When we are anxious, we usually want to do something, ANYTHING to feel better, even if only temporarily. There are usually two common ways we try to reduce our anxiety:
1) Looking for a temporary anxiety “fix”
These are the things you do to feel better, temporarily. For example:
- asking for repeated reassurance from friends and family that your baby is developing normally
- keeping a log of feedings and diapers for months, long past when there might have been any concern about your baby’s growth
- getting up extra times at night just to check that the baby is still breathing
- taking baby to the health unit for extra weigh-ins, even after you have been assured that he or she is gaining weight appropriately
Salima, the mother of a 3-month-old baby boy, reads and re-reads baby books to try and find some sort of magic answer for her distress and worry. She cannot resist asking everyone she knows – friends and professionals – for advice and reassurance, yet nothing seems to comfort her for long.
Jennifer, the mother of an 8-month-old baby girl, checks on the baby up to 10 times each night. She has been having recurrent intrusive thoughts about stabbing the baby, so she has an elaborate ritual of hiding the kitchen knives every night.
These are the things you don’t do so you can avoid feeling anxious, such as:
- not leaving your baby with your sister, an experienced mother herself, for 2 hours so you can go for a haircut
- not taking the baby out on errands on your own
- trying to reduce the baby’s exposure to everyday things such as wireless Internet
- refusing to let anyone else do the laundry or wash the dishes, in case they don’t do them just right
Salima avoids going out as much as possible, even just running errands. She feels unable to take the baby on outings, in case he begins to cry and she can’t manage it.
Jennifer, who is afraid that she will hurt her baby, even though of course she doesn’t want to, avoids being at home alone with her daughter, especially giving her a bath.
Ellen, who had an emergency C-section for her second child, avoids watching TV shows about birth and new mothers. She has also hidden all reminders from the hospital where her baby was born, such as the photographs taken in hospital and the baby’s bracelets.
What are THE COSTS to using quick fixes and avoidance?
Because these strategies can make us feel better in the short term, of course we are tempted to repeatedly use them. But there is a hidden cost: the more we use these strategies, the more likely our anxiety will stay and actually grow over time. So we may get a little bit of short-term relief, BUT we buy ourselves much more anxiety in the future. Avoidance and quick fixes can also cost a lot of time and energy; it can start to feel like a part-time job. To top it off, relying on these strategies can often lead to missed experiences and enjoyment in life.
So if quick fixes and avoidance doesn’t work, what can you do? The rest of this section will give you ideas for strategies that have been found to actually decrease anxiety in the long run.