Postpartum Stress

By Sheila Duffy

There are many myths surrounding motherhood. One of the reasons that many new moms and dads struggle is because no one talks about “what it is really like”. We then often blame ourselves, and may have thoughts along the lines of “What is wrong with me?” “I was not cut out for this” or “I’m a bad mom”. The truth is that, along with the many amazing gifts that come into our lives when we have a child, the early days and months can be the most stressful time for us. This is not only for the new mom who is undergoing enormous changes physically, emotionally, and socially, but also for her partner, who is going through his or her own adjustment. These changes are so all-encompassing that it can be a time of extreme stress individually as well as within our relationships.

Again, rarely do people talk about this, and so often what happens is that we start think there is something wrong with us. We ask ourselves why aren’t we happy, why we aren’t able to manage, etc. These are just a few common thoughts that go along with the intense feelings of early motherhood. Couples can often feel like there is something fundamentally wrong with their relationship rather than seeing the situation itself as stressful and attributing that stress alone as to why they are not getting along.

Another important thing to think about is how individuals react to stress. Everyone is different. If you are predisposed to depression and anxiety then stress can be a huge risk factor. At Pacific Post Partum Support Society we talk about the fact that self-care is one thing we can do and that we have control over. In other words, we may not be able to change the fact that our baby does not sleep very long, but we can make sure that we build in a half hour (or more if possible) of time for ourselves where we can somehow rejuvenate. In my personal experience, once I recognized that ongoing stress was a trigger for anxiety, I then took self-care much more seriously. I began to treat it as a “have to”, just like sleeping and eating. It was non-negotiable. This made a huge difference in my ability to manage during times of stress. Having said that, it certainly doesn’t mean that it’s always been easy! In fact, with very limited support when my babies were young it was not an easy problem to solve.

I had to start with very small steps and it took a while to begin to build my support network. Eventually I went from having “no support” to having a “small army” of support. This support remains crucial for my well-being. Try to think about and notice any red flags when you are stressed. For example, quite often when I am stressed, I hold my breath. I never was conscious of this before, but once I realized that I tend to do this and that it increases my anxiety, I began the process of learning how to breathe from my belly rather than my chest. It sounds simple but for me it took a long time to learn to breathe. Yoga played a huge part in my self-care, as it allowed me to slow down, and through this I learned how to breathe. Now I notice my breathing when I’m stressed and I’m able to breathe through things that used to feel unmanageable.

Think about how you manage stress. How have you managed stress in the past? Sometimes just acknowledging with your partner that you are both stressed, and therefore need to be gentle with each other as much as possible, can alleviate stressful feelings. Talk about ways to support each other to do something every day to relieve some of the stressful circumstances. Try to remember that it is a process. Sometimes we do the things we think should alleviate stress only to find we are still anxious. It takes time, and includes a lot of ups and downs along the way, but everyone does find the answers and becomes attuned to their own needs. Please also see our “Tips for Managing with Anxiety and Depression” post from last week for more ideas.

If you want to receive more information about the support offered at Pacific Post Partum Support Society please contact us by telephone at 1-855-255-7999 or via email at admin@postpartum.org.

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