Anxiety is a far more common issue with new mums than postnatal depression. For many women, anxiety, not sadness, is what they feel after having their baby.
It can start in pregnancy and once the baby is born to grow to a whole new level. Up to one in five expecting or new mothers and one in ten expecting or new fathers will experience perinatal anxiety or depression. About 100,000 families across Australia will be affected by this serious and common illness.
What does it look like?
Anxiety is complex and how one mum sees it can be very different for another. Though there are some shared similarities. Anxiety is more than being concerned or a little worried. As a midwife and nurse I can often spot an anxious mum once I’m talking to them or reading their email. But not every mum feels brave to open up on the thoughts which just keep on flooding their brain. Anxiety and anxious thoughts are all consuming. Anxiety is affected by the fight or flight hormone, adrenaline so can have an impact on the whole physical body, not just the mind. Adrenaline is also known as the hormone of fear. It takes over any other feelings such as happiness, pleasure, joy and just feeling comfortable in our skin.
It’s not uncommon to feel anxious about getting anxious. In those brief windows of time when anxiety symptoms aren’t as bad, women can feel apprehensive about their anxiety building again. There can be an overwhelming sense of “what’s the point of feeling good” when I’m soon going to feel anxious again
- Feeling scared and alone
- Unable to complete a task, flitting from thing to thing but no completion
- Unable to prioritise a situation
- Weight loss, feeling nauseous, anorexic, no appetite
- Problems getting to sleep and waking in the middle of the night with racing thoughts
- Fast shallow breathing and heart rate
- Not enjoying the baby or life, a feeling of being disconnected
- Thinking there’s a problem with the baby when all appears normal to others
- Panic attacks
- Fear of going out and socialising (agrophobia)
- Feeling stressed and seeing everything as stressful
- Disordered thought patterns, jumping from thought to thought
- Negative self talk
- Mind racing and cannot calm it down
- Unable to relax and sit down even for a few moments
- Feeling depressed – anxiety and depression can be interlinked
Help and Ways to Cope
When you’re feeling anxious you’re in such overwhelm it’s hard to access help and even describe to another person exactly how you’re feeling. This is one of the biggest problems and yet getting help would make such a difference to your mood and coping mechanisms. Just know you can get better from anxiety and there is no need to live with it.
Unless you ask for help no one can help you. Taking the first step is vital. Try opening up to someone you trust, maybe another mum, your local GP, your Child & Family Health Nurse, a friend who is a good listener or a helpline such as PANDA (Postnatal Depression and Anxiety Helpline) who have trained counsellors.
Things You Can Do To Improve Your Anxiety
- Reduce your caffeine intake – coffee, energy drinks, tea all have caffeine in. Rather than help you they will make your heart rate go faster and anxiety worse.
- Look at your diet does it need an overhaul? Refined foods and sugar can contribute to your overall mood. Replace refined carbohydrates with low glycaemic and wholegrain alternatives. Or maybe quit gluten?
- Help increase your serotonin and endorphins by increasing the tryptophan rich foods in your diet. It’s important you also eat a balance of healthy carbs at the same meal to make sure these tryptophan rich foods reach the brain. A diet with no carbs is a disaster for anxiety and sleep.
- Seratonin is the hormone/neuro-transmitter you need for both a stable mood and a good nights sleep. This is why a paleo or low carb diet can be a disaster for anxiety, sleep and overall mood.
- Tryptophan is present in many common foods including Turkey, Chicken, Chia seeds, Mushrooms, Wholemeal and Wholegrains, Banana’s and Organic Cacao, etc. Have a look at this list for more info.
Tryptophan rich foods per 100g include:
- Turkey – 507 mg
- Mushrooms – 494 mg
- Chia seeds – 808 mg
- Cooked spinach 594 mg
- Pumpkin seeds – 578 mg
- Tofu and soy products – 513 mg
- Pumpkin – 400 mg
- Canned Yellow fin Tuna – 472 mg
- Tahini – 390 mg
- Hummus – 60mg
- Cheese – parmesan, cheddar, gruyere and Swiss cheese have particularly high amounts of tryptophan – 360 mg
- Kidney beans – 303 mg
- Sugar-free cacao – 283 mg
- Chicken – 267 mg
- Pork, lamb and beef – 220 mg
- Salmon – 209 mg
- Sardines (tinned) – 276mg
- Snapper (fish) – 265mg
- Tomatoes – 60mg
- Weetbix and wholewheat foods e.g. wholewheat pasta – 108mg
- Rye bread – 100mg
- Pineapples – 10mg
- Nuts and nut pastes such as almonds, cashews, peanuts and walnuts – 287 mg – 170 mg
- Green leafy vegetables such as cabbage, spinach and broccoli – lettuce 275 mg, kale 233 mg, broccoli 229 mg
- Buckwheat – 109mg
- Oats – 182 mg
- Eggs – 167 mg
- Brown rice – 130 mg
- Avocado – 54 mg per 234 mg
- Full cream Cows Milk – 46 mg
- Banana’s (each) – 11 mg
- Semolina – 90mg
- Quinoa – 87mg
Low Glycaemic Index Carbohydrates
- Sweet potato
- Porridge Oats
- Muesli and Granola
- Wholegrain Rice
- Wholewheat Bread
- Lentils, Pulses, Lima and Butter Beans, Kidney Beans, Peas
Medium Glycaemic Index
- Quick oats
- Rye bread
- Brown and Basmati Rice
It takes about an hour for tryptophan to reach the brain, so plan the timing of your meal for optimum performance. Include low GI Carbohydrates and you’ve got a perfect evening meal to induce a lovely long nights sleep.
A good nights sleep will reduce anxiety whereas severely broken sleep will increase it. Make your bedroom dark and in fact so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face to help you get to sleep and stay asleep. Darkness is necessary to trigger melatonin. Even streetlights, LED lights on internet WiFi, TV’s, smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices can interfere with sleep. Stop using your smartphone or electronic screen devices at least 1-2 hours before bedtime.
Have a snack of cheese and biscuits, a cup of hot chocolate or herbal tea to help you wind down.
Melatonin is at it’s lowest at 5 am so if your diet doesn’t have enough tryptophan, protein and carbohydrates of the right glycaemic index you may get pesky early morning waking. Increase those things and you may get a better night sleep.
Meditation & Mindfulness
Taking up meditation can help you learn to control your thoughts and your breathing. Meditation has been shown to reduce heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol the stress hormone. Just taking 10 minutes each day to meditate can be life-changing. Meditation can be done on your own or in a group. There are many Apps and programs out there and it’s important you find the right meditation program for you. It’s not just for new age hippies, or yoga people, meditation can be for everyone.
Yoga and Exercise
Expose your brain to daylight to help reset the circadian rhythm. Exercise helps to increase endorphins and serotonin and is another good reason to do some regular exercise. Having a routine and ritual within your day decreases stress and anxiety. Think of ways you can manage your day and your week to benefit your mood.
Practising gratitude can help turn your thoughts and mood around. Too often we focus on what isn’t working vs. what is working rather than the other way around. At the end of each day think of 3 good things about your day you are grateful for. Tell yourself you are doing a great job at bringing your baby and children up. Repeat this mantra every single day. Little things such as this can often be the key to changing your mindset. When you’re doing the positives and gratitude do not allow any negative self-talk to enter your thoughts. Let them go.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy & Counselling
If you’ve tried any or all of the above and you’re still struggling then counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy may be helpful. Counselling takes many forms and can be listening visits where you talk through how you’re feeling. Or it may take the form of CBT. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT as it’s often called helps to reframe your thoughts by challenging your current mindset. For example, you’re thinking you’re a hot mess and disorganised. The CBT therapist may challenge this by asking you ‘why do you think this is true?’ “what does a hot mess look like?’ he may reply and challenge by saying ‘you turned up for this appointment, is this what a disorganised hot mess does?’ or ‘you got out of bed today’ etc. you get the idea.
The last option, which may be used in combination with other therapies is medication. This may be just a temporary solution until you’re feeling more yourself or it may be a longer-term one. Medications such as Sertraline, Fluoxetine, Xanax and Zoloft may be prescribed or beta-blockers such as propranolol. There are many medications which can be used. Do not give up hope if the one you are taking isn’t having the desired effect. Go back to your local Dr and let them know. Most medications are short-term and are not habit forming. And there is no shame in needing to take them.
Remind yourself daily you will feel better soon, much better days are on their way. There is absolutely no need to live with anxiety and struggle by yourself. And there is no shame associated with feeling anxious if just means you’re human.
Remember the wise age-old saying, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’.
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