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!!!
Let’s first start with you age.
A person’s 20’s are a very common 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 an adult. We start to take on new responsibilities and view the world differently. It’s such a time of emotional upheaval that some of us who are more sensitive, can really struggle with the changes and it can ultimately lead us into an anxiety disorder or the development of phobias.
It is not weakness. It is just how we are wired.
When anxiety disorders are born from all this change in our lives, it isn’t a sign of illness, it’s simply a sign of a tired, concerned brain that is looking out for you. Your brain starts picking up on all the change in your life, and starts producing adrenaline as a protective mechanism all day long until it figures out this new life of yours and determines it’s safe. Of course, you start having symptoms from that adrenaline which include hyperawareness of your thoughts and heightened fears and all the other fun things that go along with anxiety.
So you are already going through some life changes, that might quite possibly have been enough to trigger your new phobia about death. And now there is a new baby in your life which is creating even MORE change, both in your daily life and your hormone levels.
(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.)
New motherhood is one of the most stressful times in a woman’s life. New motherhood in your 20’s makes it even more stressful because you are still trying to figure out your life and who you are, and now there is a whole new person to be responsible for – and you have to do it on no sleep. And for some of you new moms, and even some new dads, even if you aren’t consciously aware of how much your life has been shaken up, and even if you love every second of parenthood, your very smart brain picks up on this massive change in your life, and becomes concerned. So it puts you in protective mode, and makes you hyper-vigilant in both your thoughts and your actions. Your radar kicks up to high gear and you start monitoring everything you think and do to look for danger. At one point, your thoughts landed onto the death of yourself or loved ones, and you had an emotional reaction to that thought. That reaction might have only lasted a split second, but it was enough to make both you AND your brain take notice. And now that thought has been “red-flagged” as a “bad guy” by both of you, and when you think about death, you have another negative reaction which makes your brain have a negative reaction and it just becomes a very uncomfortable cycle. And of course the more you try to avoid thinking the thoughts that bother you, the more you seem to think about them.
This is all very normal, and the sign of a good, but tired, brain that is looking out for you. The best thing you can do is not analyze how you feel about death. This fear is not as real as you think it is. It just feels that way because of adrenaline. Let it go, and treat the thought of it like you are thinking about the most boring thing in the world. It isn’t easy to do, but you can train yourself to do it with consistency. You must show your brain that this thought is not a threat, and the only way to show it that, is to not react to it or dwell on it. Just acknowledge the thoughts and feelings and then move past them and you will slowly start to forget about 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 reassuring yourself that these fears are not as “real” and “alive” as you would have yourself believe.
Your brain WILL get the message if you stay consistent.
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 that contributes so strongly to your hyper-awareness of these thoughts.
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.