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I had a reader email me with a great question about post partum anxiety, and I could relate so much to what she is going through that I decided to share my exchange with her here. I suspect a lot of you will be able to relate to her as well
My response pertains to post partum anxiety only, as I have no experience with post partum depression.
Remember to always talk to your doctor if you feel you are having post partum anxiety or depression symptoms that are beyond your control.
I came across your blog while I searched “postpartum anxiety & fear of death”. I am in my mid twenties, with a new baby, currently dealing with some pretty bad anxiety and a phobia of death of myself or loved ones. I am afraid I won’t be able to cope with their death and I’m afraid of dying myself.
I understand we all will die some day, it’s normal, I just can’t stop thinking about it. It’s constantly in my head and it triggers a horrible anxiety attack. I noticed you mentioned you had a similar fear. How did you get over that fear??
Thank you in advance!!!
Well, let me first say that our twenties are a huge time for anxiety disorders to break out. It’s a period of big change in our lives as we transition from being a kid to being a grown up. We start to take on new responsibilities and view the world differently. It’s such a time of internal upheaval that in sensitive people like those of us with anxiety disorders are, the resulting stress can be the equivalent of the “average person” being attacked in an alley or losing a loved one. Everybody has a sensitivity level which dictates how they absorb the world and ours happens to be pretty high. If we were car alarms a lot of us would be going off every time a faint breeze blew by.
It is not weakness…just sensitivity.
Anxiety disorders usually break out in our late teens/twenties because there is that huge difference in our lives and our brain thinks “What the heck is going on? This is not our life. This is not “normal”.
Our brains start producing adrenaline as a protective mechanism all day long until they figure out this new life of ours and determine it’s safe. Of course, we start having symptoms from that adrenaline which include hyperawareness of our thoughts and heightened fears.
So you, reader, are already potentially dealing with the emotional fallout from that big change AND now we have a new baby in the mix.
As I am sure you are aware, your hormones take time to balance back out again and that can contribute greatly to anxiety symptoms and should be talked about with your doctor.
In addition, new motherhood is one of the most stressful times in a woman’s life. Even if you aren’t consciously aware of how much it has shaken up your life, (although it’s highly unlikely you aren’t picking up on that) your emotions never lie and they never hide anything from your brain. Your brain “hears” your emotions and senses massive upheaval in your life. It gets a little panicky and slams the shutters closed, deadbolts the door and refuses to relax so that it can stay on high alert and keep you safe.
This is exhausting to both your brain and your mind and it can greatly affect how “rational” your thinking is.
If fear of death is not something you had this intensely before your baby, my guess is that this is just all part of the chaos that hormones can cause, combined with the hyper-awareness and mental exhaustion that adrenaline is giving you and which is perpetuated by your fear and anxiety about your fear and anxiety, if that makes sense.
When you have a lot of free floating anxious feelings without a real “source” for them, we subconsciously look for something to attach them to. It helps them “make sense”. Our poor exhausted minds that really aren’t in the best frame of mind to making judgements at this time, use that hyperawareness we now have to pay close attention to our inner dialogue. If we happen to have a thought that is less than pleasant, our radar starts pinging and we latch on to it to subconsciously give ourselves a “justified” reason to be feeling all the anxiety we are feeling. We can find it hard to let go of the thought and it can cause great distress and interfere with our day to day lives.
Again, this is all very normal…nothing at all to be upset about. It doesn’t feel great but its all part of the process of how we handle stress when we are greatly UNDER stress.
I think you would be amazed at how quickly your thinking can go back to “normal” if you put a strong focus on reassuring your brain that you are okay, and if you try not to over analyze these thoughts and let yourself get worked up over them.
Put a strong focus on self-care. I know it sounds so cliché but your brain needs some TLC right now. It needs to know that you are okay and you have to show it you are okay just like you would show your child. It will take some time to convince it, and some BIG consistency. You need to decide right here and now not to indulge those fears anymore and keep telling yourself you are okay.
Your brain WILL get the message.
You will find your fears fading more and more into the background as you break the habit of thinking about them, and as your brain shuts off the adrenaline, causing you to stop being so hyper-aware of your thoughts and feelings.
Be sure to talk to your doctor and get his or her input as well.
Congratulations on the new baby and best wishes to you and your family.
End of Reply
Readers, one thing that everybody with a tendency towards anxiety needs to understand is that everything that happens to you is also happening to your subconscious and your brain.
(That may sound a little odd, but we aren’t just our conscious selves. Humans are complex. Especially those of us with the personality traits that it takes to cook up an anxiety disorder. I honestly think we have some of the most complex minds out there.)
Everything that you go through, your sensitive brain and subconscious are going through as well, and you need to spend a lot of time reassuring them and you always will. Its how we are wired.
Positive thinking, self care, down time, a slower pace of life, this is what you and your brain and your subconscious need to co-exist peacefully and without one of you freaking out or panicking.
I know that sounds impossible if you have a baby. It may even BE impossible for you if you don’t have a lot of support around you. But do the very best you can. Just five minutes of deep breathing in a quiet place can make a difference.
For the rest of your life, especially when you are going through times of great stress, even if you think you are handling everything well, you always have to stay on top of your mental health and ask yourself, “Is what I am dealing with right now a lot? Do I need to pull back a little bit and get some help or take a few days to rest? Is there any way my brain could interpret my life as a chaotic mess right now?” If so, handle it in a positive, nurturing way and you can prevent anxiety symptoms from popping up.
As a final note, I just want to remind everybody with anxiety disorders that our brains are smart.
They may be sensitive but they work very well, make no mistake about that. They may over react to events throughout our lives and be a little (a lot) over protective, but if we trust in them and stay calm and just let them do their thing and figure things out for themselves, we will avoid a huge chunk of our anxiety disorder related issues.
It is when we decide to start “thinking about things” and over analyzing and “wondering” and throwing our two cents into the pot that our brains start to get all mixed up and start creating and continuing fear response cycles that aren’t necessary.
For more discussion on the fear of death, here is an article from Dr. Alex Lickerman, MD at PsychologyToday.com.
If you are living with postpartum anxiety and need support. Postpartum.net is full of great information. You are not alone – help is out there.