Tag Archives: anxiety

Coping with Anxiety Using Mindfulness

anxietyYou know the feeling when it starts: an unpleasant burning in your chest or abdomen, a feeling of cold on the back of your neck, tingling in your arms, or tightness in the back of your throat. Anxiety is a physical phenomenon. Many of us are unaware of the specific physical sensations associated with our anxiety, but it sends a signal to our brain that we are in danger. On its own, anxiety tends to pass quickly and without much ado. It is the way we attribute meaning to the sensations in our body that causes anxiety to feel unbearable and to stick around. We interpret our anxiety as being “out of control.” We look to our environment for signals that we really are in danger, either physically or emotionally. And we beat ourselves up for feeling anxious, telling ourselves “What is wrong with me?” “Why can’t I feel calm?” And even worse, “I can’t tolerate feeling this way.”

But in reality, we can tolerate anxiety. By tolerating it and observing its physical manifestations, we rob it of its power over us. And over time, anxiety will diminish if we refuse to escalate it by letting it take over our thoughts.

Mindfulness is one of the most powerful tools for coping with and transforming anxiety. While it may feel like WE ARE anxious, bringing awareness to our body and choosing to focus on the specific physical sensations we are experiencing allows us to see that we are the observer of anxiety, not its victim. We can choose to halt self-defeating thoughts by returning awareness to our body and reminding ourselves “Anxiety cannot hurt me. It is only a feeling, and it is temporary. I am in control of myself. I can choose to be aware of the anxiety without letting it take over my thoughts.”

Practice doing mindfulness exercises such as this one when you are not feeling particularly anxious, as a way of being ready for anxiety when it comes. Learning to focus your full attention on your body rather than your thoughts takes some practice, but only five minutes a day can make a huge difference in reducing anxiety and helping you cope with it when it comes.

Anxiety is often associated with depression, even if the depression is not severe. Taking steps to address negative patterns of thinking, grieving losses, and learning to take better care of ourselves physically and emotionally is another important step in dealing with anxiety. If you need help to learn to identify and challenge negative thoughts, work through with past trauma or loss, or learn to improve your self-care and relationships, finding a therapist you trust is a great place to start.

People-Pleasing Moms: At Risk

Sad new mom holding baby - people-pleasing momsOne of the common themes I come across when working with mothers experiencing depression and anxiety is perfectionism and people-pleasing. Moms get worn out when they are trying to make everyone happy all the time.

There are often good reasons for a tendency to be over-responsible for the feelings of others. Many of us come from families where there was an unspoken expectation that a child must be “good,” because one or both parents were unable to tolerate the challenge of even normal childhood misbehavior. Or sometimes, children develop an unconscious habit of caretaking for others as a way to get their own needs met.

Read the Article

Does Your Personality Style Put You at Risk for Postpartum Depression?

mother baby

By Meri Levy, MA, MFT

What are the risk factors for Postpartum Depression and anxiety? Can your personality contribute to your risk? Check out this article of mine, published on www.GoodTherapy.org.

My Journey Through Postpartum Depression and Panic Disorder

Whenever I talk about the symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, I always include “unusual physical symptoms.” What does that mean? It means that any new physical symptoms that begin during pregnancy and postpartum can be related to mental health.

My own experience with postpartum depression and anxiety was quite atypical, and that was partly why I suffered for months before receiving the proper diagnosis and treatment.

I had lots of risk factors for postpartum depression: a previous bout of depression, the death of a loved one, a high-risk pregnancy, a traumatic childbirth, an unsupportive marriage, and breastfeeding difficulties. But even though I had suffered from depression before, after the death of my mother, my postpartum symptoms were not recognizable to me.

After my second child was born, my stress level was off the charts. My older son got kicked out of two preschools (he wouldn’t use the potty!) and I was scrambling to find a preschool that would take him. I never made enough milk for the new baby because he was so big and I was so stressed out, and he refused to nurse completely as soon as he started solid foods. I felt guilty about “failing” at breastfeeding and I was also afraid that I would not be able to go back to work after maternity leave because I couldn’t find full-time daycare that would take my challenging and potty-resistant older son.

In the meantime, I had difficulties in my marriage. My husband worked a lot, and when he was there he criticized my parenting style, my cooking, and my housekeeping. Even our challenging preschooler was my fault! I was trying my best to make everyone happy, but I was clearly failing.

During this time, I started to have odd physical symptoms. I started feeling that the room was tilting and that I was off-balance. I had to lie down and felt the room was spinning around me. My doctor thought it was either an inner-ear infection or possibly Multiple Sclerosis, and I was sent for neurological testing. The tests came back normal, although MS couldn’t be ruled out (a bonus for my anxiety, of course!).

My symptoms came and went, and then began to include nausea and vomiting along with the dizziness, a complete lack of appetite, and an inability to sleep. I had a low-grade fever on and off for a couple of months and my white blood-cell count was high. I lost 16 pounds beyond the baby weight, slept about three to four hours a night, and threw up regularly — out the door of the car, in the sink at the pediatrician’s office, etc. I felt that my body was swaying even when I was perfectly still, and my bed felt like it was shaking as I lay in it trying to sleep. My skin felt prickly, my chest burned and my hands tingled. The dizziness made watching TV or reading impossible, and walking or driving became difficult. I felt sure that I was dying.

My doctor considered an inner ear problem, hormones, diabetes, thyroid issues, and even encephalitis, but every test came back normal. I was living on Ensure and Gatorade, because I couldn’t keep any solid food down. The stress of caring for my children became unbearable, so we hired a babysitter and I spent most of every day lying in bed, praying to fall asleep for a couple of hours to get some rest. I was prescribed Ativan, but it just knocked me out for an hour or two and I would wake up feeling even worse than before.

After about four months, I fell apart completely and told my doctor that he had to hospitalize me because I was dying, and at that point I wanted to die if they couldn’t stop the misery I was living in. I was admitted to a psychiatric inpatient unit, but my doctor was still sending me around to specialists, trying to figure out what was physically wrong with me.

I stopped vomiting as soon as I was admitted to the hospital. That was when I realized that whatever was going on with me had to do with stress. I spent 12 days in the hospital, during which time I started taking antidepressants and was prescribed an anti-anxiety medication that allowed me to sleep. For a few days, all I did was sleep. When I was awake I was no longer nauseous, but I was filled with unbearable emotional pain. I was terrified that I would never be able to care for my children without getting sick. I felt like the worst mother in the world.

After I was released from the hospital I did a full-day partial hospitalization program for a month, which gave me time for the antidepressant to start working and allowed me to take care of myself for a change. I learned in group therapy about the ways in which I had prioritized my responsibility for others way above self-care, in unhealthy and unhelpful ways, and I began to heal. With the help of medication, therapy, and later couples counseling, I recovered. I still had anxiety at times, but I also had joy and passion for life. I became a lactation educator, started a small business helping other new moms, and led new parent support groups for several years. Eight years later I went back to school to become a Marriage and Family Therapist.

I still have to be vigilant about managing stress and maintaining good self-care. I tell myself that this is the “gift” of being prone to depression and anxiety: I don’t have the luxury of tolerating a great deal of stress like some people seem to do, or living life in a way that generally makes me unhappy. I am obligated to do work that I love, to have a healthy relationship with my husband, and to prioritize joy, peace and comfort as well as caring for my family. I know that I always have to be mindful to avoid a recurrence of depression, but I also know that I am strong and resilient and will do whatever I have to do to be healthy and take good care of myself and my children.

My mental health issues began when my second child was seven months old, and yet no one ever considered a postpartum condition. My symptoms were fully consistent with panic disorder and depression, and yet my doctor and my therapist (yes, a trained therapist!) never considered these diagnoses. My hope is that in the future, mothers and their caregivers become better educated to recognize perinatal mood and anxiety disorders so that they can be treated early and mothers can return to enjoying their lives again.

  • If you need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • If you are looking for pregnancy or postpartum support and local resources, please call or email Postpartum Support International:

Call PSI Warmline (English & Spanish) 1-800-944-4PPD (4773)
Email support@postpartum.net

How Doulas Can Help With Postpartum Depression

family with babyOn Wednesday, I was invited to speak to a group of local doulas, the Mt. Diablo Doula Community, about prevention of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs), as well as how to recognize the disorders and how to help their clients. I hope the presentation might be helpful for doulas who are wanting more information about these disorders and what role they can play in keeping moms healthy and happy. You can access the Presentation Here. Attachments to the presentation are the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale and an associated Suicide Screening Interview.