Inspired by Ashley Johnson’s blog about the things she wished she had known about postpartum anxiety, I wanted to write a bit about what I wish I had known about anxiety during my first pregnancy.
So, full disclosure, I was a therapist while I was pregnant the first time, I had a fair bit of knowledge about mental health and assessed the needs of others frequently for pay, however I did not realize the full extent of the anxiety I was experiencing, until I had something else to compare it to, my pregnancy with my son (which came with a big dose of depression, but that’s another blog post). Hindsight is 20/20, and as I started to learn more about perinatal mental health it became much clearer to me how much I was impacted by anxiety.
I remember having trouble relaxing during the day and lying awake at night with my mind racing. I obsessed over my birth too much, reading research study after research study about interventions and how to avoid them. I remember cleaning obsessively and organized the nursery in a way which most would find ridiculous, but it was what felt right to me at the time, the way I knew to feel “okay” with everything that felt out of control with this whole growing-a-human thing.
I wish someone I trusted had said “Hey Anna, so I know you’re really into researching birth and all, but I think you’re good… this might be more about anxiety than birth prep.” Had I known now I would have set limits for myself on how often and how much I could read/ research/ plan, and I would have made myself see a therapist weekly while I was in my birth class to process all the shit I was learning and have someone call me out on how obsessed I was.
I wish someone had asked if I was having scary thoughts, like thoughts of something happening to myself or the baby, not because I wanted them to happen, but because I feared it so much my brain kept replaying it to try to protect me from it. Someone could have told me they had a name, intrusive thought, and that they are a common symptom of anxiety. I’d have reminded myself they weren’t my fault, and made me no more likely to hurt myself or my baby. What I needed to do was see them as a symptom, not an actual threat, and have less of a reaction to them.
I would practice self-compassion for how hard it all was, by saying things to myself like “you are doing the best you can,” and “anxiety is telling you things are not okay, what evidence do you have this is true? Answer- none.”
And I would tell the anxious me to label those intrusive thoughts when I got them (there are those stupid images again!”) sending the message to my brain they are simply thoughts, not truth or predictions, and then to focus my attention back on the moment I am in. I’d do more deep breathing, and use the 54321 technique that I teach so often now.
So although I can’t go back in time and help anxious Anna the way I wish I could, I find it so wonderful I can share the skills and insight I learned with others. If you’d like to talk more about your experience, or are interested to learn more about the ideas above, visit my website at www.annabarlagelmft.com for more about me, or to schedule your first session.