Managing anxiety as a new mum
Reducing the power of your thoughts
Anxiety is a huge topic, but hopefully you have now learnt a bit about what triggers your anxiety, and how your thoughts can play a role in the anxiety you experience. Unfortunately, the thoughts you have when you experience anxiety can often feel very real and very scary. It is easy to get swept away by these thoughts, believing them to be true, causing us to lose perspective. But the fact is, our thoughts are just that… thoughts. They are not necessarily true, and can often be totally outrageous – so we need a way to distance ourselves from them.
It’s also worth mentioning that the thoughts we have are not necessarily representative of ourselves or reality. We are not our thoughts. Using mindfulness techniques can really help to illustrate this, but for now, let’s do a simple exercise to illustrate this. Just take a moment to watch your thoughts. Don’t chase them or follow them… just notice as the come and go. Notice how they pop up automatically – some are positive, some are negative, some we agree with, some we don’t.
One way to help with our worries or anxious thoughts, is to find a way to separate ourselves from them. There are a number of ways to achieve this: by standing back from them, defusing the power that they have, or reframing them.
Distance yourself from the thought
When you notice that you are having an unhelpful thought, mentally take a step back from it. Remember, you are not your thoughts; and thoughts are not necessarily true reflections of reality. Consciously label it as ‘just a silly negative thought’. This should help to create some distance between you as an individual and your thoughts, therefore allowing you to look at your thoughts more objectively.
Once you have labelled your thought in this way, take a moment to notice how this makes you feel. Notice its impact on your physical reactions and feelings… but don’t try to change it. Trying to suppress thoughts can often just make them pop up again, like trying to submerge a balloon in water… the thought (like the balloon) will just keep trying to rise to the surface. Instead of fighting it, just allow the thought to be, without judging, changing or reacting to it in any way.
“I notice that I’m having a negative or unhelpful thought. I notice that this thought makes me feel anxious, so it’s no wonder my heart is pounding and hands are shaking. But instead of reacting to this thought, or changing my behaviour to avoid my anxiety getting worse, I’m just going to let it be. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and let the thought and feelings rise and fall. I’m not going to second guess them or chase them. I’ll just observe them from a distance, with curiosity and without judgement, and see what happens.”
Once you have recognised and observed your thoughts, you can consciously choose to let them go. Visualisation techniques may help with this… for example, you might find it helpful to imagine your negative thoughts as clouds, or balloons drifting into your mind and then slowly floating away, getting smaller and smaller, until it finally disappears or pops. This is not the same as trying to suppress these thoughts. Instead, you are recognising them, but then simply watching them as they come and go. Distancing yourself from your thoughts in this way should help them to lose their power.
There are lots of different defusion techniques that you can try. The aim here is to reduce the intensity of your thoughts by stripping it of its power; and even laughing at it if you can (although that is always difficult!). Here are a couple of simple techniques you can try:
- Repeat the thought to yourself in a silly voice
- Sing the thought (in your head, or out loud)
- Say “How silly that I am still having the thought that…”
- Repeat the thought out loud and very slowly
Getting defusion techniques to work can take practice – so why not try one of these techniques now by thinking about a thought you often have when you feel anxious. Start by just experiencing the anxious thought and noticing how it makes you feel. Then, apply one of the defusion techniques above – play with it, and as you do, take note of how the thought feels now.
Reframing your thoughts
Another way to reduce the power of your thoughts is to try to change your perspective. You can do this in a number of ways. For example:
If someone you cared about told you they were having these thoughts, what would you say to them? We are often much more critical of ourselves than we are of others, so try to be kind to yourself and give yourself the advice you would give a friend.
When we are anxious, our worries can seem to engulf us and can sometimes feel like that are the most important thing in the world right now. Try to put some perspective on this. Take a moment to think about how much your worries will matter in 3, 6 or 12 months time. In the grander scheme of things, are they still as important?
We often get swept up in how we feel about things when we experience anxiety, which means it can be very difficult to see things as they really are. Ask yourself whether your anxious thoughts are based on facts, feelings or faulty perceptions. Try challenging the thoughts and feelings you have. The aim is to try to get a more objective view of reality… rather than a subjective and emotional one. You can learn more about this in the ‘managing anxious thoughts’ section, but things are often not as bad as we think or feel they are.
Note – Thinking differently and challenging your thoughts can be really hard to do when emotions are running high. Remember, anxiety is made up of thoughts, physical sensations and behaviours. While these can work together to make you more anxious; they can also work together to soothe any anxiety you feel. So you might want to take some time to physically relax to help you manage your thoughts.