The Worry Train
I find there is a complex interplay between the various factors that lead to maternal anxiety.
Anxiety can intensify after the birth of a first child, as there is a sense of things being special with the novelty and uncertainty that the first child brings, and the enormous learning curve that the mother is on. Also, some women have unreal expectations that everything will be perfect, which can come from not having had prior experience with raising children, and an attachment to a former life where they enjoyed a feeling of “being in control.” It is time when idealism and realism can collide.
I have heard a mother describe it as the ‘Worry Train.’
Sometimes there are very specific and unrelenting worries, such as the baby’s health, or the lack of a routine, but other times there are no precise fears, but instead just a pervasive sense of vulnerability and that something bad could or might happen.
Our first born was quite an unsettled baby in the first year, who cried a lot and didn’t sleep much. I remember the anxiety that my partner experienced and how at 3am this could become a cascade. Even with all my medical knowledge and experience in a neonatal unit, as a Father it was difficult not to worry.
We can look back at it now with greater understanding, insight and perspective, and even gratitude that our own personal experience gives us empathy for what most, if not all new mothers go through.
The Anatomy of Anxiety
Anxiety is an emotion. We have an emotion first before we have a thought. The emotional neurons are faster than thought neurons. This is the result of millions of years of evolution.
When the emotions are very strong then they can derail our thinking. Trying to out-think your emotions even in times of low emotional charge is challenging.
We are designed to have times of high emotion and times of low emotion. We are not designed to be in state of high emotion for extended periods. Our emotional being should be like a strong tree that will sway with the winds of situational emotions then stand straight and tall always coming back to the centre.
We have emotions for a reason and they should not be ignored or suppressed. They need to acknowledged and honoured.
For this tree of emotional being to have strength we need restoration and support. Restoration of the body, physically and emotionally. Support in the home, support in the mind, support in the heart.
A mothers hormonal state is volatile after the birth of a child. This leaves her vulnerable on many levels.
Old cultures revered the post natal time and would typically allow the mother to be cocooned with the child without work or expectation typically for a month. When hormones do not recover and the sense of vulnerability remains, it starts to effect the nervous system. The nervous system goes into overdrive – a state called Sympathetic Dominance (fight or flight).
The stress button is left on. Being in constant stress is exhausting for the body, and can deplete the body of nutrients and contribute to inflammation.
A mothers brain has been amazingly upgraded and modified during pregnancy. She becomes more observant to the needs of the child, studies suggest that her IQ increases as does her overall awareness.
Mothers have been installed with a radar and extra powers of perception. I would call it “Wonder Mum Super Hero!” I remember my partner being able to sense our children’s needs, by feeling it in her own body, such as cold or hunger. I can well imagine how this heightened awareness – especially if it is not recognised – could contribute to feelings of anxiety especially if a woman is not confident in her mothering skills.
The Role of Inflammation
Being pregnant is a controlled state of inflammation, and some mothers are more inflamed than others. The body compensates during pregnancy with hormones. After the pregnancy, the protective role of the hormones has gone and ideally the body returns to its “normal” state of inflammation. Frequently the inflammation doesn’t decrease or can even get worse with conditions like autoimmune disease and gut problems.
The paradox is that the great restorer of inflammation (through complex mechanisms) is sleep. The paradox lies in the fact that mothers aren’t sleeping, especially when they are anxious. It can be a slippery slope.
How to Stop the Worry Train
Things to do to in the here and now:
- Gratitude Practices
- Moving your body
- Relaxing your nervous system – through yoga, acupuncture, healthy use of computers and social media (be very, very, very selective with what you expose yourself to.)
- The breath (you will experience deeper relaxation when exhalation is longer than inhalation, like Lauren teaches in her online course A Daily Dose of Bliss). Five minutes, twice a day can make a BIG difference.
- Laughing and singing
Things to do that will help tomorrow and next week and in a months time and in the future:
- Adaptogenic Herbs
- Correcting micronutrient imbalances such as iron, zinc and Vitamin B12
- Reducing inflammatory foods in your diet
- No deep fried foods and chips
- No sugar
- De clutter your home
- Outsourcing and getting Help Help Help with cleaning and babysitting
Dr Oscar Serrallach is an Integrative Doctor who practices Nutritional and Environmental Medicine in Byron Bay and Melbourne, Australia. He is the author of The Postnatal Depletion Cure: A Complete Guide to Rebuilding Your Health and Reclaiming Your Energy for Mothers of Newborns, Toddlers, and Young Children.
Oscar graduated with a medical degree (MBChB) from the Auckland School of Medicine, New Zealand in 1996. He received his fellowship of Family Medicine and General Practice in 2008 and is currently completing a Fellowship in Nutritional and Environmental Medicine.
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