Maternal anxiety is a troublesome experience for many mothers and unfortunately it’s also a common one. You may have heard of “postpartum anxiety,” and while it’s understandable for women to feel extra uneasy in those earliest weeks and months, anxiety doesn’t end there.
Mom-anxiety. You’ve definitely heard of it, and chances are, you feel it too.
Anxiety during all stages of motherhood—from pregnancy to the postpartum months and far beyond—is a very common experience. Many mothers notice that they feel extra anxious or worried as they transition to this new role.
That’s entirely understandable for many reasons. Think about how significantly your life has changed in a relatively short period. That coupled with the responsibilities of parenthood and the vulnerability of young children can easily make for the perfect storm. (That is, if you don’t know what to look for and how to properly manage and prevent it.)
Maternal anxiety (or mom anxiety) might be explainable… but that doesn’t exactly make the experience easier for sufferers. Like with many things, the best place to start is education.
If you suspect that your anxiety has gotten much worse during motherhood, we’re here to explain everything from symptoms of mom anxiety, who suffers, and what to do.
Why do so many women suffer from anxiety in motherhood?
There are so many reasons why anxiety tends to rear its head in motherhood. And just to clarify, we are not only talking about postpartum anxiety (PPA) or anxiety that appears in the earliest phases of motherhood. While it’s very common for women to suffer during those initial stages, anxiety doesn’t exactly have an expiry date.
You can suffer from intrusive thoughts, panic attacks, or general anxiety at any time.
There are many reasons why women might feel that their mental health suffers in motherhood. Some anxiety-spiking factors could include: feeling uneasy because of how vulnerable your young children are; being physically drained or sleep deprived; not having yet adjusted to a significant change in lifestyle; feeling on guard all the time as you look out for potential threats to your family; feeling the weight of additional responsibilities and demands on your time; or simply not having the time or space for basic self-care.
Additionally, some people have a genetic predisposition for anxiety. This isn’t something that you’ve created, it’s just how the cards fall. If you have family members who experience anxiety, it’s more likely that you will as well.
And lastly, people who have a history of trauma (either from long ago or even more recently like birth trauma or traumatic experiences during early states of motherhood), then you’re also more likely to experience anxiety.
Signs and symptoms:
While words like “postpartum anxiety”, “mom anxiety”, or “anxiety in motherhood”, might get tossed around a lot, it can be difficult for many women to recognize if and when they’re suffering.
Anxiety shows up differently from person to person so it’s important to note that not all moms suffer in the same way. Signs you *could* be dealing with maternal anxiety may include some of the following:
- You experience scary or intrusive thoughts. (I.e. disturbing mental images of harm coming to your children.)
- You feel on-edge, weepy, are constantly stressed out or are easy to anger
- You experience insomnia and are sleep deprived as a result
- Your environment feels chaotic. (The messes and disorganization just remind you of all there is to do.)
- Racing heart, queasiness, feeling sick to your stomach
- You feel “touched out,” because your children’s physical needs often come at the cost of your personal space
- Your mind constantly goes to worst-case scenarios or “what if” thinking
- Your nervousness gets in the way of your normal, day-to-day life
- Your internal dialogue is increasingly self-critical (“I’m such a bad mom,!” “I thought I’d be better at this.” “I’m failing my family!”)
One thing that’s important to be aware of is that the symptoms of anxiety in general—feelings of unease, panic, ruminating, sleeplessness—are often the same as PPA or maternal anxiety. So what’s the difference?
Many women might notice that their symptoms appear more strongly during early motherhood years or during pregnancy. Others might feel that their stressors are more focused on their family or kids. So, the symptoms might feel the same but the timing or specific worries are directly related to motherhood.
Who is likely to suffer from mom anxiety?
Not everyone will experience a downturn in their mental health as they navigate motherhood. However since many women do suffer from maternal anxiety, it can be helpful to know who is most at risk.
This information can help mothers and their partners take preventative measures which in turn supports the wellbeing of the entire family.
Some common indicators that someone *could* be at risk include the following:
- Having a personal or family history with anxiety or other mental health issues
- Having become pregnant with one or more child during the pandemic
- Having perfectionist tendencies and extremely high expectations
- Having experienced miscarriage or loss in the past
- Dealing with major life stress like a death, relationship issues, or major move
- Dealing with a high-risk pregnancy and thus being in a state of increased and chronic worry
- Having had a traumatic birth, breastfeeding journey, or other recent or past traumas
Just because it’s normal to experience anxiety when you’re caring for a family, that doesn’t mean that it’s something mothers should be tolerating on their own.
Many mothers may be struggling in silence accepting this as just another reality of motherhood. That’s simply not true. There is nothing about disturbing intrusive thoughts, uneasiness, constant worry, or always feeling on guard that you should just accept as normal. Anxiety in all its forms is treatable.
If you’re in Canada, there’s help, and you’re in the right place.
We are a collective of perinatal mental health therapists, and we all have specific training on every single mental health issue that tends to arise during the motherhood phase.
No matter what stage you’re at, we’ve heard it before and we’re here to support. Check out our therapists and book a session here.
Have any questions? Please add them in the comments below. We’re here to help.