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Know Your Triggers | PPA | Maternal Mental Health | Anxiety | Anxiety Coping Techniques

Maternal Mental Health: Know Your Triggers

As a mama with postpartum depression and anxiety, one thing I learned rather quickly is how to recognize triggers. Triggers are a big part of what sets me on the path to an anxiety attack, and they come in different flavors. I think it’s important that all moms who deal with any mental health problems take the time to understand and know your triggers so you can quickly combat them or avoid them and possibly keep yourself from an attack.

It’s been a long week again, my friends. I apologize for not putting out many blog posts recently. We went on a trip to visit family and came back with all sorts of fun illnesses that we’ve been combatting. (Incidentally, I’ll probably be putting out a post about how being a sick mama with a sick baby affects postpartum disorders as well because that’s a doozy!)

Today, however, I want to share something that’s been on my heart and mind for a while. I want to share my anxiety triggers in the hopes it helps anyone else out there dealing with anxiety as well. I want you to know that understanding your triggers can be essential to helping you stop, prevent, or avoid anxiety attacks. Yes, we all face triggers that come up with no warning, and it’s hard to be prepared. However, I think knowing what those triggers are can give us a way to control our responses to them.

First of all, what is a trigger? I think of a trigger as a topic, situation, or person even that brings up all of our deep-seated anxiety in one fell swoop. If you think about people who experience PTSD (and some mothers do), it’s easy to understand a trigger. For a soldier who comes home with PTSD, sudden loud noises can cause the soldier to instantly return to a battlefield, fear for his life, and sometimes even suffer a psychotic break from reality.

For the mama with postpartum anxiety, I think there’s likely a trigger that brought on the anxiety in the first place. Perhaps that was caused by a traumatic birth, problems with recovery, baby health problems, or even something not related to the baby at all! You could trigger anxiety through a bad car accident, sudden job loss, death in the family, or any number of other things that happen after delivery and bring on that anxiety.

In my case, I believe the majority of my anxiety was brought on by my experiences with my son’s health shortly after delivery. We went to a totally new pediatrician we’d never met before who accused me of not being able to nurse my baby, not having milk, and essentially starving my son. Talk about a load on my shoulders! Because he was hospitalized immediately after that encounter, I took on all the responsibility for his weight loss and dehydration.

I believe firmly that my anxiety came about as a result of these health problems and what the doctor said to me. As we continued our journey of doctor visits, we learned new things about our son and problems he was having. Every time I took these things personally, even things I could never have controlled, like his small heart defect! I created this list in my head of all the ways I screwed up my child and then never let myself get too hopeful about him. Every setback was another opportunity to reread that list and accuse myself of doing more damage to my child.

Now I know that Emmeric is leaps and bounds healthier than he was as an infant. He grew and changed and gained this amazing little personality that shines when he’s up and about. In such a short amount of time, my baby boy became this tiny human full of energy, smiles, and lots and lots of baby babbles!

Most of the time I enjoy being a mother to this little man who spun my world around. I don’t usually have anxiety attacks anymore, and I don’t suffer as much general anxiety about him as I did. However, I do have some triggers that really can set me off, even if it’s only in my mind and not visible to anyone else. I want to share those triggers in the hopes someone else can benefit from it.

What Are My Anxiety Triggers and Why They Matter

Food

I admit it: because he struggled to gain weight and I had to alter my entire diet to help him, I struggle big time with mentions of food. I understand when people ask me questions about what he’s eating, especially now that he’s been eating solids regularly for several months alongside nursing. But the questions that get my dander up, so to speak, are the ones about how much he’s getting. I instantly go on the defensive and feel my body reacting to those questions. My muscles tense up, and I want to clench my fists (and sometimes do).

Questions like:

  • How much solids is he getting now?
  • Have you tried giving him x, y, or z?
  • Do you give him breakfast, lunch, and dinner yet?
  • How often does he get solids now?

It may not be rational, but these questions make me feel a lot like people are questioning my parenting. I feel inadequate to answer because I sometimes wonder if there’s some standard we aren’t meeting. And I become defensive of my decisions as a parent even when I know it’s just an innocent question.

Weight

We go to the doctor fairly regularly. Every single time I tense up when we hit the scales. Every. Single. Time. My brain kicks into high gear as we approach the scales, and I question the weight gain, whether it’s enough, whether it’s too little, whether it’s a sign of a problem. The irony here is we never see him lose weight now. I still struggle with the question of his weight, though, and I probably will for a long time.

When people ask me what he weighs, I tend to feel anxious about getting judged on some unknown set of standards we might not be meeting. I realize most of the time people asking these questions are just curious and have no desire to assess me based on his weight gain or loss. But I still find myself wanting to curl up with a blanket and not think about his weight.

Know Your Triggers | PPA | Maternal Mental Health | Anxiety | Anxiety Coping Techniques

So What Can You Do About Triggers?

You might know some of your own triggers for anxiety, and that really does help. Why does it help? Because knowing your triggers makes you more likely to be able to stop yourself from going too far down a rabbit trail into an anxiety hole.

One | Know Your Triggers

First: you need to figure out what your triggers are. Maybe that means writing down what events started your anxiety in the first place. If that’s hard, then just write down a few words that symbolize or remind you of that event or moment. For me, I might write down: pediatrician, weightloss, dehydration, no milk. Then think about what things you hear from others that have brought on those feelings of anxiety. I knew my body tensed up whenever people questioned me about my son’s weight and his food intake, so those were two obvious triggers for me; an event that brought on anxiety is going to the doctor and having my son weighed. Once you’ve been able to list the topics or events that bring you anxiety, then you can make some plans for coping.

Two | Avoid What Triggers You Can

Is there anything in your list you can avoid? Go out of your way to avoid the things that you can. Don’t put yourself in the position to be triggered because it isn’t worth it. Having an anxiety attack is a horrible experience, and it really does help to figure out what things you can avoid. If that means you avoid a person who triggers you, do it! Or if you skip out on classes, group events, or even Facebook pages that bring you anxiety, do that, too. Anyone who wants to ask you about your sudden disappearance can do so, and you can politely explain the group, class, or person wasn’t good for your mental health. (And if that person is extra nosey, shut them down by telling them you have everything under control and don’t need any help analyzing the situation.)

Three | Shut Down Triggering Conversation Topics

A lot of my triggers boil down to topics of conversation. I realized this fairly early on and knew that people would continue to ask questions about food and weight, especially as he grew older, got in some teeth, and began trying new things. Rather than be afraid of these topics and trying to shut them down altogether, I allow the questions from the people who I know just want to be a part of my son’s life. I answer the questions as much as I can without getting too anxious. Then I turn the conversation to a different topic as quickly and painlessly as I can.

If you experience anxiety from a triggering topic of conversation, you should try this out. Allow the conversation to happen, but find ways to turn it to another topic instead. You can be polite about this, but you don’t have to continue a topic of conversation that bothers you.

Four | Avoid Oversharing

A big problem I see is oversharing. Social media makes it easy to share every last detail of our lives with our ever-widening friend groups. We share everything from political opinions, the births of our children, our lunches, and our exercise habits. Social media gets to be the way we do life now. The problem comes when we overshare.

For myself, oversharing is posting monthly milestone updates about my son. I see a lot of my friends do this, and it is a nice way to share how your child is growing and changing. But it triggers my anxiety because I compare my child to other children and see a dozen ways he might be lacking or lagging behind. I realize this is just me seeing things, but it really affects me to put his information on my social media and open myself up to questions about his growth. I don’t mind people asking me questions, but I prefer not to overshare and invite critiques.

I know this can be hard, mama. It scares us to have to open ourselves up to possible anxiety attacks, but that’s just part of life. We deal with things we don’t like on a daily basis, and the sooner we put together a plan to manage these whirlwind emotions, the sooner we can bring ourselves down from the verge of panic.

If you suffer from anxiety, what things have you done to try to help with anxiety attacks? Share with me in the comments. I’m curious what other mamas have done. I’ll (hopefully) be back Monday with the first in a series I’m writing in honor of Mother’s and Father’s Days! I’m super excited about this series, so I hope you’ll come back and check it out!

Rachel