Having safely made it to the other side of postpartum depression, I’ve come to recognize some of the things that trigger symptoms of anxiety—thanks to therapy. Anxiety is closely related with depression and they often go hand in hand.
When something triggers these feelings, I have to quickly take control of my thoughts and focus intently on thinking positively. It is very easy to let anxiety and negative thoughts take control and send me into a downward spiral towards panic or deep depression.
I’m sharing these four triggers with you for a few of reasons. 1) I’m hoping that if you are a mother going through the horrors of postpartum depression that this will assure you that you’re not alone in this, 2) to make everyone aware, mindful, and sensitive of what things may trigger symptoms in mothers with postpartum depression, 3) to continue chronicling my personal journey through this mental illness.
More specifically, negative judgment about my ability and choices as a mother. This is by far my number one trigger and is one thing that can very quickly send me spiraling out of control.
Examples are: breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding, homemade baby food vs. store bought food, the vaccination debate, snack choices for the little one, attire, car seat choices, and just simply mothering, in general.
Do these sound like normal topics that might cause any mother some anxiety? Probably. The difference is that for a mother with postpartum depression, these negative judgments are a reflection on her ability as a mother—whether they are true or not.
So what may be a difference in opinion becomes thoughts such as the following:
I do not know how to make the right choices. I am a terrible mother. I’ll always be a terrible mother. I probably wasn’t cut out to be a mother even though I want to be a good mother so badly. I’m so sorry that my baby has to have a terrible mother like me. My husband deserves better. I’m a terrible human being. I wish I didn’t exist.
At this point in my recovery process, I recognize that sometimes the judgment is intentional and sometimes I feel judged based upon my own insecurities and I simply perceive being judged when that’s not always the case.
Sights, Sounds & Smells
This one is coming from my perspective as a mother of an almost one and a half year old. I’ve been through the worst of this illness and these signs seem to linger in my memories.
Whenever I hear the music that’s played on the bouncy seat that my daughter sat in while I prepared dinner, or some other task that required two hands, I still feel a sense of panic. The same thing is true for classical music (which was the only thing that would content her in the car), a newborn’s cries, the sound machine through the baby monitor, and even recently I felt a sense of panic arise when I heard a baby’s heartbeat on an ultrasound—which makes me realize how much anxiety I had even before I gave birth.
Whenever I wash my hands at a doctor’s office, the smell of the soap brings back feelings of anxiety from being at the hospital, having a newborn baby to care for who was also choking on fluid that she kept coughing up and no one knew why, and the panic I felt when they took her from me to pump her stomach and told me I wouldn’t want to be there while they performed this procedure. A simple smell brings those feelings rushing back. This is true for that general smell of a doctor’s office.
I recently had an appointment in the same building where I gave birth. When I pulled into the parking garage, walked through the entrance, and even rode in the elevator I felt a sense of panic. If I see a picture of myself from when my daughter was a newborn, I immediately feel like I did at the time—overwhelmed and anxious.
Triggers involving the senses tend to sneak up on me. I can be grocery shopping and hear a baby cry from a few aisles down and my heart begins to pound. I can simply see a new mother with her baby and my body goes tense. I was recently packing up nursing supplies for storage and I felt the smooth coldness of a nipple shield and I began to feel like I could cry—a reminder of the struggles baby and I had nursing. These little things that come up suddenly still make me suck in my breath in panic.
Crowds of People
This probably has a lot to do with my social anxiety, but being in a room with a lot of people while taking care of my daughter can be a huge stressor. This has a lot to do with perceived judgment from others.
Sometimes I feel like I can hardly breathe when the attention of everyone in the room is turned towards me and the baby. A lingering stare upsets me the most, especially when baby girl is “acting out” as any child her age would.
This is another big trigger for me. I take it very personally and it really doesn’t matter who the advice is coming from—it could be from a complete stranger.
When I am doing my best and someone gives me unsolicited advice, I begin to doubt myself as a mother and my ability, similar to what I described earlier in the judgment section.
Everyone has an opinion on the way parenting should be done and everyone thinks that their way is the right one. There are a lot of things that just really don’t matter all that much and giving advice is completely unnecessary. If I were doing something that affected the wellbeing of my child—then the unsolicited advice would be appreciated.
For example, we have someone in our lives who routinely tells us how we should be dressing our daughter for the weather. It irritates me every single time. I care about my daughter’s well being and have dressed her in a way that I feel is appropriate for the weather. When this person tells me otherwise, I feel judged as a parent and it can be very easy to go down the path of self-depreciation.
One of the most helpful things that you can do for a mother with postpartum depression is to simply encourage her. Reassure her. Tell her she’s doing wonderful. Tell her she’s a good mother, which more than likely she is or she wouldn’t be worrying so much about what type of mother she is.
Therapy was essential to my recovery and I highly recommend it. I have the skills that I need to overcome the obstacles that sometimes arise, instead of falling deep into depression. The mind is a powerful thing—it’s like a muscle that must be routinely strengthened by thinking positive thoughts.
What is a trigger for you? Can you relate to any of the ones I’ve listed here?