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Managing the Mother Load: How to Effectively Manage Stress and Anxiety in Motherhood
Mental Well-being

Managing the Mother Load: How to Effectively Manage Stress and Anxiety in Motherhood

Stress and anxiety seem to always go hand in hand, no matter what situation you’re in. But never has there been a time for this dynamic duo to rear their ugly heads than while navigating motherhood. If we had the cure, we’d share it here. Instead, our Certified Perinatal Mental Health Professional, Nicole Kumi, PhD has some amazing input on how to manage it all without losing your sanity along the way. Mother or not…this one’s a keeper.

Life is often seen as a series of acts or scenes that interact and play off of one another creating a beautiful story. There will be seasons of productivity and ease, and others that will require more focus and attention that one must learn to balance in order to keep growing on their journey. Motherhood is one of the most incredible scenes that require preparation, practice, focus, and commitment as you transition from your role as an individual to that of a mother. Moms find that coping skills that used to be effective in managing their anxiety and stress are no longer useful, and that can be attributed to the emotional transformation that has occurred within you shortly after giving birth. A new version of you evolves at each stage of motherhood along with new stressors and situations that can evoke anxiety. Learning to identify these stressors and develop a plan of action for reducing your stress and anxiety can feel a bit challenging initially, but with patience and practice you will find yourself to be more capable than you thought.

Situational Stressors

Your stressors may be quite different than they once were so learning to identify the areas of stress that might be causing the most anxiety can be a helpful place to start. This is best done through a short exercise shared below. The best way to do this would be to write out the 5 steps and follow the prompts by writing in exactly what you are experiencing:

  • Event- Identifying the event that is taking place or where you are when you begin experiencing the stress is important in understanding the significance of a place, people, or issue in your life that elicits a significant response from you.
  • Feeling- Recognizing all of the feelings that arise from that event will prepare you to develop interventions appropriate to that circumstance.
  • Reaction- This is not necessarily "HOW" you react rather what type of reaction you have to the event and the feeling. An example is that when you are in an uncomfortable situation you may feel hot or flushed, resulting in red cheeks and sweating palms.
  • Emotions- Does all of this bring up any significant emotions for you? Fear, guilt, anxiety?
  • Insight- The final step is developing insight from this cyclical pattern and implementing stress/anxiety reducing tactics to assist you whenever this current event/situation might present itself.

What this could look like for you:

  • Event- Getting in the car with your baby alone to go to the doctor’s office
  • Feeling- Begin feeling nervous, having intrusive thoughts about the ride
  • Reaction- Your body may begin to tingle, sweat, heart racing
  • Emotions- You experience some guilt related to the thought you have about not being able to do a simple task
  • Insight- You recognize that it is not the task of driving that is challenging your process, rather the fear of being in the car alone with the baby. Now, you can begin to develop appropriate interventions to utilize before taking a solo trip with the baby, slowly reducing the feelings, reactions, and emotions.

Anxiously Anxious

There could be a chance that you have never experienced anxiety before becoming pregnant or giving birth, and that is not uncommon. Stress and anxiety responses can be created and heightened during this period, and for some moms this is the first time their mind and body may be reacting to these stressors.

Anxiety can be commonly associated with the postpartum period under the diagnosis of Postpartum Anxiety Disorder, which is more commonly talked about with practitioners and patients.

It is important to note that perinatal anxiety is anxiety that develops during pregnancy and can last into the postpartum period. There are a variety of changes occurring within you and around you, so it is typical to begin developing some general anxiety about the pregnancy and what is to come. Here are some common signs/symptoms to be aware of during this time:

  • Feeling restless, unable to sit still
  • Fast pumping heart even in a sitting position
  • Teeth grinding
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Experiencing panic attacks
  • Sweating/hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Feeling nervous
  • Ruminating thoughts
  • Feeling like others can see your anxiety

It is important to note that some of these could be associated with the hormonal shifts of pregnancy too. That is why the exercise listed above can be useful when you are trying to identify what you might be experiencing.

Managing It All

With changes occurring at the same time it is important to have effective coping strategies to implement in an effort to reduce your daily stress, especially during pregnancy

Effective Strategies to Implement:

Shifting your focus: Try focusing on something positive that will take your mind away from the current situation and focus on the small details. This could include one of the following:

  • Looking a pictures on your phone that remind you of happy and safe times
  • Utilizing a journal prompt such as, “today I am grateful for…”
  • Listing 3 things that made you smile today.

Physical activity: This can be utilized as a distraction technique to get you out of the current situation. You don't need a gym membership, just some creativity and a willingness to move your body. This could be stretching, tidying up the house, or going for a walk. It won't take much.

Breathing exercises: These can be useful for situations where you might not be able to engage in physical movement. Learning techniques such as box breathing (inhale 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, exhale 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, repeating 4x) will be helpful in regulating your breath, intercepting a panic attack, and requiring you to shift your focus internally.

Contacting a specialist: If you feel overwhelmed with the stress and anxiety you are encouraged to seek professional help through your PCP, OB, or specialist. Self-help strategies may not work for everyone and that is ok. You need to find what will be most effective for you and your situation.

Finding What Works for You

It is important to remember that every mother’’s journey is different resulting in different experiences and interventions. Try to focus on one thing at a time as it relates to your mental health and support and be kind to yourself during this time. Much like your baby, you are also learning new behaviors, and experiencing new events. You will need some time to adjust, and with the right amount of attention, you will find your groove and implement the strategies that yield the most positive outcome for you throughout this journey.

This site is intended for informational purposes only and does not provide medical advice. Please consult your physician or other health-care professional.

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