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The London Psychiatry Centre / Blog  / 7 Ways to Combat Postnatal Anxiety
7 Ways To Combat Postnatal Anxiety

7 Ways to Combat Postnatal Anxiety

It’s supposed to be the happiest time of your life, and yet for new mums (or dads) struggling with postnatal anxiety, those early weeks and months can present one worst-case scenario after another in your mind. If you are struggling with postnatal anxiety, you may feel completely alone. You may even be afraid to talk about it, for fear of being judged. But did you know that around 15% of postnatal women suffer anxiety? If you are dealing with postnatal anxiety, you are not alone and help is available. Read on for ways to combat postnatal anxiety.

Postnatal anxiety symptoms

It can be difficult to distinguish postnatal anxiety from things experienced normally by new parents, such as sleeplessness and difficulty concentrating. However postnatal anxiety tends to present as problems that may include:

  • Excessive worry that your baby is unsafe in some way
  • A feeling of impending doom
  • An inability to stop or control worry
  • Intrusive thoughts of your baby being harmed in some way
  • An anxious feeling much of the time that you can’t seem to control (restlessness, elevated heart rate, shallow breathing)
  • A sense of increased vigilance
  • Being irritable
  • Worries about your baby’s safety and health overly dominating your activities and behaviour
  • Avoiding places and activities that could trigger a worsening of anxiety
  • Repeatedly seeking reassurance from family, friends or health workers
  • Being excessively cautious
  • Suffering panic attacks (sudden racing heartrate, dizziness, chest tightness, breathlessness, sense of impending doom)

How are postnatal anxiety and depression different?

Dr Agnieszka Klimowicz, Consultant Psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre and an experts on perinatal mental health says: “Postnatal depression has historically been better understood and more easily recognised by clinicians than postnatal anxiety – although thankfully this is changing. Postnatal anxiety and depression are often interlinked, but they are distinct problems with different symptoms.”

You can be classed as having postnatal depression if you feel continually sad or have a low mood for over a fortnight. You might have little interest or pleasure in activities that you usually relish. You may have trouble concentrating. You may feel hopeless, excessively guilty and ‘down on yourself’”.

Anxiety presents more as repetitive and intrusive worries and hypervigilance, often accompanied by physical symptoms like an elevated heart rate, shallower breathing, restlessness and difficulty relaxing.

What causes postnatal anxiety?

Let’s be honest, as magical as it is to have a baby, looking after a newborn is gruelling on the body and can be for the mind too. New parenthood tends to come with extra pressures, for instance:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Physical exhaustion from giving birth without a rest period to recover
  • A shift in the dynamic between you and your partner, as almost all the focus is going on the baby
  • A steep learning curve as you adjust to looking after a little one
  • The pressure of being accountable for your newborn’s wellbeing and health
  • Extra monetary pressures when your expenses go up and often one partner is not working.

So it’s no surprise that really anyone could experience postnatal anxiety. However, people at greater risk of developing postnatal anxiety are those who:

  • Tend to be ‘worriers’
  • Have a pre-existing anxiety disorder
  • Are dealing with ongoing health conditions
  • Don’t have a helpful support network nearby such as family and close friends
  • Have other stressors going on (for example financial or employment problems or troublesome relationships)
  • Had a difficult childhood
  • Have suffered trauma or abuse
  • Experienced pregnancy complications or a traumatic birth
  • Have lost a baby in the past.

If you think you have postnatal anxiety, what can you do?

Often there is no single way to tackle anxiety. Frequently it requires a combination of strategies, and sometimes a bit of trial and error as you find the coping mechanisms that work for you. So here are 7 ways to combat postnatal anxiety:

1. Talk to supportive loved ones
Early parenthood is one of the most challenging periods in a person’s life. And yet new mums tend to feel as if they must put a ‘brave face’ on everything and try to present as perfect. But as the old saying goes ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ – and you shouldn’t have to cope on your own. Whether it’s asking your mum to come round to look after the baby while you rest, or reminding your partner to pick up more slack with chores so you can better rest when the baby rests, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
In addition to practical support, the people you love can often lend a listening ear. Worries grow in darkness. So get in touch with loved ones and let them know that you’re struggling.

2. Reach out to other parents
Yes, we know many new mums dread the idea of ‘baby groups’ but who better to understand the challenges you’re facing than fellow new parents? Talking to people that may be experiencing similar worries can really help to give a sense of comfort. Anxiety often tells you that you’re on your own, but airing worries may reassure you that you’re not the only one. On the other hand, because fellow new parents are facing similar challenges day to day, they may be well placed to help you identify if the symptoms you’re experiencing are more serious and if you might need to reach out for further support.

3. Do some gentle exercise
Exercise is truly one of the best anti-anxiety drugs there is, and without the side effects. When people extol the virtues of a brisk walk, jog, or a gym session for mental health, it may sound too simple to be true – but true it is! This is because when you exercise, your brain releases feel good endorphins which work to beat stress and boost mood. Yes, when you’re anxious the last thing you want to do is leave your baby’s side, but you will be better off for exercise – so even if you can’t find childcare, get that pushchair out for a brisk walk.

4. Cut down on caffeine
When you’re utterly sleep-deprived from being up with the baby all hours, cutting down on caffeine is probably the last thing you want to do. But stimulants like caffeine and nicotine can encourage anxiety. And if you’re breastfeeding, too much caffeine isn’t good for the baby. The less caffeine you drink, the less you’ll crave it.

5. Get out in the fresh air
There are so many reported mental health benefits to getting outdoors and increasing research to validate them. For example, access to natural light can help you sleep better and lift your mood, seeing green space can encourage feelings of wellbeing, and even the increased oxygen in your brain from fresh air can help to boost levels of serotonin (the famous ‘feel good’ chemical). New mums tend to spend long stretches of time inside, with the demands of a newborn making it feel impossible to get out the door. But even if you throw a coat over your pyjamas, getting some fresh air will be worth it.

6. Try to eat well
Nutrition is probably the last thing on your mind when you barely have space to take a shower in those early months! But as the saying goes ‘we are what we eat’, and when it comes to mental health, nutrition is key. While there is still much more study to be done on nutrition and anxiety, patterns are emerging. A recent large-scale research review reported links between less anxiety and: ‘healthy’ eating habits; more vegetable and fruit consumption; omega 3s (e.g. found in oily fish like salmon and sardines); not overeating and; consuming breakfast. The review also found links between higher anxiety levels and ‘unhealthy’ eating habits; insufficient protein consumption, excess sugar and refined carbohydrates intake. Of course, food prep feels overwhelming when you’re facing the demands of a newborn. But there are all kinds of tools that make healthy eating easier, from slow cookers to multicookers and meal planning services. If it feels overwhelming, start small. For example, if you normally skip breakfast, try to get some yoghurt and berries in.

7. Talk to a health professional
A problem shared is a problem halved, but when you have anxiety, sometimes the last thing you want to do is share it. In fact, anxiety can often be an isolation-creator. As your mind generates more and more bad scenarios about everything, you may begin to project about what people could think or do if you tell them how you’re feeling. For example, sometimes parents with anxiety worry if they confide in their GP or another health professional, they will be judged as somehow unfit. They may even worry about having their baby taken away. But worries like these are incredibly far-fetched. Health professionals and social services work to help families stay together – not the other way around.

Keep in mind that anxiety is something millions of parents suffer with around the world – richer and poorer, younger and older. Your GP or health visitor will have heard it all before and they are there to support you, not judge. They can help you determine whether you wish to seek postnatal anxiety treatment – for example they should be able to refer you to talking therapies, sources of support, or medication if you feel you need it.

The main point is, you mustn’t suffer postnatal anxiety in silence. Help is available to enable you to feel more like yourself again.

The London Psychiatry Centre is one of the UK’s leading mental health clinics, with a wealth of experience in treating postnatal anxiety and depression. We take both self-referrals and GP referrals and can conduct appointments in person or via telephone or Zoom.

For an appointment call us on 020 7580 4224 or email info@psychiatrycentre.co.uk.

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