One year ago, recovery from anxiety seemed impossible. Anxiety had taken over every aspect of my life. I was scared, exhausted, angry, and completely overwhelmed. I felt physically sick. I had no appetite. My mind raced with fears and scary thoughts all day. I had a general sense that something bad was about to happen all. the. time. Every night I prayed I would wake up feeling better, only to wake up multiple times a night, feeling like I had been punched in the gut and my heart racing. I just wanted to get out of my head, even for a few minutes, to feel relief.
The funny thing is, my anxiety didn’t really revolve around the new baby I had just given birth to five months prior. Honestly, I felt like a baby pro. I knew what to expect at the hospital, I had breastfeeding down pat, I had my baby swing set up and all of the clothes washed. I was so excited to meet our little boy and really had no fear about adding another baby to the family. It also helped that Teddy was a relatively easy-going baby and slept a good amount on his own.
On the outside, I looked pretty normal. (See top photo, where I was in the thick of my postpartum anxiety and looked like a normal tired mom to the outside world.) I was still showering (when I could) and combing my hair, tried to dress somewhat presentably (without too much spit up and food on my shirt) and I continued all my regular activities. After talking to my therapist I learned that it is really common for mothers with PPD/A to look completely normal on the outside. It is so ingrained in us to hold it together in order to take care of everyone else and part of that is keeping up our appearance so that other people think we are ok. Even though that can be so far from the truth.
If you had asked me what I was worried about, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. Logically I knew everything was going ok. Sure, our house was chaotic but we were all healthy and happy for the most part. It was more of a feeling that something was wrong or was about to go wrong. I couldn’t sit still because it made me want to jump out of my skin. The only time I felt somewhat more relaxed was when I would lay down and breastfeed Teddy and even then I had to distract myself to not feel really scared.
I knew I needed to get help but when it came down to it, I didn’t want it to be a thing.
I knew I needed to get help but when it came down to it, I didn’t want it to be a thing. In my mind, I was way too busy with my four kids to deal with a real issue. My oldest was starting kindergarten that year, we were moving back into a renovated house (there was a lot of cleaning and unpacking to do) shortly after Teddy was born, and then of course there was the daily chaos with four kids, only aggravated by my husband’s unpredictable work schedule and long hours. I was so busy taking care of everyone else, I didn’t even want to take the time to get better.
Eventually it all caught up with me and I had to do something about it. I felt like I could no longer function normally every day and I needed help. My anxiety had gotten so bad that I started having panic attacks every time I left the house. But I knew that I had to do something in order to take care of my children. I started getting help not for myself, but for them.
I started getting help not for myself, but for them.
Fast forward to today and I actually feel like myself again. I still have moments here and there of feeling anxious but nothing even close to how it was before I got help. I can function totally normally now. I ake care of the kids, run errands, and do whatever needs to get done for the family. So you may be wondering, what happened? What did you do to recover?
I am not a professional. If you are experiencing symptoms of PPD or PPA and you have not gotten professional help, please do so. I promise you it will be so worth it, even if it is really scary at first.
Here are all the ways I attempted to get over my PPD/A, including ways that worked and some ways that did not. I hope that some of it may help other women who are looking for answers. It is not an easy process and usually not a quick one, but I promise you, you will feel like yourself again. You can live without anxiety running your life and be the mother you want to be. You will enjoy life again and have more energy to take care of yourself and your family.
My very first attempt to stop my anxious feelings was to start a bed time routine. I have always been a night owl, which was great when I was singing in bands that gigged until 2 am but not so great when I became a mom and had to start waking up at 7 am every day. I knew I needed to change my habits at night so that I felt more relaxed and hopefully more sleepy at a reasonable hour.
I bought this aroma diffuser and tried out a few different scents to use in my bedroom near my bed. (Lavender is my favorite.) Sometimes just the distraction of the pleasant scent did help calm me a little, but overall I would say it did not do much. I do however still use the aroma diffuser a night light every night because it’s the perfect amount of light for when the kids come in or when I’m feeding the baby and I need a small amount of light to see what I’m doing.
Cut out caffeine
I absolutely love coffee. I love the smell, the beautiful creamy tan color, the amazing taste, and like most people who drink coffee, the caffeine. But when I started having panic attacks I knew I was going to have to stop drinking it. It just made me feel so much worse. I gave up diet soda too. I was already jittery and on edge so caffeine was not helping. Sometimes I think it might have even triggered the panic attacks.
Within a few days of stopping my caffeine habit I felt a little better. I was not as jumpy and nervous. I did however have some bad withdrawal headaches for a week or so but it was worth it in the end. My sleep improved dramatically when I wasn’t all wired.
I am finally now starting to drink caffeine again here and there. I’d like to say I’ve given it up for good but I missed it a lot and it’s really nice to have a warm cup in the morning or an iced coffee on a hot day. I limit it to one cup in the morning and I find that I am ok.
Ask other women
You would be amazed at how many women have had PPD/A. It is still a taboo topic in society but it shouldn’t be. Now that I have gone through it myself I feel obligated to talk about it so that other women struggling (or women who have struggled in the past) do not have to feel alone.
Talking to other women helped me so much. It made me sad that so many women go through this but it also gave me a lot of hope. There are so many amazing strong women in my life and to know that some of them could go through this and come out just as strong–if not stronger– than they were before was so inspiring. Don’t bottle up your feelings if you’re feeling bad. I think you will find that talking about it will help normalize your feelings and hopefully aid you in your recovery.
Talking to other women helped me so much.
Turn off the news
This is was a BIG one for me. I’m not much of a TV person but I used to look at the news on my phone all the time. I’d get constant updates and every day see stories of terrible, horrific, violent events that had taken place. This was terrible for my mental health. When I became a mother, my tolerance for sad or scary stories dropped dramatically, even before my anxiety started. I don’t want to completely opt out of world news and not know what’s going on, but I had to take a temporary break for my sanity. And I have to say, I don’t really miss it. I still hear about big things, usually from social media, and that’s really all I need right now.
The news can be particularly hard to watch when you’re dealing with PPD/A because there’s always scary stories about mothers. Postpartum mental health pops up in the news a lot, but unfortunately, it’s mostly just when something really tragic happens. This skews our beliefs about mental health and the statistics. I used to think women with PPD did not have much hope because all I ever heard about was the worst of the worst. Now I know that there’s actually tons of women who have gone through it silently and are totally fine now. Like, way, way more than you would think. We don’t hear all the happy endings on the news because to the outside world they’re boring. “Mother of 4, starts eating better, sleeping more, exercising, and therapy to feel better” doesn’t really catch much attention. Remember that.
The news can be particularly hard to watch when you’re dealing with PPD/A because there’s always scary stories about mothers.
This was another huge help in my recovery but also one of the hardest to implement (and still is to this day.) I’ve always enjoyed various forms of exercise but when I became a mother it quickly took a back seat to other important daily tasks. As any mother knows, it can be impossible to work out with your children there. Then, even if you do get a chance to do something for yourself, exercise doesn’t always make the top priorities list that day. I had to MAKE time to exercise, usually at home, while the boys napped or if Andy happened to be home. It wasn’t easy but I immediately felt the benefits from it. The natural endorphin rush I got from working out felt great and it made me more tired at night so my sleep improved.
At one point, I was working out almost every single day because I got into a good routine. I have to admit I’ve become more relaxed since then and usually only work out a couple times a week. I’d love to do more but it’s been tough since Andy started a new job and isn’t home as much. But it taught me how important it was to take the time to take care of my body and now I have another tool to help me relax if I’m ever feeling anxious again.
Go to your doctor
It’s always a good idea to go to the doctor when you feel like something’s wrong. I put this off for a couple of months, hoping that my anxiety would resolve itself and I wouldn’t have to. Once again, it felt like just another chore to check off the list.
After I finally made the call I went into my doctor’s office and had some blood work done just to rule out any kind of complication. Everything came back normal, which honestly made me a little angry at first–I wanted an answer! My body felt so alien to me with the lack of appetite and insomnia. Surely something was physically wrong with me–(no, it wasn’t anything other PPD/A which actually is very physical!)
I strongly urge you to call your doctor OR OBGYN if you are feeling anxious or depressed. They can prescribe you medication and help you find resources like good therapists. Which leads me to my next stepping stone in my recovery…
Find a therapist
If you do ONE of the things I’ve talked about today, please do this one. My therapist is THE reason I am so much better today. She listened and took me seriously and helped me understand what was happening to me. Just normalizing it–knowing she heard hundreds of stores like mine–helped me feel better. I knew I was good hands and the burden was no longer just on me.
I STRONGLY suggest you find a therapist that specializes in PPD/A. They have knowledge that is very specific to this disorder. They will be able to help you so much better than someone who does not.
I do want to point it out that I started an antidepressant pretty soon after I started seeing my therapist. Medication is not for everyone and you need to discuss it with your doctor. However, for me, it changed my life for the better. I did not want to take it at first. I was scared that it would change who I was, or make me go crazy. I did have some unpleasant reactions at first but after a few weeks I could feel myself slowly feeling better and better.
Once I had come to accept the fact that I had PPD/A thanks to help from my therapist, I learned something so incredibly crucial to my recovery. I had been torturing myself without even realizing it for the past few months. Whenever I felt anxious or had a panic attack, I would get totally absorbed by the bad feelings. I thought I had to keep thinking about why it was happening, or how I could stop it, or what I was doing wrong to cause it and that way I could find a solution and rid myself of the problem. I would overanalyze until my heard hurt. Unfortunately, this only made my anxiety worse.
Now, I’m not saying you should just ignore your feelings. Quite the opposite really. If you’re having panic attacks every day your body is probably trying to tell you something. But you DON’T have to obsess over it all day every day. You need to DISTRACT yourself and DO things that help you feel better (like cut out caffeine, exercise, etc.)
This felt really counterintuitive to me at first. I thought that ignoring your feelings meant you were in denial and that was bad. Once my therapist gave me “permission” to stop trying to find a solution to why I felt so bad, I could distract myself with games on my phone, HGTV, books (nothing upsetting), phone calls with people I felt close to, literally anything that got my mind off of how scared I felt. It wasn’t always easy to stop thinking about my anxiety or whatever I was worried about but I basically had to train my brain to relax. At first I only got a couple minutes of relief before feeling bad again, but that eventually became 10 minutes, then 20, then 30 and so on.
You don’t have to beat yourself up about how bad you’re feeling or solve the mystery on your own.
You don’t have to beat yourself up about how bad you’re feeing or solve the mystery on your own. Sometimes you just have to say to yourself, “I know I’m feeling scared now but this is just my anxiety and I am going to do (pick activity) instead of obsessing over it.” Then DO it.
Avoid stressful situations
This one is kind of a no-brainer. But over-achieving people (which many moms are) or anyone who is a people-pleaser can have a hard time actually saying no. I had to learn to say no to a lot of things. There was a lot of stuff I wanted to do because I usually love being busy and having a lot going on, but I said no because I knew I couldn’t handle it just yet.
Look to the future
One of the most helpful things my therapist said to me was something like this: “Eventually you will start to have some ‘good’ days. And then you’ll start having more ‘good’ days than ‘bad’ days. And gradually you will feel normal again and you will NEVER go back to being as anxious as you are right now.”
I wanted this to be true so badly. But I didn’t believe her. I thought “I must be broken and will never be fixed. I will never feel like myself again.” I started keeping track of every day and whether it was a “good” or “bad” day. For a while it was mostly bad days. But it gradually started to shift. My bad days were filled with that feeling of “doom”, my heart would race a lot, maybe I’d even have a panic attack. Good days were when I felt more like myself. When I had minutes or maybe even hours of not thinking about how bad I felt. When my body wasn’t in fight or flight mode.
It’s easy to feel like things will never get better when you’re feeling anxious. But if you write down how you’re doing each day you can look back and say, “Ok, I did have two good days last week. Even if today is bad I will probably have a good day tomorrow.” And you know what? It’s true. Good days WILL come again.
It has been less than a year since my anxiety began but it feels like it’s been eternity. I am such a different person than I was a year ago. I’ve learned how to be more mindful, take care of myself a bit more, be nicer to myself, get more rest, and then I have more patience with my kids. I no longer spend my days worrying.
I hope my experience can help another mother who is struggling and looking for answers. Have YOU recovered from Postpartum anxiety? What did recovery look like for you?