life once again!
If you or anyone you know is in the process of overcoming postpartum anxiety or depression, share this with them. Any help and hope is beneficial, and you could change someone’s life.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And with the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 4:6-7
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