Every parent worries. It’s usually a good thing because it means you’re probably doing it right, but it can sometimes go too far. Here’s how worry can turn into irrational anxiety and why it happened to me.
Worry is a biological reaction to protect our children. Heightened anxiety makes sense scientifically, which helps me rationalize my feelings. Parents want to keep their offspring alive, of course. Mothers also experience changes in hormone levels and in brain activity. These changes make us more alert and are responsible for the overwhelming love we have for our children—and yes, our anxiety too!
However, the mental and physical changes from becoming a parent can result in obsessive behavior. A mother’s estrogen and progesterone levels rise drastically during pregnancy and then fall after giving birth, which can result in behavioral changes and mood swings. Combine that with the pressures of parenthood and adjusting to your new life and it can lead to depression and overwhelming anxiety in some cases.
Being a parent brings me extreme joy but also intense fear. The easiest way for me to describe what motherhood is like is that it feels like my heart is in pieces running around outside of my body. Before kids, I only had to worry about my own heart, but now my kids have it. Nothing makes me happier than raising them and watching them grow, but nothing makes me more terrified than thinking about something bad happening to them. I wouldn’t survive it because my heart would be gone. It sounds dramatic but it’s true. I’m so worried about them that it consumes my thoughts.
I know I have the biggest responsibility ever and it’s terrifying. I only had to worry about myself before, but now I have other humans in my care that I’m responsible for keeping alive and also for raising into capable adults. That’s a lot of pressure. I don’t want to screw them up for life. A lot of the time, I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.
I fear every bad thing possible happening to them, however unlikely. I worry about them getting into an accident, being diagnosed with cancer, or being kidnapped anytime we go out anywhere. My worst fear is that they’ll become sex trafficking victims. Even mentioning these things is difficult because I don’t like thinking about it, but these are some of the insane thoughts I have. I can’t stop myself from obsessing because horrible things can still happen even though I know it’s improbable.
All moms have some anxiety but mine is more than that. How do you know when you have normal worry versus something more? All moms are concerned for their children and want to keep them safe, but when your anxiety interferes with your ability to get through the day and stops you from living your life, then you know you have a problem. Mine gets so bad I’m afraid to leave the house sometimes because I’m so scared of something bad happening.
Some things that are out of my control make my anxiety so much worse. For example, sleep deprivation really affects me. Sometimes I get so little sleep that I wonder how I’m still alive. Lack of sleep is part of being a parent, but I’ve always been someone that needs it to function. Without at least six hours, I get extremely irritable and moody, and this makes it a lot harder to control my anxiety.
I was recently diagnosed with postpartum anxiety (PPA). My doctor told me that my feelings are not normal because of the intensity and duration of my anxious thoughts, so she diagnosed me with PPA. Surprisingly, PPA is even more common than postpartum depression (PPD). However, moms often don’t seek treatment for it because they think it’s just normal motherly worry. Also, more focus is put on diagnosing PPD and there isn’t enough awareness about PPA.
I got help for myself and for my kids. I used to be able to handle my anxiety pretty well, but I was finding it impossible after having children. I found a mental health counselor who helped lead me to my diagnosis. I also started taking anxiety medication which helped take the edge off and allowed me to function better.
Getting help doesn’t mean I’m weak or incapable. Just because I admitted I needed help and did something about it doesn’t mean I’m less of person. In fact, I think it makes me stronger. My kids are better off too because I’m not as crazy, and we go out and do more things now. Having kids amplified my anxiety tenfold, but I finally feel more like myself again. I’m able to enjoy my life and kids more, though I do still worry a lot.
If you’re experiencing the same, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be embarrassed to admit you might need to do something about your anxiety. Don’t let it control your life. Although medication helped me, I’m not saying it’s needed; there are many other natural ways to alleviate symptoms. Lifestyle changes like diet and exercise can reduce anxiety, relaxation techniques like meditation can improve your thought processing, and finding a counselor to teach you coping skills can help. No parent should have to deal with crippling anxiety. We don’t deserve it and neither do our children.
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