Are you just a worried Mum, or is it anxiety?

Are you just a worried Mum, or is it anxiety?

“We can’t sell that car seat, it only has a year left until it’s expiry date – what if the person who buys it has an accident and their baby gets hurt?”

“She’s running too far ahead of me, what if she forgets to stop at the road and gets hit by a car?”

“Why is the school phoning me? My daughter must have had an accident, I hope she hasn’t broken anything.”

These are real, actual thoughts I’ve had at some point over the past few months.

I’m an over-thinker. A worrier. And yes, just a teeny bit anxious.

In my mind, these three things are pretty inter-related. In fact, feeling worry and feeling anxious pretty much exist on a continuum. And my over-thinking tendencies tend to push the needle with regard to where I am on that continuum on any given day.

Personally, my anxiety was never an issue before I became a mother. Certainly my worrier tendencies were always there, but they were pretty low-key and probably no different to most of the general population: that little sinking feeling in my belly if I ever got called into the boss’ office, or that nervous over-preparing that came with a public speaking event.

So I never identified as being an anxious person. Which is perhaps why it took me a few years to recognise my anxiety as a mother. You know that saying they have about the plumber whose home is full of dripping taps? Well that’s kind of my situation. Even though I’ve worked in this field of mental health for years, it took me a little while to realise the issues in myself – probably because they were so mild. I was used to working with people whose mental health concerns were much more compelling, and much more complex. So that led me to put my thoughts down to typical new-Mum worries. But as the years passed I started to realise that many of the quirky little thought processes I had over my six years as a parent weren’t actually your bog-standard run of the mill concerns.

Not so much the thoughts listed above, but how about this one:

“This pathway is a bit secluded, I feel pretty vulnerable. What would happen if someone tried to steal my baby from the pram here? There’s no-one close by to help, no-one would hear me scream. What can I use as a weapon? What should I do?”

This was a thought I had pretty regularly on our daily walk in our small coastal town in Central Queensland – it was hardly Gotham City, and a brazen daylight abduction was highly improbable, but my brain still went there. So, yes, in fact, I actually was meandering a bit further along the anxiety spectrum than I realised. And even though my anxiety was quite mild when compared with others’, and I certainly wouldn’t classify it in a clinical range of anxiety, that didn’t mean that it didn’t deserve my attention.

Anxiety is a sneaky little thing – particularly in emerging or mild cases. It has blurry edges and often disguises itself as something else. It’s rarely cut and dried, and it can be difficult for us to identify. We can tend to explain away our anxiety under the guise of being “safety conscious”, “over protective” or just “a little highly strung”. In fact, in our world worry and anxiety are practically state sanctioned – think of the marketing campaigns from your workplace OH&S rep: “Safety First”, or “Take Five to Stay Alive.” Or popular phrases such as : “Better safe than sorry.” Even the Boy Scouts validate our anxiety with their iconic slogan: “Be prepared.”

Of course, I’ve got my tongue firmly planted in my cheek here. But my point is that, on the surface at least, it’s far more socially acceptable to be anxious than it is to be depressed. And that’s where the difficulty begins. Everyone worries, because the world is a dangerous place. Just turn on the evening news or scroll your Facebook feed for evidence of that.

So if everyone worries – how do you know when it’s too much worry? How do you know if it’s something more than just “worry”. And what do you do about it?

anxiety-vs-worry-pinterest

So here’s a few questions to ask yourself to help you figure out where you sit on the “overthinking vs anxiety” continuum.

1: Are your worries constructive or controlling?

What do you do about your worries? Do your thoughts help to keep yourself safe in productive and socially acceptable ways – for example, making sure you have enough petrol and locking your car doors when driving at night time, or do they force you to make decisions and take actions that diminish your life in some way – for example, cancelling or turning down evening catch ups with friends due to your worries about driving at night. One of the hallmarks of anxiety is that it impacts our ability to undertake everyday activities.

2: Do your worries go away once you’ve taken action to address them?

Worrying thoughts are one way in which our mind alerts us to danger. Generally, once we’ve addressed the worry, it will leave us, but with anxiety, the fear and worry remains, despite all the actions you take to address it. For example, your daughter, who has a peanut allergy, is going to stay with your in-laws overnight. How do you handle this situation – do you give your in-laws one quick reminder about the allergy before you leave, or do you continue to worry about it for the entire night, find yourself unable to focus on the event you’re attending, and constantly wanting to send them another quick reminder text message?

3: Is your worry in your head or in your body?

Overthinking and worrying tends to stay predominantly confined to our brain, whereas anxiety is generally felt all through the body. So are your worries combined with a racing heartbeat, sweaty temples, shaking hands, tapping feet, a surging tummy, or a tightness across your chest? Physical symptoms such as these, when unrelated to physical exertion or another illness, can indicate anxiety.

4: Does your over-thinking affect the way you function day to day?

We touched on this in point one, but there are other ways that anxiety and worry can impact our daily life – more so than just avoiding certain activities. Is your work productivity being impacted by the amount of time you spend worrying, or reacting to your worries? Are your relationships being impacted – do you find you push people away due to your fears, or feel compelled to ‘put on an act’ around others? Are you delegating decision making responsibility at home or at work due to your worries? For parents in particular, are you finding you’re not enjoying your role as a parent as much as you should, because of your worries. Or are your worries affecting the amount of time you spend with your baby or child – eg. do you avoid letting anyone else hold or care for them – even trusted family members, or alternatively, do you relinquish care responsibilities more often than you want to, because you think others can look after them better than you can?

What do do about it

Anxiety is a personal experience, and it can be different for everyone. If you’re concerned you may be experiencing anxiety the most important thing to do is to speak to a GP, your Community Health Nurse, or another health professional involved in your care. A GP will be able to provide an assessment and diagnose an anxiety or depression. They can also refer you for Medicare funded services from a mental health Occupational Therapist (such as myself), a social worker or psychologist, under the Better Access to Mental Health Care program. If you already have someone in mind you’d like to speak with you can let your GP know and he can refer you specifically to that person, as long as they are registered for the program under Medicare.

When it comes to treatment options for mild to moderate anxiety, counselling therapies and lifestyle changes are generally the first course of treatment, with best practice being attempting these prior to prescription of medication if necessary. (Please note this is general information and treatment strategies are always personalised).

As I mentioned earlier though, you don’t have to be at a clinical level of anxiety to have it impact negatively on your life. Common motherhood traits such as excessive worry, stress, overthinking and the infamous “Mummy Guilt” can all impact our wellbeing and experience of motherhood. Which is why I developed my Mindful Motherhood program – a five week online program to help mothers overcome stress, guilt and overwhelm, to live a more meaningful life. You can check it out here

I have PND: Should I see an OT or a psychologist?

I have PND: Should I see an OT or a psychologist?

I’m often asked why someone with depression, anxiety or postnatal depression or anxiety would choose to see an Occupational Therapist (OT) rather than a psychologist when trying to overcome their mental health difficulties.
 
It’s a decision each woman has to make for herself, in conjunction with her GP or other medical practitioner – and the decision may come down to several factors.
Both services are fantastic options and provide a clinically relevant service with many different facets. From a highly generalised perspective, psychologist support will focus primarily on ‘talking therapies’, whereas OT support will have a component of talking therapy, but will have a greater focus on practical strategies and outcomes, such as supporting the woman back into participation of her life roles. This is what we call “occupations” – we use “occupation” both as a treatment modality and as a therapy goal.
Should I see an OTor a psychologistfor support with postnatal depression_
 
The good news is, you don’t have to choose just one or the other. OT and psychology work together really well. A woman may see a psychologist for a period of time to help her make sense of her thinking patterns, and how these affect her mental wellbeing, and may also seek support from an OT, who can work with her to help her re-establish routines and skills to enable her to fulfil her role as a new mother, and to develop habits and practical strategies to support her ongoing wellbeing into the future.
 
A person might see a psychologist for a period of time and then follow that up with OT support, or they might see both concurrently. It really depends on the person’s particular situation and needs.
It’s also important to remember that the relationship between the client and the therapist is an important factor in the success of any therapeutic endeavour. So it’s important that the person seeking support feels comfortable with, and confident in their chosen therapists abilities.
The best course of action if trying to decide between OT and psychologist support is to discuss your options with your GP.
Until next time,
Sarah
Why do we deny mothers their own experiences?

Why do we deny mothers their own experiences?

This pic popped up on my Facebook newsfeed today through the Huffpost website.

Bad hair day, Olivia??

Bad hair day, Olivia??

It’s from the Instagram account of actress and mother, Olivia Wilde, who you probably know from her days on the completely awesome medical drama House. It was captioned with the following comment:

I call this hairstyle, “keep the kid alive”. Products you’ll need: sweat, string cheese, diaper rash cream, chewed up crayon, snot, and an enthusiastic spritz of panic.

I laughed, I think it’s cute, quirky, and pretty indicative of being a Mum to a little one.

To me, it’s just one Mum’s musings on being a Mum.

But if you check the comments of the facebook post it came from, you’ll soon see that many people are quick to judge. Here’s a selection of the nastiness you sadly expect online these days:

“If she thinks a 1-year old is hard, wait until he’s 3. She hasn’t seen anything yet.”

“Why do Hollywood people make parenting hard…”

“Yes, I’m sure she does it all alone, too.”

“Pfft! Survive the teenage years and we’ll talk.”

“Lol she has one kid and a nanny lol”

“I hate when moms let themselves go. No excuse! My hair and makeup is done daily.”

Unfortunately it doesn’t astound me that so many people are quick to call Olivia out on this seemingly innocuous pic. We see it every day, the Mummy-bashing that goes on online. Particularly for celebrities.

Ignoring that comment about motherhood being no excuse for not doing your hair and makeup (I didn’t get that memo, sorry), these comments seem to fit into two camps:

  • Being a mum is always harder at some other time – just you wait…..
  • Being a rich celebrity makes motherhood easier – because obviously you can afford a nanny!

So it begs the question – who are we to tell women when motherhood is or isn’t hard?

We’ve got no idea how hard, or easy, motherhood is for other women.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through doing the work that I do, it’s that every woman’s experience of motherhood is different. We can’t predict how anyone is going to manage as a mother, even from one year to the next; we can’t predict the nature or temperament of each individual child; and unfortunately, the amount of support a woman has is really no indication of how well she’s going to cope.

Let’s go back to those two points:

Motherhood is always harder at some other time. 

Sure, it seems that way right? I have two girls now, an almost 5 year old and a 2 and a half year old. And right now, dealing with them is pretty challenging, not least because my youngest is totally embracing the “terrible twos” with a fervour I could barely have imagined. And yeah, it feels harder than ever right now. But remember that humans have pretty selective memories. We’re so focused on the present day and our current experiences and emotions have so much gravity, that our past experiences sometimes fade in comparison. Cognitively, I recall how hard those first few months with my first newborn were. But I don’t really viscerally remember the bone aching tiredness I experienced at the end of every day with my newborn, the intense fear I had each night as I put her to bed that she would stop breathing in the middle of the night, or the complete sense of cluelessness I had that I was doing absolutely everything wrong.

So is this current stage of my parenting life harder than that newborn stage? I don’t know. Sure it feels like it. But could that be just because I’m going through it right here and now. Things always seem bigger when you’re in the middle of them.

What I do know, is that I’m damned sure it wouldn’t have helped me at all at that point in my life, if, when I reached out for support, to have someone say to me – “Oh, this is nothing, wait till you have two, then you’ll know how hard motherhood is!”

We need to be so careful with our words. They carry so much power, especially when they’re directed at people in vulnerable circumstances. They have the power to shut people down.

We don’t want to shut mothers down. We want to encourage discussion, and open, honest communication about the wide gamut of emotion and experience that pulls together to create the realm of motherhood. Because if mothers get shut down for talking about their “keeping the kid alive” hairdo, how reluctant might they be to speak up when there comes a time that they’re dealing with something bigger, something more sinister, for which they need more support.

Which brings me to my second point.

Being rich and/or famous makes motherhood easier.

There seems to be some unwritten rule that being a Mum is easier for people with fame and/or money, because they can afford to hire more help, have more time off, or something along those lines.

But is this really true? Does having more money and more help make motherhood “easier”? Maybe, but I guess it depends on your definition of “easy”.

Certainly, the drudgery and relentlessness of dirty nappy changes, cleaning up baby vomit and endless sleep deprivation is one type of hard. And yes, having practical help probably does make the day to day life of a mother “easier”, in this practical respect.

But motherhood isn’t a purely pragmatic concern. Motherhood is something that happens inside of you. Something that changes in your soul, your psyche, that you can’t switch off.

Even the woman who has full time help and a bank balance to rival Scrooge McDuck can find motherhood hard. Because she’s still a Mum. She may have all the nannies in the world, but she still has a whole range of hopes, fears and dreams for her children over which she has no real control. She’s also likely to have a pre-conceived notion of who she is as a mother, and how well she’s filling that role.

That’s the other “hard” part about being a mother. When our expectation of ourself as a mother doesn’t match up with the reality of our motherhood experience. This is something that can happen to anyone and everyone.

Just because someone is famous and rich, doesn’t mean they’re “doing it easy” when it comes to motherhood. Just this month we heard the story of another Hollywood actress, Hayden Panettiere, (star of my new favourite show, Nashville), who has sought treatment for postnatal depression. Sure Hayden is beautiful, talented, successful, and yes, probably rich. But that didn’t prevent her from developing depression. Because PND doesn’t have boundaries, it can affect anyone.

Actress Hayden Panettiere, with her partner, Wladimir Klitschko and daughter Kaya.

Actress Hayden Panettiere, with her partner, Wladimir Klitschko and daughter Kaya.

I know it seems a long stretch from an Instagram post of messy hair, to a conversation about postnatal depression. But this post isn’t really about messy hair photos.

It’s about the way we consider and communicate with each other as mothers. It’s about understanding that we all have our own experiences of motherhood. That we are all entitled to feel exactly what we feel, and to be able to express this, without fear of being ridiculed or dismissed. It’s about the fact that one woman’s experiences of motherhood shouldn’t invalidate another’s. That there’s room in the relationship between one mother to another to accept our differences in experiences and opinions, without feeling the need to qualify (or disqualify) them against our own.

In short. Let’s not deny mothers their experience. Let’s not judge, dissuade, placate, or outdo them when they speak. Rather, be with them, laugh with them, cry with them – and most of all listen. Because if we don’t listen to the little things, we won’t get told the big things.

Until next time,

Cheers, Sarah xx

Dads get postnatal depression too.

Dads get postnatal depression too.

I’ve been talking a lot about Mums and Postnatal Depression (PND) lately. But interestingly, one of the things that regularly crops up when I speak to Mums about this topic is their concern or experiences regarding their husband or partner having depression.

Dad Depression

It’s something that’s not widely spoken of or understood, but Postnatal Depression in Dads is a very real issue.

Which is why I’ve written this guest post over at Mum Central, talking about this very topic.

Head over to take a look and please share through your social media channels, so we can start to get this subject out into the public awareness.

Finally, if you’re concerned that you or someone you love needs support with depression, please speak to a trusted health professional, and check out any of the following support services listed below.

PANDA

How is Dad Going?

Black Dog Institute

Beyond Blue

For immediate emergency support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Until next time,

Be well

Sarah x

When is a mother most at risk of postnatal depression?

When is a mother most at risk of postnatal depression?

We often think of postnatal depression as something affecting only new mothers with young babies. But recent research has shown that PND can persist for much longer than previously thought.

Check out my latest guest blog post over on the Mum Central page here.

Mother with  daughter

If you are concerned that you, or someone you know, may have depression, please seek support from your GP or another health professional.

For immediate crisis support, please call LIFELINE on 13 11 14.

For more information on PND visit the PANDA website here or the Beyond Blue website here.

Sarah xx