Courtesy of Healthy Minds Therapy
Story by Shelton Pland
Have you recently had a baby and are struggling with new mom anxiety? You are not alone. 85% of new moms develop some form of sadness and anxiety during the postpartum period. Hypochondria and OCD are common anxiety-related mental-health conditions that can develop. Hypochondria is defined as atypical levels of anxiety regarding one’s health or the health of loved ones, often with the unwarranted fear that one has a serious disease. This type of anxiety can trigger OCD symptoms, resulting in obsessive compulsive behaviors such as frequent doctor visits, Googling symptoms and avoiding places or situations that could pose as dangerous or unsanitary. This can become problematic for you, your family members and your baby, as children need to interact with their environments to build up their immune systems. Mothers should not be isolated for too long and should interact with environments outside of the home with their children. If this feels like something you are going through, here are two tips I provide my clients:
Externalize the anxiety and OCD
This is the most important step. Remind yourself that you are not anxiety and OCD. They are not parts of you that you cannot get rid of. These are external things that you have the power to dismiss. Just because you think and feel anxious does not mean that this is the reality. For example, just because you feel like the food you just washed is not clean does not mean that it is not clean. You just watched yourself clean them. This is the anxiety trying to trick you, not the reality of the situation.
Get out of the house and socialize
Studies have shown that isolation can cause anxiety and paranoia. New moms often find themselves at home more than they used to be. New moms avoid going out due to stress, time and exhaustion. It is not uncommon to begin cancelling plans regularly and, before you know it, your anxiety and OCD tell you to keep staying inside because the outside world is scary, unpredictable and dirty. Make it a goal to leave your house at least once a day. It is fine to stay in the neighborhood every now and then, but really try to go outside your comfort zone as much as possible. Head to the store, the coffee shop or the park.
These are just a few tips I provide new moms who come to see me due to hypochondria and/or OCD symptoms. Keep in mind that we may not be able to use these tools successfully every time we try and that is fine! Consistency is key. If we attempt to practice a little each day, eventually it will feel easier and more natural. It is also important to keep in mind that if you feel as though these symptoms are not going away or continuing to get worse despite your best efforts, it may be time to reach out for extra help. Therapy, combined with medication, is proven to be the most effective way to combat long-term anxiety. Whatever you decide, remember there is no shame in self-care!