“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed” – Linda Wooten
I think from the moment of conception the worries begin as a mum and I am often reminded that these worries never ease as our kids get older… Great!
Motherhood can be one of the most joyous, yet stressful times in our lives. We are not given a handbook on how to mum, and we are often swamped with advice, expectations, rules and regulations. This can make it hard for us to just listen to our intuition and let the natural process flow. Unfortunately, in times of stress and overwhelm, anxiety can often creep in. Anxiety is often described as feelings of worry, stress and overwhelm. These feelings often trigger our fight or flight response and are usually followed by a number of physical, emotional and mental (cognitive) symptoms.
Did you know that on average 1 in 3 women experience anxiety at some point in their lives!? Usually if you have experienced anxiety prior to pregnancy you tend to be at a higher risk of also experiencing it during pregnancy and in motherhood. Some of the common symptoms of anxiety may include (although not restricted to…):
- Panic attacks (which include racing heart, sweaty palms, shortness of breath, feelings of nausea etc..)
- Hot or cold flushes
- Tightening of chest
- Fast breathing
- Feelings of restlessness
- Excessive worry
- Excessive fear
- Obsessive thinking
- Avoidance of situations, people or places that make you feel anxious
- Obsessive compulsive tendencies
- Dry mouth
- Tingling in hands and feet
- Problems sleeping
- Muscle tension.
It’s important I mention 2 things.
The first, is that these symptoms vary in every individual as far as WHAT symptoms they experience, HOW often they experience them and the INTENSITY of the symptoms.
Secondly, anxiety in itself is absolutely normal! I am sure you remember the feeling you had when you had to get up in front of your class for your first presentation or at your first job interview. Your palms were sweaty, your heart started racing and your stomach was doing back flips!
Anxiety is our body’s natural response. It helps us deal with real danger (i.e. If being chased by an animal, jumping out of the way of a speeding car and it also helps motivate us to reach targets and deadlines when it comes to work). As a parent, many situations arise that may get the anxious juices flowing and that’s just part of life. You are allowed to feel stressed, overwhelmed and fearful sometimes. Although, when anxiety begins to interfere with your everyday life or when it starts to occur when there is no perceived danger or stresses, then that’s when it becomes a serious issue and something that needs to be addressed.
Anxiety is not dangerous and can not harm you in any way, even though the symptoms may feel extremely uncomfortable at the time. Something I constantly remind people, is that the symptoms you are experiencing are there to protect you not harm you.
Where does anxiety come from?
There is no real answer when it comes to the ‘cause’ of anxiety. It’s a topic that has been debated for years and I think it will continue to be for many more!
In my personal opinion, I feel there are a number of contributing factors when it comes to anxiety.
There is the nature vs nurture debate that you may have heard of and I really believe it can be both! Some may have a genetic predisposition to ‘feel’ anxious. It could be down to something that runs in the family (which I also think is very much learnt or picked up at a young age), or it could be a type of personality trait or character that may be more prone to feeling anxious. And then there is nurture. How your environment shapes you, the people you meet, the experiences you have, the heartbreak, the stresses, the adversities and all of the in-between! For some it could be one or the other, for others it could be a combination of both.
Types of Anxiety
There are 6 different types of anxiety that people experience. Each type comes with a more specific mindset and range of symptoms.
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Panic Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Phobia (Specific Phobias)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
This type of anxiety is true to its name, in that it is often identified by constant worry and fear which can disrupt your day to day tasks. You don’t really know why it is you feel this way. You just feel like you are in fight or flight mode constantly and have thoughts that tell you something bad is going to happen. People who suffer from a GAD are often labelled as a worry wart and experience numerous physical symptoms that accompany the stress and fear, such as insomnia, stomach upsets, fatigue and find they are often getting sick due to a decrease in the immune system.
Panic attacks can be very frightening! They are often confused for heart problems due to the excessive heart palpitations that are experienced during the episodes. The physical symptoms are the most noticeable, and a panic attack can happen at random, anytime, anywhere! People often experience trouble breathing, tingling in the arms and legs, dizziness etc. Panic Disorder can often transition into certain phobias as you begin to avoid going out in fear it can happen again!
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
We often joke about OCD when we see someone who is very particular with how things are placed or done. The reason is that OCD is characterised by obsessive, unwanted thoughts, behaviours or compulsions that encourage you to experience re-occurring worry and perform repetitive actions. This isn’t about liking the dishwasher stacked a certain way, this is uncontrollable compulsions to continuously wash your hands over and over and over, or checking the light switches in the house so many times before you leave that you decide not to even leave anymore. It can be debilitating because it feels like it is impossible to stop or control!
Social Anxiety is very common and is often mistaken for just being an ‘introvert’. It is the fear of being judged, criticised, rejected and evaluated in a negative way. This can often lead to feelings of embarrassment, inadequacy, humiliation, loneliness and feelings of being self-conscious. Sufferers regularly avoid social settings, gatherings and busy places.
A Phobia is defined as an unrealistic or exaggerated fear of a specific object, activity, person or situation, that in reality presents little or no danger. Individuals who have a phobia will go to extreme measures to avoid the perceived danger and can experience heightened feelings of panic and distress if faced with it. A phobia can develop very early on in childhood and can carry on throughout adolescence and adulthood. I can say that I don’t like spiders. In fact I really, really don’t like spiders, although I don’t have a phobia of them. A phobia is a lot more serious than a simple dislike or fear.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can be experienced in the aftermath of a traumatic event that has threatened a person’s life or safety. Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks/nightmares about the event, withdrawing from others, difficulty sleeping, becoming easily startled and depressive feelings and symptoms.
Not one size fits all
Learning about the different types of anxiety is not so much about placing yourself in a ‘category’ of symptoms but for me, it’s about helping people understand that it’s not one size fits all.
The way you may feel may be very different to how someone else feels and that’s absolutely OK! Please do not measure your emotional and physical wellbeing by the same measure others use. It really is so different for everyone. If your anxiety is not as high as someone else’s, it doesn’t mean it is any less important. The way you feel is the most important gauge.
It’s often hard to help others understand how you are feeling. Partners, friends or work colleagues can find it hard to accept and understand because it’s not something an outsider can really see looking in. Anxiety is not like a broken arm or a sprained leg. That’s what us mental health professionals are all working so hard on… reducing the stigma associated with mental health. Breaking down the barriers. Acceptance, education and understanding. For you and those around you.
Don’t forget about you
Being a mum is one of the hardest jobs on this planet. You suddenly become a professional that wears so many different hats throughout the day. You want nothing but the best for your kids and will do anything and everything you can to achieve that day in and day out. Mama, please don’t forget about you. Self-care is so underrated these days. Time for you to recharge, unload and allow you to be the best version of you.
Motherhood teaches us so many things about ourselves; that quote really does spell it out perfectly. We learn about the strengths we didn’t know we had (I think we surprise ourselves every day) and we also learn about new fears, things we never knew existed until our gorgeous, cheeky little monkeys arrived.. but with that came a new love we never knew existed, a new way of caring, protecting and managing the day, a way of picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off and starting again when the sunrises. Never giving up!
You are not alone. There is an abundance of help and support out there. No question is too silly, so please reach out if you want to learn more about managing your anxiety.
About Amanda Cavallaro