If you’re feeling off and easily feeling stressed out after giving birth, you may be suffering from postpartum anxiety (PPA) disorder. In this article, NYC therapist and neurofeedback trainer Heather Coleman writes about holistic tools that can ease ones stress and anxiety for new mothers.
In a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, it was found that out of 310 new mothers, nearly 17 percent of mothers had postpartum anxiety and 5 percent were found to have postpartum depression. Both conditions can be debilitating, can feel like they are “coming out of nowhere” and make women feel like they are going mad (when really they are not.) One of the predominant features of both are scary bodily feelings accompanied by scary thoughts. Not only that, it was found by John Abramowitz that 91 percent of new mothers and 88 percent of new fathers have unwanted thoughts upon making the transition into parenthood. In the following article, Heather will lay out the holistic ways of working with PPA and PPD that would be a great additional support in conjunction with quality medical care:
Top 3 ways of working with Postpartum Anxiety (PPA) and Postpartum Depression (PPD)
1. You Are Not What You Think!
‘Some examples of typical scary thoughts a mom might have (and yes, a good mom, at that) can be: “What if I drop my baby when I go down the steps?” “What if I burn the baby in the bathtub?” “I’m afraid I might take one of the knives in my kitchen and stab the baby” “I can picture myself driving off the road with my baby in the car” “I think my family would be better off without me” “I’m having sexual thoughts about my baby.” “I can see terrible graphic violent things happening to my baby” (Postpartum Stress Center, 2010.) These thoughts are so very scary and guilt-inducing when present– and depending on how often they pop-up and how loud they become, can greatly interfere with being able to function on a day-to-day basis. The severity of impact on functioning can help to determine a course of action for therapy and medication management–and reaching out for help is the most important and hardest thing to do simultaneously. However, a good therapist will help you sort through these thoughts with you and leave their judgments at the door.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy or similar methods can help you to see that *you* are not what you think and that what you think is not necessarily something you will take action on (actually most often NOT when it comes to your child.) Mindful action or even inaction becomes more possible the more you are aware of your thinking patterns on a day-to-day basis. You are also most certainly not crazy for having these thoughts– and often times women will be most scared to reveal these thoughts to a healthcare professional for fear of the reaction they might get. This can lead women to suffer in isolation and silence. All women need health professionals (doulas, doctors, therapists and healers) who will be supportively on their team–with respect and validation, the hope is that one can share these scary thoughts and have supportive reality reflected back. In therapy, you can work through scary thoughts with a professional who will help you to challenge and balance out your thinking with solid truths and facts.
2. The Nervous System! Lions & Tigers & Bears, Oh My!
When we have a dysregulated nervous system, meaning we are oriented to a flight/flight/freeze response (the stress response), we will take normally neutral information and perceive this as a threat (like of the lions and tigers and bears level.) Out of this dysregulated orientation can come a slew of scary thoughts about “what ifs”… and they can feel endless. This all comes out of having a large stress response–if the nervous system is re-regulated, such as with neurofeedback therapy, the brain will then have the opportunity to be retrained by using a re-orienting response again and again.
When the brain is re-oriented and re-rerouted into the present with neurofeedback, it trains the brain to take in new present-moment information to judge whether or not the present situation is threatening or not. Let’s say for example, your baby is quietly sleeping in her crib–that’s all the information you might need to judge that this is a safe situation. However, when our nervous system is dysregulated, our brains might churn out those scary or worrying thoughts like “what if my baby can’t breathe in her crib right now?” As stated above, 91 percent of women will have these intrusive thoughts after giving birth–however, it is the amount of disruption to life and suffering caused that would determine if a woman (or man for that matter) would seek out treatment and care.
3. The Interruption To Self-Care And Personal Needs Are Real!
“I got a lot of sleep last night” said no new parent ever. When the things that normally brought us stability and health are not as easy to access because Junior’s needs are taking center stage, a supportive therapist can collaborate on ways to re-address your owns needs and come up with a plan to realign with personal health (which is actually helpful for the both of you.) This also might mean calling on supports to enter into your life so that you can get some of your needs met more readily–Can a friend come over while you nap? Can you go to that spin class that you like regularly because it’s something you really need right now? Can you get help around meals so that you’re regularly getting fed yourself? Moreover, this is a time of real discernment of being able to meet your own needs–and in some ways putting them *gasp* ahead of baby’s needs. This is like being able to put on your oxygen mask before you would be able to put one on a child in an airplane. This may feel guilt-inducing but it is really about mental health– missing out on personal time with friends/groups/therapists/churches that fill you up is not going to serve you and making decisions that suit your baby, but not you, may end up hurting you in the long-run.
[ Read Also: Mindful Parenting Tips ]
Not all moms will do things in the same way– it is unfair to compare that they are “putting their baby’s needs first” when maybe you’re the type of mom who benefits from bringing your baby along everywhere you go as a matter of taking care of yourself. A therapist who is on your team will come up with a self-care plan with you that seems realistic and highlights your needs so that you can do what’s best for you and your family–which might not be what’s best for another mama. In the end, it’s really about getting the kind of care your might need, letting your resiliency shine and rocking this whole imperfect parenthood thing in a “good-enough” way. PLUS– we don’t have to go it alone through this whole roller-coaster journey.
So In Conclusion:
1. You are not what you think!
2. We work to re-regulate the nervous system!
3. Self-care and personal needs can be re-attuned/re-attended to!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Heather Coleman, LCSW is a psychotherapist working in private practice in Union Square, NYC. She takes a mindful approach to working with clients and works with pregnant and postpartum women using neurofeedback and therapy based in the “here & now.” Learn more about Heather and Schedule a Session