5 Simple Things That Lowered My Anxiety with a Newborn

I have battled anxiety since I was a teenager. My brain has always liked to imagine how things can go wrong. After years of self-improvement and making major progress with my anxiety, having a newborn was the ultimate trigger for it all to come rushing back.

 I had never felt so vulnerable in my life as when I first held my daughter. The overwhelming feeling of protectiveness and absolute, all-consuming fear driven by how helpless she was, made it hard to enjoy those first weeks together. I just couldn’t shake the constant fear of what if something bad happened to her. I found myself afraid to sleep or leave her for a few moments because of the fear of what could happen if I let my guard down.

Watching other people hold her had me convinced they would drop her. I showered frantically so I could get back to her immediately and know she was safe. The first time my sister convinced me to go pick up pizza five minutes away and leave my newborn with her gave me full-blown panic. I would even push my face up to the mesh side in her bassinet to double-check that she could breathe if she rolled over into it. My mind constantly raced through worst-case scenarios ALL DAY LONG. I was trapped in a cycle of what-ifs and not enjoying my daughter and motherhood like I wanted to.

In those early weeks, I slowly clawed my way out of this anxiety spiral. Two years later, I feel like 90% of my parenting moments are free of worry. But I have to work at it every day. And I still check to make sure she is breathing at least once a night and will probably still be doing it when she is 16. Oh well. 

Here are a few things that helped me in those first weeks: 

 Go through a list of what you are grateful for at the moment

I know this sounds a little cheesy, but it works. Whenever I start future tripping over all the things that could go wrong, I go through a list of what I am grateful for at the moment. It stops the churning in my head and roots me to the present. When I am done with my list, the anxiety has usually passed. I also try to generate a few positive what-ifs. It’s a lot more fun to imagine a healthy, happy future than a tragedy. 

Cut out negative media

 In times of high anxiety, I take a break from reading or watching all news outlets, stay away from social media (or at least unfollow social media accounts that are negative), and avoid movies with any hint of tragedy. I just can’t do it in times of vulnerability and worry. I am not suggesting you shut out all negativity for the rest of your life, but that in those first few weeks with a newborn you surround yourself with positivity, humor, and kindness as much as possible. My go-to? Watching re-runs of Friends and The Office with a cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin. 

Call your anxiety out

Don’t suffer in silence. I always liked the saying “name it to tame it”. Talk about your anxiety, no matter how irrational it is, with your partner, a family member, or a friend who won’t judge you. The second I outed my fear and brought it into the light, its power faded. My husband listened to the endless list of what-ifs and eventually, it got better. It seems so simple, yet I often forget to say, “Hey I’m struggling with this thought, can I get some support.”

Self-care

As a new mom, I hated how self-care was so casually tossed around when you have a new baby. Like it’s easy to just pamper yourself or sleep when the baby sleeps.  My response was always, BUT HOW!? I can’t find time to even drink my coffee before it turns cold. And I can’t turn my brain off enough to fall asleep quickly. But what worked for me was to reframe self-care as not feeling guilty if I’m unable to do everything. If I am kicking ass as a mom and feeding my baby around the clock, then other stuff has to slip. I didn’t clean for weeks, we had a ton of takeout meals, I sent birthday gifts late, and I turned in work that was just good enough. This allowed me to find the energy to reflect, relax, and work through my anxiety.

Embrace imperfection

In addition to all the fear about what could happen, there are those moments where something truly bad could have happened. Like the time I got to the grocery store and realized I hadn’t fully clipped in my daughter’s car seat, or barely caught her just as she was tipping off of the couch or watched in horror as she somehow kicked her highchair over while still strapped to it. My husband and I always remind each other to embrace imperfect parenting. We learn from mistakes, sure, but we are quick to move away from guilt and embrace a little (or a lot) of “failure”. I do my best to take the pressure off, knowing I can’t prevent every hardship.

I am now getting ready to welcome another baby into our lives in just a few weeks. Admittedly, I am intimidated by the anxiety battle I know is coming. I hope I can let myself rest in the joy of those newborn days a little more this time and maybe only check to make sure she is breathing 3 times a night. 

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