What Is Postpartum Anxiety?

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After giving birth, new moms deal with out-of-whack hormones. Postpartum depression has become more broadly understood as a startlingly common experience for new parents. But something that's just as common—if not more common—is postpartum anxiety.

Characterized by symptoms like rapid heartbeat, racing thoughts, a short fuse, worrying, insomnia, lack of appetite, or overeating, many moms deal with anxiety shortly after the arrival of a new baby. "So many moms feel anxious and out of control, there is a ton of information these days," says yoga and Pilates instructor Kristin McGee, who gave birth to twins less than a year ago. "Hormones are all over the place, and we can't control our babies no matter what we do, so it can be very anxiety-producing."

According to holistic psychiatrist and mbg class instructor Ellen Vora, M.D., anxiety can be a component of postpartum depression, but it also occurs on its own. "Even when someone doesn't meet diagnostic criteria for one of these disorders, there can be significant shifts in mood and anxiety levels in the post-natal period," she explains.

So, how can new moms deal with and treat postpartum anxiety? While you should never hesitate to seek professional help, here are Vora's suggestions to help you get started.

Coping on a physical level.

Photo: Tanja Hefner

If you have the resources, Vora says the best treatment for post-natal anxiety to is let others help you. "Moms suffering from postpartum anxiety usually need more rest, good nutrition, and stable blood sugar," says Vora. "During a time when it can be hard to brush your teeth and shower in the same day, it can feel nearly impossible to get rest and nutrition. This is why I encourage moms to ask for help and allow themselves to receive help."

In other words, if you've been turning away too much help from your partner or a parent, open yourself up to it. "This is often a big shift for new moms accustomed to being the helper," she says. "Many of us need to rehabilitate our perceptions around whether we deserve help (you do, especially in the post-natal period). It's especially important to emphasize overnight help, so mom can get rest."

And while proper nutrition may be the last thing on your mind in those early days, Vora insists it can do wonders for your anxiety. "For your body to heal and deal with these demands, it needs loads of good nutrition," she says. "This is hard to achieve anytime, but especially in the postpartum period. Again, I encourage moms to receive help. Have friends prepare homemade food, order higher-quality takeout, do a meal-delivery service, or even have a post-natal doula come into the home and prepare nourishing foods."

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How to take care of your mind.

Coping on a psychological level can be just as (if not more) difficult. Vora suggests surrounding yourself with a strong, supportive community. "I encourage people to find a community of moms so they can bounce ideas and seek advice. I started a Slack group of mom friends, and that has been my most cherished resource for questions and to give me a sense of community and support. I imagine we used to learn to mother while surrounded by other mothers, and these days we need to create that, sometimes through digital means."

She also encourages accepting—and not judging—each and every thought. "Allow the negative thoughts, and observe how they move through you and make space for other thoughts like, Wow, this is the most incredible experience, and my baby's cheek feels like magic clouds. Allow all thoughts and any ambivalence about parenting. It doesn't make you a bad parent. If anything, it makes you an honest person able to integrate all parts of themselves, which is a good model for your kids."

Dealing with postpartum depression? Here's how to treat it holistically.

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