Sit down on the floor.
Block everything out.
Breathe deep: in through your nose, out through your mouth.
Now listen to what’s going on around you.
This is a conversation I have with myself very often because I have postpartum panic attacks. I didn’t even know panic attacks were a possibility after giving birth to my daughter, but now it’s a part of my weekly routine.
According to Psychotherapy.com these panic attacks are formally called Postpartum Panic Disorder. Here’s some quick info from them:
- Occurs in up to 10% of postpartum women.
- Symptoms include: feelings of extreme anxiety and recurring panic attacks, including shortness of breath, chest pain, heart palpitations, agitation, and excessive worry or fears.
- Three common fears experienced by women with a Postpartum Panic Disorder are: 1) fear of dying, 2) fear of losing control, and/or 3) fear that one is going crazy.
- 2 significant risk factors: 1) a previous history of anxiety or panic disorder, and 2) thyroid dysfunction.
Let me explain what it felt like the first time I had a panic attack. It first happened two years ago when my daughter was a few months old, it felt like the world was closing in on me.
Back then it happened at any given moment.
Once I was in a shopping center parking lot, about to go home, and I started crying uncontrollably, for no reason at all, I couldn’t catch my breath, and my heart pounded. I thought what I was feeling was just a part of giving birth and it would soon end, but I was wrong.
The Mighty, a site devoted to addressing mental health issues and disabilities has a brilliant article about what having a panic attack can feel like. The article, written by Rachel Kassenbrock, does a great job of showing what panic attacks feel like through a series of photos. Warning: the images are very real and may be upsetting.
Two years later I am still having the panic attacks that began after giving birth. They are more predictable and manageable now that I have learned calming and breathing techniques. I also use an anxiety ease essential oil in an oil diffuser or smell it directly from the bottle to help calm me down.
I rarely find myself crying because of them. My panic attacks usually happen when I have a to-do list that I’m running through my head. I can tell it’s approaching when my heart starts palpitating.
I have since learned that I am not alone in my suffering Postpartum Anxiety Disorders. They are common, yet are diagnosed far less than the others because of the belief that new mothers are just naturally anxious. There are two forms of Postpartum Anxiety Disorder; if you’d like to read more about the different specifics and definitions HERE are the definitions as defined by Psychotherapy.com.
When I first began having panic attacks I spoke with my midwife and she advised me to start taking fish oil pills. I took three 1,000 milligram pills per day. The panic attacks weren’t as intense after taking the fish oil, but they were still there.
I even took Xanax, prescribed by my midwife, for a short time, but the side effects outweighed the benefits.
After doing some research on my own I found a solution that works for me. I must recognize what’s happening, slow down, and realize that I need to be present in that very moment. If you would like to give this a try here is a great video explaining the process for you.
Here is a tool kit that I found very helpful from another blogger named Kate over at Post Partum Progress:
- Take 10 deep belly breaths (also known as diaphragmatic breathing).
- Drink a big glass of water.
- Eat a protein-based snack such as lean meats, nuts, cheese, or a hard boiled egg.
- Ground yourself in the present: Look around you and note (out loud if possible) everything that you can access in all five senses. What do you see? What can you hear? What do you smell? What does it feel like to be sitting on your chair? What, exactly, do you taste as you eat your snack?
- Find a “mantra” of sorts that you can tell yourself such as “I am going to be okay,” “I am doing the best that I can,” or “I am taking care of myself.”
- Go outside. Stretch. Feel yourself move and notice the sensations in your body.
- Once your initial symptoms decrease, find some help so that you can take a nap and get the rest that you need.
- If need be, call your therapist, your doctor, or someone who you trust to come and be with you until you feel better.
Images borrowed from: