"Productive" Anxiety vs. Postpartum Anxiety

“Looking back, I guess maybe I always had some level of anxiety.”

I hear a version of this statement so often from the postpartum moms I work with. 

Many find their way to me because they are struggling with feelings of overwhelm, intrusive thoughts, or intense mom-guilt that are getting in the way of the ability to be present and enjoy time with their babies. 

There’s something about motherhood that can make anxiety skyrocket. Some say it’s our internal drive to protect and nurture going into overdrive. 

Often, moms affected by postpartum anxiety begin to recognize that maybe they did have some level of anxious tendencies pre-pregnancy. An inability to relax. A need for things to be a certain way.

I relate to this so much. I never identified with having anxiety until I experienced postpartum anxiety. Looking back, I’ve probably always run a little on the anxious side.

Pre-kids, it was more of what I call a “functional, productive anxiety.” 

It enabled me to stay motivated and organized. It allowed me to work a job while in grad school and to write and publish books within extremely tight deadlines.

It worked. It didn’t get in the way. At least not in any major or apparent way. 

But knowing what I know now, I recognize that my mind and body probably could have used more balance or restful moments. (It still takes me a few days to settle into “relaxation mode” when on vacation.) At the time, though, anxiety wasn’t on my radar. 

Postpartum anxiety hit me like a ton of bricks and it took awhile to understand what I was experiencing. For one, I’d never even heard of postpartum anxiety. And I wouldn't have described what I was feeling as anxious.

It was more of a brain fog, confusion, difficulty making decisions, the constant need to be busy, and eventually intrusive & scary thoughts. It was different from anything I’d experienced before. More intense. More debilitating. 

It wasn’t motivating. It was draining. 

If this is you, mama, be kind to yourself. Recognize that your nervous system is in overdrive. Now, more than ever, you need to make time to rest, breathe, and embrace simple ways to recharge your battery. 

I’ve learned so much about the importance of regulating our nervous systems and believe it’s vital for humans, especially mothers, to have an arsenal of ways to stay grounded. 

When you find yourself fixated on anxious worries about the future or things you cannot control, adopt the mantras “one day at a time” and “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.” Then find ways to embrace self-care activities and develop mindful practices. 

You are a work in progress and this experience is teaching you to find more balance and recognize that, as someone who may run on the side of anxious, it’s imperative that you develop what I call a “toolkit” of ways to calm your nervous system.

(Check out my Mom’s Toolkit for Stress Management here to learn more.)

Motherhood is demanding. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need resources to stay balanced, get in touch so we can get you some support!