Recently I attended an interesting workshop on parenting with anxiety, and how it impacts expecting and new parents. Of particular interest was the focus on personality factors that contribute to perinatal anxiety (anxiety before and after childbirth).
The workshop, run by PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia), covered some common ground – such as statistics of around 1 in 4 people in Australia currently experiencing an anxiety disorder.
Causes were also explored, why some people are more prone to it, and some not so much. A combination of factors was suggested, such as:
- family history of anxiety
- stressful/traumatic events – sometimes related to pregnancy and birth
- relationship stress/problems
- sleep deprivation
- lack of support
- personality factors – perfectionism, low self-esteem and controlling personality
Perfectionism and control
Often those who tend towards personality traits like perfectionism and control are more inclined towards perinatal anxiety. Often in life, it can feel safer if we feel we know what to expect, and we place high expectations on ourselves or those around us.
However, when a baby comes along, there is so much that is beyond this control. Who knows what type of temperament the baby will have, or how you will be as a parent, or if your expectations meet the reality?
Some people come to therapy confronting such traits for the first time, whereas others are familiar with these tendencies but triggered by the new birth and all that goes with it. Signs of anxiety at this stage of a person’s life unfortunately often overlap with early parenthood experiences, so it can get confusing.
Common thoughts or feelings when anxiety is running high:
“I feel overwhelmed”
“‘I don’t know how to settle my baby”
“I’m scared something will happen to my baby”
“Is my baby feeding/sleeping enough?”
“I should know how to do this”
“I feel like a failure”
Getting bogged down
Sometimes anxiety manifests in different ways, which is also confusing. Some people talk about feeling irritable, angry, agitated or on edge – these are emotions we are often not comfortable with and which can be difficult for loved ones to understand. This can lead to feelings of guilt and not being good enough.
In my experience, anxiety can really bog a person down, where they get into a debate with themselves about whether or not they have anxiety, which in turn adds to feelings of already existent anxiety. A bit of a vicious circle, really.
I suggest that at this stage, when you are probably functioning at quite a low level any way, don’t hesitate – talk to someone. It could be that a few simple tweaks are all that are needed, or a listening, non-judgmental ear.
Be aware that an anxious mind will tell you that it is only you that feels this way, as this can cause you to isolate yourself. This is not true – although individual experience can differ, anxiety gets a grip on a lot of us. And it is definitely possible to feel much better.