Motherhood + Anxiety
I have always struggled with anxiety long before I could even express that feeling. My childhood memories are sparse, but when I think of my childhood, I have a sense of struggle and anxiety. I was never a confident kid and could never stand up for myself. I genuinely liked everyone and was probably too nice. I struggled in school because everything had to be perfect – taking tests would make my heart race and my mind go blank. I kind of skated through life until high school, when I started to unravel and began having panic attacks. My early 20’s were a rollercoaster. Medication helped immensely, but it made me not feel like myself. I became dependent on my little yellow pill to be in any social scene, but it masked my true personality. Luckily, I met my husband, and for some reason, he decided to marry me – baggage and all. When we decided to start trying for a family, I was adamant about stopping my anxiety medication and working through my anxiety myself. I had to do a lot of growing and learning about myself and try to prepare for the emotional undertaking that is postpartum.
First Time Mom
I remember standing in our laundry room doing laundry while my husband laid on the couch with 5-day old Ella on his chest, and I just stood there crying. It wasn't fair that I had just pushed out a 6-pound 12oz human, received 4th-degree stitches in my lady bits, was constantly bleeding, had engorged boobs, and was totally sleep deprived – all while my husband was laying on the couch with our newborn. He offered to do the laundry, which just made me cry even more because, at that moment, I needed to do the laundry. Did the laundry really need to be done? No. My anxiety was crippling, and the only way I felt in control was by keeping order.
When I did sleep, I would have dreams about something happening to Ella, waking in a panic to check on her. At least once a night, I woke up in a panic, thinking I forgot to put her back in her bassinet, still feeling the weight of her on my chest, pulling off all the covers, and yelling at my husband to look for the baby. I was hallucinating. I would carry her around like she would break at any second and had this fear of falling down the stairs while holding her. Anytime I wasn't with or couldn't see Ella, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that something bad would happen. I wanted to do it all and get my life back into control, but I was quickly spiraling. I knew that if I didn't start to get some sleep and accept help, I would sink into a dark place.
I had done plenty of research about infant sleep before Ella was born, but it was as if all that information escaped my brain the day she was born. I had to go back through all my books, bookmarked blogs, and saved Instagram posts during the long hours of nursing. After two weeks, when my husband returned to work, I remember sitting in Ella's room crying as she screamed and fought sleep. I sat in the rocker staring at this beautiful, tiny little girl who needed me to be her everything, and the weight of the world sat on my shoulders. The only thing that came to my mind was to “shush” and “swing.” I couldn't remember the other “S's,” and Ella would fight the swaddle like it was torturing her. So, I held her snug up to my chest, shushed in her ear, and swung back and forth. She instantly calmed down and fell asleep. We sat together in her room for what felt like forever while she took a nap. When my husband came home from work that day, I had a game plan that we were beginning that night.
I was slowly losing my mind, but I was confident that one thing could scale back the anxiety and help me regain control of my life: sleep.
The lack of sleep was making my anxiety worse, and the fear for my child's safety was my only concern. From that moment on, everything else could wait. Ella’s and my health came first.
I worked on getting Ella onto a good schedule using wake windows, started a bedtime routine, including my husband giving her a bottle while I got some alone time. I learned what her cues were – so we didn't fall into the game of her being under or over-tired – and learned how to handle night wakings (when she was actually awake to eat vs. moving through sleep cycles). By 11 weeks, we were all sleeping better, and I felt more like myself. I felt confident going into the 4-month sleep regression, and Ella sailed right through it!
Motherhood + Anxiety
I will always carry around a 10-pound weight of anxiety on my shoulders – some days it's lighter, and other days it’s heavier – especially when it comes to my children. I think once you become a parent, you will naturally always worry. But making sure that sometimes putting yourself first is important.
Navigating your own anxiety while raising children can often feel debilitating, simply because with babies, there are natural concerns – are they eating enough? Are they safe? Am I being aware of the dos and the don’ts? And as they become toddlers, they begin testing boundaries and figuring out their limits. And as they reach adulthood, learning to let them go (insert crying emoji here).
It has taken me years and lots of therapy to understand my anxiety and manage it, but I have had to work even harder to keep it under control since becoming a Mom. I have had to relearn what I need for myself and make sure that I check in on myself daily. I often notice some OCD tendencies when I start becoming more anxious or overwhelmed. I begin to sleep poorly, my patience becomes shorter, and my brain turns foggy.
When you become a parent, you tend to put yourself last. Your babies become your world. I have had to work really hard to make sure that I take time for myself and let my brain and body rest. I can’t be the parent I want and strive to be if I feel like I'm in a constant state of fogginess. So, what do I do to help myself?
To be honest, I have not been working out as much as I’d like, but going for a run or doing a ride on the bike always makes me feel better.
2. Alone time
Whether this is during a nap or after bedtime, if I do not get some alone time during the day to decompress, I start to feel exhausted and out of touch.
3. Going outside
So many health benefits from getting fresh air and sunshine!
4. Read a good book
5. Extra vitamin D
In recent years, I have noticed that when I take extra vitamin D, especially during the dark winter months, it really helps my mood.
6. Check-in with my therapist
7. Take time off of social media
How cathartic this can be! We are constantly on our phones comparing our lives to others. I always feel better after spending some time off my phone and just being with my family and friends.
8. Lastly, accepting the things I can control and try to be okay with those I cannot.
If you are struggling with postpartum anxiety or depression, please know you are not alone, and it is okay to ask for help. Never feel ashamed or “less than” as a parent because you struggle! Raising children takes a village; no one has to do this alone, and you certainly do not need to struggle silently out of shame or embarrassment. If no one has told you lately, you are a great parent, and you’re doing a wonderful job!
Hello! My name is Sarah Janicik, I am a mom to two little ones-Ella (almost 3) and Jack (1). I am a certified pediatric sleep consultant and own Rainbow Dreams Sleep Consulting, LLC, as well as a stay-at-home-mom. I also have a degree in Communication Studies and a Masters in Elementary Education with a minor in Special Education. I love learning new things. If I am not reading new research articles, blogs, or studies, I love a good mystery-romance book! One of my favorite authors is Colleen Hoover, and I am currently reading “One True Love” by Taylor Jenkins Reid, which I am really enjoying! Aside from reading, I enjoy going on runs or doing a ride on the bike, cooking, and spending time with my family.
This blog is not meant to offer medical advice. Please speak to your medical professional and follow any advice they provide you.
If you think you might be struggling with postpartum anxiety or depression, please contact a professional, call 800-944-4773, or visit the Postpartum Health Alliance or Postpartum Support International.
This blog post was originally published 12/14/2021 but has been updated for 2022.