One of the main themes on our Patient Forum is the fear that something is physically wrong with the struggling mama. This fear can paralyze a mama from action. First things first, get a physical to make sure that you do not have any physical conditions that could be exacerbating your anxiety and depression. I did find out through my recovery from PPA and PPD that I also struggled with a gastrointestinal issue that flared when my anxiety was at its peak. Other Warrior Moms have discovered that they had thyroiditis that can mimic the symptoms of postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety.
What does anxiety and panic feel like? For me it feels like I am suffocating under the weight of total overwhelm. Anxiety begins as prickles to me. All the sounds seem too loud. I cannot concentrate. I start to lose patience. My level of irritation rises. My hands begin to shake. I feel like my entire body is erupting in hives. I start to itch at my scalp or my arms. My ability to do several things at once comes to a screeching halt. I shake my head to try to clear the mental fog that is forming. I develop tunnel vision.
When my anxiety is left unchecked and festers into a panic attack, I am left physically and emotionally drained. It is the equivalent of doing fartleks, speed sprints for those of you non-runners. I am gasping for air. I am nearing hyperventilation. My fingers and toes are tingling. I lose sensation in my face. My entire face flushes. It begins in my ears and rises from my neck . After the panic attack subsides, I lose all color in my face. I am chilled to the bone after sweating profusely. I feel like someone has literally wrung me out like a limp dishcloth. I feel as exhausted as I do after running my fastest sprints. I want to curl up wherever I am under soft blankets with my favorite pillow and take a nap.
Although I loathed the physical symptoms of anxiety and panic during the depths of my struggle with postpartum anxiety, I think of them now as warming signs. I still struggle with anxiety from time to time. My physical symptoms are reminders to me that I need to stop and get quiet. When I am physically present in my body during yoga or meditation, I can focus on my emotional and mental state. I can start to cue into how I am feeling, and I can take action. I use all the tools in my tool box to combat my anxiety: writing, meditation, yoga, sleep, exercise, eating healthy, therapy and medication.
How does your anxiety manifest itself for you? Is it different from mine? Is it similar? Have you also found co-existing conditions along with your postpartum anxiety?