At what point are the stressful feelings from being a parent classed as Anxiety? And how can we find help for it?
It’s easy to dismiss the symptoms of anxiety as being stress from becoming a new parent. If we bring up how we’re feeling in conversation, it can sometimes be named as common, misplaced as general woes for early parenthood. But that can make it so difficult to admit when we are struggling, and even harder to find help for it.
We asked our team members to offer insight ito how they dealt with anxiety as parents. We hope they can help you to understand what anxiety as a parent is like and feel less alone if you are experiencing Anxiety yourself.
Note: We have an extensive list of where you can reach out for support on our PND support page. If you are looking for help, we encourage you to reach out to one of the organisations listed there.
What is anxiety, and how do you identify it?
According to the NHS website, there are a number of symptoms that, when experienced on a long-term basis, could be a sign of Anxiety as a parent. Here’s what the NHS lists as common symptoms:
Physical symptoms may include:
- Faster, irregular or more noticeable heartbeat
- Feeling lightheaded and dizzy
- Chest pains
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling hot
Mental symptoms may include:
- Feeling tense or nervous
- Being unable to relax
- Worrying about the past or future
- Feeling tearful
- Not being able to sleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Fear of the worst happening
- Intrusive traumatic memories
- Obsessive thoughts
And you might notice the following changes in behaviour:
- Not being able to enjoy your leisure time
- Difficulty looking after yourself
- Struggling to form or maintain relationships
- Worried about trying new things
- Avoiding places and situations that create anxiety
- Compulsive behaviour, such as constantly checking things
What was your experience like with anxiety as a parent?
What happened that you might not have expected to?
In hindsight, I struggled with prenatal anxiety…
In my third trimester, I was getting really hot and sweaty (lovely!) in situations where I felt ‘stuck’. And thus continued throughout the postnatal depression. It still sometimes affects me today. It would hit if stuck in a queue, a restaurant, and places where there were large groups of people (parties, at my church, on public transport).
I’d have an immense sense of needing to leave to get fresh air. I’d generally feel good as soon as I left, but if I tried to ‘stick it out’ and then left I’d be running on adrenaline for quite a while after. I also found that sometimes I’d just wake up with an anxious feeling in my stomach/chest for no apparent reason.
-Emily Tredget, Co-founder of Happity
I felt that the birth going wrong was somehow my fault and I was resentful that the movie scene moment that I had pictured hadn’t happened.
It’s no surprise that my mental health suffered following this. I experienced PND, PTSD and postnatal anxiety. Although I have the most incredible husband, family & friends, I kept most of what I was experiencing to myself. And I kept being selective with what I shared with people about how I was feeling.
I was having intrusive thoughts and I was so worried that if I told people the full extent of everything, they would take my son away. There was a (un)healthy dose of paranoia involved too! I was so determined that how I was feeling would not affect my ability to be an amazing mum and so just carried on pretending that everything was ok.
I didn’t particularly recognise (intrusive thoughts) as anything connected with mental health. I just kind of accepted that motherhood had changed me and that this was ‘who I am now’.
After my daughter was born in 2019 I suffered from very intrusive and anxious thoughts for over a year.
The daytimes were ok, I enjoyed going out with Lucy, doing classes, and caring for my new baby. But in the evenings my brain would start to produce these awful disaster scenarios – if we had a long car journey coming up, I would turn it into a crash; if anyone I knew was getting on a plane, I felt certain it was going to fall out of the sky. I imagined Lucy catching every infection and disease under the sun, or – before social occasions – that someone would drop her or stand on her while I was looking the other way (I was a bit obsessed with people dropping her, for some reason.)
-Mother from Team Happity
What made you anxious as a parent?
I was worried that if I felt really ill (physically) I wouldn’t be able to care for him.
It was a strange thing looking back, and often the anxiety of that then made me feel physically unwell (sometimes I’d hardly be able to keep my eyes open) and then I’d have to call my mum to help.
Sleep also made me very anxious. I struggled with insomnia from when my son was 3 months until he was about 9 months. And if he missed a nap or got off his routine I’d worry it would throw me out and I’d not sleep again that night. So I’d often go to bed with my brain running on adrenalin. I only managed to stop this when I started going to bed when I felt REALLY tired, not when I felt I SHOULD be tired!
Although part of me knew those disaster scenarios were far-fetched and unlikely, they left a lingering sense of dread which was harder to shift than the thoughts themselves.
This dread would escalate throughout the evening and I was really scared of going to bed; the closer we got to bedtime, the more sure I became that something terrible would happen while I was asleep. I was staying up later and later, or not going to bed at all – sitting on the sofa watching TV all night while Lucy slept in my arms. Often I was too scared to even put her down.
-Mother from Team Happity
What helped you to recover?
Is there anything that helped you find comfort / helped to cope with this?
I’ve tried many things!
There is a book called ‘Dare’ that I found really useful. I’ve also tried CBT and other therapies. The one that helped the most was where the therapist helped me (and my husband) to be ok with myself even if I struggled with anxiety forever. We were both trying everything we could to fix me. And this was putting even more pressure on me. As soon as he stopped trying to fix me, I could (slowly!) stop trying to fix me, the pressure came off my shoulders and little by little I improved! Sounds counterintuitive but really worked.
For a while, I was in a cycle of being OK to panic attacks and back to being OK again…
After three years of riding this emotional rollercoaster, I decided enough was enough. I reached out and was referred to a psychotherapist. Almost immediately after the first session I felt lighter, safer, and understood. My worst fears of sharing those hidden thoughts did not come true. She was understanding and helped me to realise that what I was experiencing was (sadly) common and not insurmountable. She has given me hope that I will fully recover and that my PND, PTSD & anxiety will be a thing of the past very soon.
I am now almost at the end of my sessions with my therapist and it’s like the clouds have parted. I have solid strategies to manage my anxiety and I am feeling ready to live life to the full again.
For anyone out there reading this and going through the same thing I have these messages:
- You are not alone
- It’s not your fault
- It’s ok to let people know what’s going on
- It can get better with some help
- You are a wonderful parent and are doing the best you can
– Lisa Thompson
I didn’t seek treatment for quite a while, looking back, I guess I didn’t think mental health support was ‘for me’.
I wasn’t having panic attacks, I wasn’t depressed, and I wasn’t staying home all day. I had a very cliched image of what postnatal depression and anxiety looked like, and I didn’t fit the bill. But then I had a call from our local women’s psychological health unit (I was on their list after mentioning to my midwife that I felt a bit down during pregnancy), and I thought I might as well go in for the screening. To my surprise, the psychologist recommended that I have twelve weeks of treatment.
During these sessions, I was taught mindfulness and visualisation techniques which did help a bit, although not with the dread. Once I was ‘in treatment’, I felt I had permission to discuss what was going on with my partner in a way I hadn’t before, and this opening up was actually the thing which had the greatest impact on my recovery. Instead of letting my disasters escalate in my mind, or trying to push them away, I would talk about them. Often we would end up laughing because they were so outlandish, like soap opera storylines.
-Mother from Team Happity
How are you now?
I still struggle sometimes, even now.
I ensure I eat well, exercise, and go to sleep when I NEED to. But given I was the most anxious person I think I’ve ever met (postnatally) I’m happy with where I am now!
My son is now three and a half he is quite simply, miraculous.
He went through so much, but you’d never know. He is my little lion and I love seeing the world through his eyes; his excitement and wonder at everyday things, and how quick he is to laugh uncontrollably at the smallest joke. When he holds my hand, I am reminded of that first night together in the hospital. And of the unbreakable love that we have. I am so glad that I found the support I needed. We feel assured that we can now carry on exploring the world together happily.
The thoughts didn’t go away overnight…
Even now I catch myself slipping back into old habits when I’m super tired, or when there’s something big coming up, like a long flight. But understanding these triggers, and being able to vocalise and describe how I’m feeling, even if it’s just to myself, helps me to move past them, rather than getting trapped. Four years on, and with a second child now 15 months old, my feelings about bedtime have completely reversed. I look forward to it all day!
-Mother from Team Happity
Where you can find support for anxiety as a parent
We have an extensive list on our PND support page where parents and guardians can seek mental health support when they need it. If you relate to any of the stories mentioned above and think that you may be experiencing anxiety as a parent, then we encourage you to reach out to a support system and receive help. This can include associations such as APNI, Hub of Hope, House of Light and others listed on our support page
If you are facing a crisis, we urge you to talk to a GP, call 999 or contact a crisis line such as any of the following:
Disclaimer: We have researched and included robust sources to provide information in this article. However, we are not health or medical professionals and you should always seek medical or professional advice if you are worried about yourself, your partner’s or your baby’s health.
Want to get out and about, have fun with your baby or toddler, and meet other parents?
Search Happity to find everything that’s happening for the under-5’s in your local area – from music and singing classes, to messy play, arts and crafts, baby massage, gymnastics and more. Simply enter your postcode and child’s age to search, and then book your spot in a few taps. Enjoy dedicated fun time with your little one, watch their skills develop, and make friends at the same time. Mums, dads, grandparents and carers will all find something to love!