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Unveiling the Shadows: Conquering Postpartum Anxiety with Therapy

Emily Turinas

4 min read

May 18

23

2

While the arrival of a new baby is often associated with joy and excitement, for some new mothers, it can also bring about feelings of overwhelming worry, fear, and apprehension. Postpartum anxiety (PPA) is a lesser-known but equally significant mental health condition that affects many women during the postpartum period. Here I want to shine a light on postpartum anxiety, exploring its symptoms, causes, and most importantly, the pathways to support and healing.


postpartum anxiety therapy austin


How does Postpartum Anxiety present Itself:

  1. Excessive Worry: One of the hallmark symptoms of postpartum anxiety is persistent and excessive worry, particularly about the health and safety of the baby (i.e. not being able to sleep because you are worried about SIDS). Women with PPA may constantly fret about potential dangers or worst-case scenarios, even when there is no apparent threat.

  2. Physical Symptoms: Postpartum anxiety can also manifest in physical symptoms such as racing heart, shortness of breath, trembling, dizziness, nausea, and muscle tension. These symptoms may mimic those of a panic attack and can be distressing for the woman experiencing them, especially when you are sleep deprived and caring for a new little one.

  3. Intrusive Thoughts: Many women with postpartum anxiety experience intrusive thoughts or images related to harm coming to the baby. These thoughts are often distressing and unwanted, and may lead to feelings of guilt or shame. (i.e. What if I trip and drop the baby down the stairs?) Often times new mamas are worried to share these thoughts with others in fear that they might be seen as a risk to their baby. It is important to know while intrusive thoughts are common with PPA, acting out on these thoughts are not. You might be surprised how many people have had similar thoughts.

  4. Hyperarousal: Postpartum anxiety can put women in a state of hyperarousal, where they feel constantly on edge or keyed up. They may have difficulty relaxing or sleeping, and may be easily startled or irritable. If you are exhausted (as we all are those first few months) and still struggling to sleep, this might be the culprit.

  5. Avoidance Behaviors: In an effort to cope with their anxiety, some women may engage in avoidance behaviors such as avoiding certain situations or activities that trigger their anxiety. For example, they may avoid leaving the house or being alone with the baby.

  6. Difficulty Concentrating: Postpartum anxiety can make it challenging for women to focus or concentrate on tasks, as their thoughts are often consumed by worry and fear.

  7. Perfectionism: Some women with postpartum anxiety may experience heightened perfectionism, feeling pressure to be the perfect mother and meet unrealistic standards. This can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and inadequacy.

  8. Changes in Appetite and Sleep: Postpartum anxiety can also affect appetite and sleep patterns. Some women may experience changes in appetite, such as loss of appetite or overeating, while others may struggle with insomnia or disrupted sleep due to racing thoughts and worry.


It's important to note that postpartum anxiety can vary in severity and presentation from one woman to another. Additionally, these symptoms may overlap with those of other mental health conditions, so it's essential for women experiencing distress to seek support and evaluation from a qualified mental health professional.


Understanding Postpartum Anxiety:

Postpartum anxiety is a form of anxiety disorder that manifests in the weeks and months following childbirth. Unlike the more widely recognized postpartum depression, which is characterized by feelings of sadness and despair, postpartum anxiety is defined by excessive worry, fear, and intrusive thoughts that interfere with daily functioning and well-being.


Causes and Triggers of Postpartum Anxiety:

The causes of postpartum anxiety are complex and multifaceted, often stemming from a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. Hormonal fluctuations, sleep deprivation, past experiences of anxiety or trauma, and the stress of adjusting to parenthood can all contribute to the development of PPA. Additionally, women with a history of anxiety disorders or perfectionistic tendencies may be at a higher risk.


Recognizing the Symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety:

Postpartum anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways, and its symptoms may overlap with those of other anxiety disorders. Common signs of PPA are explained above, however, as discussed severity can range dramatically. This means you don't have to have full blown PPA to be struggling with postpartum anxiety.


Seeking Support and Therapy for Postpartum Anxiety:

It's essential for women experiencing postpartum anxiety to seek support and treatment from mental health professionals who specialize in perinatal mental health. Therapy has been shown to be highly effective in treating PPA by helping women identify and challenge irrational thoughts, develop coping strategies, and learn relaxation techniques.


Medication may also be prescribed in some cases, particularly if symptoms are severe or significantly impacting daily functioning. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can help alleviate symptoms and provide relief, often in conjunction with therapy and other forms of support.


The Role of Therapy for Postpartum Anxiety:

Therapy plays a central role in the treatment of postpartum anxiety, offering a safe and supportive space for women to explore their fears, learn coping strategies, and regain a sense of control over their lives. In therapy, women can address underlying triggers and develop skills for managing anxiety, such as relaxation techniques, mindfulness, and cognitive restructuring.


Therapists may also work with women to challenge perfectionistic tendencies and unrealistic expectations of motherhood, fostering self-compassion and acceptance. Additionally, therapy can provide a valuable opportunity for women to process the emotional challenges of new motherhood, discuss changes in relationships, validate their experiences, and discuss their own traumas or past difficulties that might be resurfacing.


Supporting Loved Ones through Postpartum Anxiety:

For partners, family members, and friends, supporting a loved one with postpartum anxiety involves offering patience, empathy, and practical assistance. This may include helping with household tasks, providing childcare to allow the mother time for self-care and therapy appointments, and encouraging open communication about feelings and concerns.


If you are interested in gaining professional support during your postpartum journey, see if Emily Turinas PhD is a good fit for you. She is a perinatal psychologist who specializes in therapy for new moms & dads, those on a fertility journey, and pregnant mamas in Austin, Texas & Denver, Colorado. Schedule a free consultation today to see how Dr. Turinas could help you build clarity and direction in the chaos of parenthood.

Emily Turinas

4 min read

May 18

23

2

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Emily Turinas PhD

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EmilyTurinasPhD@gmail.com

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