Overwhelm, Mom Stress, Postpartum Anxiety? We Got You Mama

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Lauren Hays

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, PMHNP

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Overwhelm, Mom Stress, Postpartum Anxiety? We Got You Mama

Picture stress as a relentless wave beating against the shore. Many mothers find themselves drowning in the demands of motherhood, striving for unattainable perfection. Sleepless nights, persistent worry, and the ever-present feeling of inadequacy can become a harsh reality in our daily lives. But don’t fret because there’s hope. Grounded in research and lived experiences, there are effective strategies to reclaim your sense of self, navigate through stress, and rediscover joy.

Three Things You Can Do Right Now for Stress Reduction

Get Some Alone Time

Retreating to a quiet space (yes even your closet), for just a few moments, or engaging in light exercise can profoundly impact your stress levels. Mom burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion many mothers experience due to overwhelming demands in everyday life. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, nearly 70% of new mothers report feeling overwhelmed by their responsibilities. Modern day mothers find themselves wearing more hats than our own mothers did.

Spending just 15 minutes alone each day has been shown to improve overall well-being.

Mothers are often expected to juggle many tasks, from managing household chores and childcare to maintaining a career and social relationships. These expectations can start even before the baby is born, adding to the stress and anxiety associated with parenthood. We have such high and unrealistic expectations of ourselves (in large part due to social media and the constant comparison of others), amplifying the pressure and feelings of inadequacy. Engaging in activities like meditation, reading, or simply breathing deeply for a short period can recalibrate your emotions and provide mental clarity. This can reduce overwhelming feelings and help you maintain emotional health. On top of this, by prioritizing your mental well-being, you enhance your capacity to care for others more effectively

Set boundaries to carve out these moments of solitude—communicate with your family about your need for exercise and alone time. By prioritizing your mental well-being, you enhance your capacity to care for others more effectively.

How to do it:

  • Set boundaries so your loved ones know when to give you space.
  • Communicate with your family about your needs to avoid miscommunication.
  • Create your happy space. A closet or the bathroom work, but soothing sounds, smells, and sights can go a long way.

 

Tag Someone In

When you’re overwhelmed, it can be extra hard to let someone pick up the slack. Delegate, mama! Sharing responsibilities eases your load and empowers others to support you.

When you’re overly stressed, don’t hesitate to ask for help from a trusted family member or other loved ones. Partnering with someone close to you can provide immediate stress relief. Remember, asking for help doesn’t indicate weakness; it reflects strength and self-awareness. We all have our limits, and recognizing them is just as important as getting things done.

Yes, this is about you, but shared family responsibilities can strengthen parents’ relationships by creating mutual reliance and support. This is particularly crucial with a newborn and you’re likely not getting enough sleep on top of everything else. Ultimately, allowing others to assist can be as beneficial for them as it is for you.

How to do it:

  • Choose tasks to delegate that you don’t find rewarding.
  • Switch it up, repetitive tasks can become more stressful over time.
  • Remember that gratitude feels good to everyone involved – be thankful.

Indulge, Guilt-Free!

Self-care is not selfish.

Eat that chocolate, binge that trash TV, buy yourself new shoes. It’s ok to prioritize yourself in these small ways when you can as long as you don’t overdo it.

Many moms feel guilt when they indulge in self-care. This guilt stems from societal expectations of motherhood, where an undue emphasis is placed on constant caregiving, leaving little room for personal pleasure. Treat yourself! A little indulgence is not selfish but critical to maintaining positive mental health.

Even small luxuries can significantly impact mental and emotional well—being. For many women, for example, enjoying a quiet moment with a book, taking a warm bath, or spending time on a hobby they love can be essential reset buttons. Letting yourself indulge guilt-free can help reduce chronic stress.

Incorporate these indulgences into your routine, understanding that they are fundamental to a balanced life. This perspective shift can help you see self-care not as a luxury but as a necessity. Over time, this mindset rebuilds your self-confidence and enhances your overall quality of life.

How to do it:

  • Keep your house stocked with your form of self-indulgence.
  • Make sure your family knows your indulgences so they can treat you too.
  • Stay mindful so you balance healthy and less healthy habits.

Mom Stress and Why It's So Common for Maternal Mental Health

Mom stress affects us all. And it seemingly comes from everywhere – both emotional strain and the external pressures that we experience daily. The assortment of roles, from being a caregiver to a household manager, combined with the unique parenting challenges, amplifies the stress levels many working mothers already experience. Navigating these roles often leaves little time for self-care, perpetuating a cycle of exhaustion and anxiety. Additionally, societal expectations (and self-imposed high expectations) related to parenthood contribute significantly to this stress. The constant pressure to be the perfect parent, alongside excess stress of managing household responsibilities, a career, and striving for work-life balance, adds layers of complexity that can be overwhelming. Research has shown that maternal stress can have far-reaching effects, not just on the mothers themselves but also on our families. Therefore, addressing and managing this stress proactively is vital, as well as incorporating strategies like mindfulness, self-compassion, and external support systems to alleviate most mothers’ burdens.

Symptoms to Watch Out For

Mom stress can manifest in several ways and impact your sleep patterns and overall well-being. It’s crucial to recognize the symptoms early to mitigate potential long-term effects and address any underlying mental health problems. Common signs include chronic fatigue, irritability, and frequent headaches. But you may be feeling most of that anyway with a newborn. You may also experience feelings of helplessness, reduced concentration, and hopelessness. Physical symptoms such as muscle tension, digestive issues, and changes in appetite can accompany these emotional states, further complicating your experience and potentially leading to other mental health problems. Again, a lot of this can come with motherhood. We suggest you stay mindful of changes and try not to catastrophize if you are feeling tired and emotional right now. However, when mom stress becomes more severe, it can lead to conditions like burnout, postpartum depression (PPD), and postpartum anxiety (PPA). Here are some warning signs to watch out for:
  • Burnout: Persistent exhaustion, detachment from loved ones, and a significant decrease in personal accomplishment.
  • Postpartum Depression (PPD): Intense sadness, severe mood swings, withdrawal from family and friends, and thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.
  • Postpartum Anxiety (PPA): Excessive worry, panic attacks, constant fear about your baby’s health and safety, and an inability to relax.
If these symptoms persist, it might be wise to seek professional support. Mental health specialists can offer strategies tailored to your unique situation, providing a holistic approach to stress management. Acknowledging these symptoms is the first step towards reclaiming your peace and ensuring your well-being.

Setting Yourself Up to Reduce Stress

First, establish a stress-reduction routine by prioritizing self-care, such as yoga, light exercise, or meditation.

Raising children comes with its own set of challenges and stressors. By implementing daily wellness practices and setting boundaries (i.e.) saying no to additional tasks, you’ll notice a significant decrease in stress-related symptoms.

“Self-compassion” and “self-care” are indispensable.

Live a Mindfulness-Based Lifestyle

As a practice, mindfulness encourages you to focus on the present moment without judgment, allowing you to acknowledge and accept your feelings and thoughts. It’s fairly easy to start a mindfulness practice. You can start by taking a few deep breaths when overwhelmed or dedicating a few minutes daily to meditate. These practices help you to reconnect with yourself, curb anxiety, and achieve a clearer state of mind. Additionally, mindfulness should extend to your daily activities. Stay focused on what you’re doing when eating, walking, or even doing household chores. This can bring a sense of calm and purpose to routine actions. Deliberate focus not only eases mental strain but also enhances the quality of your experiences, fostering a more balanced and serene lifestyle. Moreover, scientific research supports that mindfulness can significantly reduce cortisol levels, the body’s primary stress hormone. Incorporating mindfulness, including meditations, into your daily routine improves your mental and physical health.

Get Some Sleep

Easier said than done when your baby is fighting sleep, we know.  However, quality sleep is fundamental for mental and physical health, yet many mothers struggle to get enough restorative rest.

  • Establish a consistent sleep schedule: Your bedtime routine is as important as your little one’s! Try your best to go to bed and wake up at a set time every day.
  • Create a calming bedtime routine: Before sleep, engage in relaxing activities such as reading, meditating or gentle stretching.
  • Limit screen time before bed: Electronic devices can disrupt your natural sleep cycle with their blue light and keep you up due to the ease of continuous scrolling.
  • Optimize your sleep environment: A quiet, relaxed, dark room can significantly enhance sleep quality.
  • Watch your intake: Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and heavy meals before bedtime.

Integrate small changes to significantly impact your overall well-being and discover how to get more sleep with a newborn. While seemingly small, these changes make a world of difference.

Nourish Your Body

We know it can be hard to maintain, but eating a balanced diet is especially important during stressful times. Researchers from Harvard Medical School found that proper nutrition can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in women. Incorporating nutrient-dense foods, such as leafy greens, whole grains, and lean proteins, can provide sustained energy and stabilize mood. It’s not just what you eat but how you eat, mama. Mindful eating practices, where you fully engage with your meal without distractions, can enhance digestion and improve your relationship with food. This practice encourages you to listen to your body’s hunger cues, fostering a healthier dietary pattern. We admit we’re guilty of eating on the go or while getting through something on our to-do list, but we try not to make it a habit. That’s enough. If you’re struggling, consult with a registered dietitian to create a personalized meal plan. Tailored nutritional guidance can address specific needs, from managing hormonal changes to ensuring you’re not deficient in essential vitamins and minerals like Omega-3s, which can exacerbate stress. Remember, your body is your greatest ally. Treat it with care and attention, and it will support you in return.

Don't Let People Add to Your Plate

Setting boundaries to safeguard mental and emotional health is crucial in heightened stress. Learning how to say no is so important. If you are already stressed out or feeling overwhelmed, here are some tips to help:

  • Delegate Tasks: Understand that asking for help and distributing responsibilities among family members is okay. Scroll back up if you’ve already forgotten.
  • Evaluate Commitments: Regularly assess your obligations and remove any non-essential activities.
  • Prioritize Self-Care: Make self-care a non-negotiable part of your daily routine.
  • Learn to Say No: Politely decline new tasks or social invitations that could overwhelm you.
  • Communicate Clearly: Be transparent about your limits with those around you to avoid misunderstandings.

Establishing boundaries can prevent burnout and help you maintain a balanced life. Remember, your well-being is paramount. Prioritize it as you would for your loved ones.

Make Time for Self-Care and Work-Life Balance

Given the myriad roles you juggle daily, you must carve out time for postpartum self-care. The mental overload of continuously attending to others’ needs can lead to overwhelming stress and feelings of worthlessness. Prioritize, schedule, and treat your self-care activities with the same urgency as any other essential task. Your health and peace of mind matter. Choose self-care activities that recharge you—read a book, enjoy a bath, or simply go for a walk. Committing to regular personal care can significantly diminish the stress and fatigue that often accompany your busy life. Connecting with a licensed therapist is another avenue of self-care for moms who report higher stress levels, a reduced ability to function, or who deal with anxiety or depression. Therapists specializing in maternal mental health are a good option for moms who struggle to balance life with being a new mom and suffer from sleep deprivation, negative thoughts, and self-doubt. Your well-being directly influences your capacity to care for others. A consistent, personalized self-care regimen can improve emotional well-being, increase stress resilience, and renew your self-worth.

Build Your Community with Support Groups

Building a robust support network, including support groups, is essential for your emotional and psychological well-being, especially as you navigate the complexities of motherhood. We suggest you seek out a strong community with other mothers that can provide invaluable emotional and social support. Here are some good options:

Connecting with others facing similar challenges will reinforce that you are not alone. These relationships can offer practical advice and emotional uplift.

Remember, building your community isn’t just about seeking support; it’s also about offering it. Genuine relationships thrive on mutual understanding and reciprocity.

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Picture of Lauren Hays, PMHNP

Lauren Hays, PMHNP

Lauren was a licensed and trained registered nurse in the NICU and has since made a career shift to focus on mental health. Lauren is now a board certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, focusing on women’s health and wellness. She is a mom of three precious little men who has turned her pain into passion.

mother with eyes closed pressing her face up against her infant to calm her anxious feelings

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