Photographer Emily Scott reveals her real-life experience with postpartum anxiety, and shares candid insight into how you can combat the often-crippling effects in your own life.
Motherhood is, without a doubt, the roughest road I’ve ever been down. It’s the most joyful and amazing, too, but learning how to navigate the hard parts has proved trickier than I ever could have imagined. I constantly wonder, is this normal? Am I crazy? Is this going to get any easier?
Nine weeks ago, I had my second child. Experiencing life with a newborn the second time around has really given me new insight on just how deeply dark things were in my own mind with my first child. I knew then that I was experiencing postpartum anxiety, but it strikes me now that it was so much worse than I even understood at the time. Being on the other side of it with my second is also helping me see what works when I’m feeling those old anxious feelings start to creep in on me. Read on for five things I did then, and also what I’m doing now to cope with postpartum anxiety.
1. Create a network of support.
While it’s important to be able to discuss with your partner the things you’re experiencing, it’s also extremely valuable to be able to be honest with other new moms as well as a mental health professional. I was almost five months postpartum before a friend of mine, hearing me talk about what I was experiencing, told me she thought I should seek out a counselor. Talking to a psychologist really opened my eyes to what was going on in my life, and after discussing my anxiety at length, she helped me realize that medication could really help me. In the end, that’s what started to lift me out of the dark place I was in.
2. Make it a priority to take care of your body.
Getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising are all incredibly important in our body’s response to anxiety and depression. My anxiety began to get worse and worse as my sleep debt began to mount over the weeks and months of having a baby, and when I wasn’t sleeping enough, I turned to junk food, and it all continued to accumulate. This time around, I notice how much even an hour or two less of sleep can impact my mental state the next day. With a new baby, you can’t always control that, but usually there’s at least an hour or two each night where I’m staying up watching TV or on my phone, so I try to be mindful of that when I’m feeling particularly stressed or tired.
3. Say ‘no,’ and say it often.
This applies to a wide variety of things—work that you don’t need to take on and social commitments that you don’t have to really go to. Last pregnancy, I made plans for a lot of work very soon after having my daughter. This put me in a very difficult position when I realized I was struggling through postpartum issues, because I had already said ‘yes’ to so much. This time around, I didn’t have anything on my calendar for a few months at least. This has given me so much space to take better care of myself and I am incredibly grateful that I learned my lesson the first time.
4. Take breaks from social media.
Of all the types of accounts I see on social media, I find it hardest sometimes to cope with other moms online who look like they always have it all together. Motherhood is the most unglamorous of all roles I have ever filled, and the contrast between the reality of motherhood and the curated feeds of motherhood are very drastic. If you are suffering from postpartum anxiety or depression, nothing will make your own story seem darker than in contrast to another mom on Instagram. I will be the first to admit I still have trouble putting the phone down these days, so this is an area where I am seeking to make changes in bits here and there. If I can, I leave my phone at home when we go out to dinner, and I’ll try not to look at it in the middle of the night when I’m up with the baby.
5. Start a gratitude journal.
Along with taking care of my physical body, I have found that I need to force myself at times to dwell on what I am thankful for, even if it’s a small thing, each day. I’m training my brain to focus on the good and not the bad parts of my life. When I used to have anxiety attacks, I remember there was a constant story I repeated to myself—”I can’t do this. Why is this so hard for me?” The things we dwell on have a way of creeping in and holding on. As a mom, I think the best thing we can do is remind ourselves that we are doing a good job, we are going to get through this and sometimes, it’s just babies being babies.