How to handle new parent anxiety

March 24, 2015

It's completely normal for new parents to be nervous or concerned about their little ones once in a while, but there's a difference between parental concern and full-blown anxiety.

While postpartum depression is a commonly known condition, many new parents don't realize that postpartum anxiety is actually more prevalent. A study from the University of Heidelberg in Germany shows that around 11 percent of new mothers experience anxiety after the birth of their children, as compared to just 6 percent who become depressed.

If you're concerned about your mental health following the birth of your children, here's what you should know about postpartum anxiety, managing your worries and getting the help you need.

"Overwhelming worry or nervousness aren't normal emotions."

Symptoms of serious anxiety
As a new parent, you're genetically programmed to be protective of your children, and worry comes as part of the equation. It's common for first-time parents to be concerned that they will accidentally hurt their baby in some way. However, these thoughts will quickly dissipate as you become comfortable in your new role.

If your concerns about hurting your child continue to fester or if you think your little one is in irrational danger, these are warning signs that there might be something more serious going on. Experts agree that overwhelming worry and persistent nervousness are signs of postpartum anxiety. If your thoughts begin to hinder your usual lifestyle, this can also lead to other medical problems, such as depression.

"If you're anxious and it's getting in the way of your life, you may begin to feel depressed about that and vice versa," Jonathan Abramowitz, Ph.D., director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Clinic at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explains in Parents magazine.

Don't be ashamed if you're experiencing these symptoms! One in every 10 women experience serious anxiety after having children, so chances are someone you know had similar struggles.

There are a few ways you can become comfortable in your new role. There are a few ways you can become comfortable in your new role.

Alleviating negative thoughts
As soon as you realize that your worries are becoming a problem, start taking small steps to banish them from your life. The first helpful step for many new parents should be to do a little bit of research online to assure yourself that this is a common experience. You may benefit from reading some parenting forums that discuss anxiety and finding out how other moms and dads cope with their fears. Additionally, you can talk to other new parents you know to see if they've had similar experiences. A support group will be beneficial in conquering this problem and many others as your children grow.

Another important task is to keep doing the things you're nervous about. If you get worried every time you have to take your little one in the car, it's easy to succumb to the fear and stay home. However, this will just perpetuate the fear and make your life more stressful. Instead, try to take a short trip with your baby, like down the street to the grocery store. Buckle your bundle of joy securely in the car seat, and just do it. Soon you'll realize that your fears were ungrounded and you can slowly begin to get back into a normal routine.

When to seek help
If you reach a point where your anxiety is interfering with your ability to eat, sleep and go about your business, you should seek help from a medical professional. Get in touch with your OB/GYN and explain how you've been feeling. He or she will likely be able to recommend a psychologist who specializes in postpartum anxiety.

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