Welcome to the September edition of The Postnatal Project Q&A. Here, I answer two questions a month related to parenting, sleep, breastfeeding, postnatal depression and everything in between. If you'd like your question answered, get in touch via the contact page.
Just a reminder that this post does not replace medical advice.
Some tips for coping with anxiety, please!
Anxiety is different for everyone and what helps will be slightly different. I think the common denominator in motherhood is the chaotic nature and this is an environment where anxiety can thrive. It can be tempting to rush and fill up your day in order to escape these anxious feelings. I'm not saying distraction is never helpful - sometimes, it's exactly what you need. But slowing things down, cancelling plans and delegating is so useful and a necessity during times of stress. Anxiety can also be extremely exhausting so it's important to rest - whatever that means for you. On days where anxiety is heightened, order takeaway or have beans on toast for dinner. But most of all, be gentle with yourself. Recognise that anxiety can be so debilitating and treating yourself with kindness is so needed.
There are a lot of breathing techniques that you could try. One of my favourites is the 7-11 breath. Basically, you breathe in for the count of 7 and breathe out for the count of 11. The balance of oxygen intake and carbon dioxide output helps to relieve anxiety - but the counting is useful too.
Another activity to try is to write at the top of a page: "why everything is going to be okay" and then trying to fill a page. Try to be as creative and open as you can. Maybe the sun is shining, you have hot, running water or something to look forward to. Or maybe the thing you are anxious about can be solved with some help from a friend or by adopting a new way of thinking. This exercise can support you to reflect on what you think could be causing or worsening the anxiety and help you to come up with some solutions to support yourself.
Additionally, I have some information in my book about grounding techniques and strategies for implementing self care in a realistic manner. You can check it out here.
I would also speak with your GP about getting a referral to a mental health professional in your area to get an assessment and treatment plan tailored to your needs. A psychologist can work with you to identify and address your symptoms and self help measures, as above, can compliment this.
How do you deal with the regret of having a child?
Society paints an unrealistic picture of motherhood that we aspire to conform to. Often, no one speaks to us about the realities. The regret that we feel can often be linked to our expectations of this time. It's so hard - but there is help available if you need it. You're not meant to do this alone. That's the reality. Could lowering your expectations allow you to feel more at ease or at peace with your situation?
Straight up, I will say this: it is totally normal to have these thoughts from time to time. When we experience moments of intensity with our children such as extremely sleepless nights, a toddler with big feelings or siblings fighting, these thoughts can surface. Often, this can be a way for the mind to "escape" from the situation. Thoughts like: "things would be so much easier if I didn't have children. If I didn't have children, this situation wouldn't be occurring." When the moment of intensity passes and your day progresses as normal, you are able to see the joy that your children bring to your life and forget even having the fleeting thought.
But what we know is that stressful moments of intensity are not strictly limited to our families. People without children have these thoughts too. "If I quit this job and find another, I'll be much happier," or "if I didn't start doing this *insert hard thing*, I would have never found myself in this situation." Realising that the grass is not greener on the other side can be useful. Life can be tricky and testing no matter what season we are in; whether it be childless or with a home full of children. Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali is one of my favourite books and explains this in great detail. I highly recommend it.
Incorporating some self care into your daily routine is a necessity. Practicing mindfulness can also alleviate some of this. Staying in the moment and watching these thoughts reach you, acknowledging them and letting them go. Be gentle with yourself through these thoughts and let them pass without attaching anything to them or holding onto them for too long. Sometimes knowing that these thoughts are normal in moments of distress can be useful in lessening the guilt and heaviness behind them. Parenting is hard. I think it's the hardest thing we do in this life. During particularly tricky periods, you may have these thoughts a lot. It's important that you do not hide behind them and seek some help.
These thoughts could be a sign of postnatal depression and it's really important that you prioritise seeing your GP, calling PANDA and speaking with family about how you're feeling. You do not need to be alone with this and parenting does not need to be something you regret. You deserve to feel well and there is help available.
If these were your questions, let me know how this made you feel. I also just wish to thank you for putting forward these concerns of yours that I'm sure are shared by many. We are never alone.
If you have more thoughts or concerns you'd like to explore and would like a detailed and personalised response, I also offers email consults which can be booked here. Please get in touch. I'd love to hear from you!