Every new parent knows how emotional those first few weeks can be. It’s common to hear a new parent say that they are distressed and worried over every little thing that comes up. And the truth is everything can feel like a big thing. Some parents even experience an almost constant state of worrying about their baby’s health, well-being, development, safety, and so much more. This can lead to anxiety and in some cases it can get so bad that it begins to affect the parent’s well-being and can even harm their relationship with their newborn.
Though being aware that we’re worrying doesn’t make the thoughts or resulting feelings go away, it is the first step for managing it. Today’s focus is going to be on learning not to suppress our feelings, but to acknowledge them and work on strategies for managing them. As I always say, all emotions are valid. This holds true even when we know they aren’t based on reason or logic. But this anxious feeling that comes from worrying is there for a reason, so let’s explore what it means and what we can do about it.
Why Do I Feel This Way?
Let’s start by getting this out of the way: You’re not crazy. Worrying about a newborn is something many parents have been through. Many people feel anxious after a baby arrives because they can’t help but imagine every possible doomsday scenario. Every little challenge becomes something larger to worry about. This can be especially true for creatively inclined people with active imaginations as their mind can easily run wild with these scenarios.
My first suggestion is going to sound familiar and that’s learning to meditate. Anxiety is an emotion like any other but is especially known for its potential pervasiveness. It clings to us and clogs our mental space leaving little room for other emotions and even other thoughts. Like during a meditation, think objectively about these intrusive anxieties caused by certain worrying thoughts as you acknowledge their presence. Breathe deeply and observe them as they make their way into and out of your consciousness. View them as external objects, like clouds passing by. Take note as they fade and then move on with your day. By choosing not to dwell on them and internalize them, they will start to ease on their own. In the Goleman EI coaching program, one of the 12 self-discoveries is that “You Don’t Have to Believe Everything You Think: We need to build the habit of observing our thoughts and emotions, and then practice letting them go without getting swept away.” A meditation practice can help with forming that habit.
What’s important to note is that these thoughts are usually normal and not a sign of a mental disorder or medical condition. However, that’s not to say you shouldn’t seriously monitor them. When these feelings start to affect your ability to function normally as a parent, spouse, or person, then it’s clear the problem is larger and it’s time to seek professional assistance.
Could This Worrying be Something More?
If you’re wondering whether or not your anxiety might be something more, I encourage you to read Kristi’s story from Healthline.com. When she gave birth to her first son, she wasn’t quite sure what to expect from parenthood and feared she wouldn’t be a good mother. Weeks into parenthood, however, these worries began to take on a different appearance entirely.
“I convinced myself that someone would call social services to have him taken away from me and my husband because he was a bad sleeper and cried a lot,” Kristi said. “I worried that he would die. I worried that there was something wrong with him that I didn’t notice because I was a bad mother. I worried someone would climb in the window and steal him in the middle of the night. I worried that he had cancer.
I couldn’t sleep at night because I was afraid he would succumb to SIDS while I was sleeping. I worried about everything. And this whole time, his entire first year, I thought this was perfectly normal.”
Worrying about a child is normal, but Kristi’s worrying had begun to consume her mental space. That’s not to say she didn’t have legitimate worries; SIDS is a serious issue and often has no warning signs. But worrying about something out of her control to the point where it was affecting her well-being was a clear indication that Kristi’s worry and anxiety was beyond normal. Fortunately, she went to see her doctor before the problem got any worse and found out she had postpartum anxiety (PPA). While many people are aware of postpartum depression (PPD), fewer people have heard of PPA.
Most of the time, our anxieties are formed from a dangerous nugget of truth; that’s why they can be so difficult to manage. It’s true; babies are fragile and things like SIDS can happen but worrying about them doesn’t make you a better parent. If that’s your goal, then not only will this constant worrying not help you, but it may affect your child’s development as well. If the worrying and anxiety leads to postpartum depression, this study suggests that PPD can have an effect on a child’s behavior and emotional outlook. But don’t worry about worrying so much! There’s more than just meditation for managing these feelings and making sure they don’t impair your ability as a parent.
Calm is in Your Palms
At long last we’ve come to my favorite part, where we learn about what we can do to manage this disruptive and sometimes destructive emotion. On this front, there’s some good news and some bad news. The good news is that there are a lot of strategies at our disposal that can help alleviate these negative emotions. The bad news is that because this emotion is so pervasive and omnipresent in our mental space, it is impossible to get rid of it entirely.
Anxiety is an evolutionary defense mechanism intended to alert us to possible sources of danger, so it’s not something we want to remove entirely. But sometimes it serves its biological function too well and begins alerting us to dangers that are impossible to avoid or don’t even exist. As I mentioned before, if you suspect what you’re feeling could be PPD, PPA, or any other disorder, please consult with your doctor because they may have a treatment plan that involves specific forms of therapy or medication. My suggestions are intended to supplement this care and to help those who struggle with normal amounts of anxiety and want strategies for coping with that.
One of my favorite pieces of advice comes to us from baby-chick.com and it is the motto “Every little thing is not a thing.” These are words to keep in mind not only as a new parent but also as a parent of 33 years like myself. When you have a new baby in your house, the potential for danger is always there. But every little thing is not a thing. It can be so easy to play out the worst possible scenarios in your head, but if you just repeat these words to yourself, it can help you stop your emotions from spiraling. If you do suspect something could be wrong, knowing who to talk to is an important next step.
My next suggestion is to have someone you trust whom you can talk to. This can be another family member, a close friend, or another parent who has gone through this same stage of parenting. Whoever they are, make sure they are someone level-headed who you can go to in times of distress. Make sure they won’t mind you texting or calling at strange hours to voice your concerns. Make sure they offer sound advice and don’t create an echo chamber with their own anxieties. As I’ve said, every parent feels some level of what you’re going through, and sometimes just hearing that from another parent can reassure you and bring your anxiety down. So, know who you trust and make sure they’re okay with being your advocate in these times.
Speaking of advocates, my son and daughter-in-law had their first baby earlier this year and found much relief from worries and uncertainty from receiving empathic guidance from a lactation consultant at the hospital and also one who works at their pediatrician’s clinic. The company my son works for offered several benefits that they took advantage of which helped relieve stress and worry, such as having a house cleaner, an allotted amount for meals to be delivered by local restaurants and sessions with a sleep consultant. They were fortunate to have these services provided but even if they’re not provided, they can be well worth the cost. Be sure you know what your employer offers and take advantage of any services that are available.
On top of that, make sure you have a good pediatrician. Kids get into a lot of things, some more than others. Knowing when to take them to the doctor and when to use a home remedy is a huge struggle for many parents. Instead of consulting Google or WebMD, which can compound and exacerbate your anxiety, when in question, consult a healthcare professional who can give you personalized advice based on your family’s specific needs.
Other habits that can be very helpful are yoga, tai chi, chi gong, journaling and whatever else you find to be a good way to take care of yourself, mentally, physically and emotionally. Seeking out emotional intelligence coaching or learning can also be extremely beneficial. For example, another Goleman EI coaching self-discovery tool is “Emptying Your Headtrash: The stories, the self-limiting beliefs, and the scripts that lurk backstage”. Reflecting and journaling with a coach’s guidance or even on your own can greatly improve our habits of mind.
Hopefully you’ve gained some tips that can help you during your next bout of anxiety. I mentioned it before, but I want to reiterate the importance of having mindfulness and emotional intelligence practices in your life to tackle uncertainty, anxiety, and adversity. Emotional intelligence, meditation, yoga, and many other wellness habits, coupled with whatever your doctor recommends if it comes to that, are going to be helpful go-to remedies for the parental anxiety you’re feeling. And just remember, you’re not in this alone. If you’re a parent struggling with this, please comment below and I’ll do my best to reach out to you with whatever help I can offer. Now is the time for parents to stick together and have each other’s backs.