Did you read the first part about the definition of anxiety?
Worrying, which frequently occurs during the perinatal period, can be defined as a train of thoughts difficult to control accompanied by negative emotions. We talk about a train of thought because one worry rarely occurs on its own. It usually leads to other worries that vary a lot depending on situations. For example, worrying that you aren’t eating the right things for the baby during pregnancy.
As the perinatal period involved many changes, new roles, different things to learn and new challenges to face, a necessary period of adaptation occurs for most parents during which many stressful things can happen. In this sense, it’s true that during the perinatal period mothers and fathers will develop excessive anxiety or anxiety disorders for the first time. When anxiety was already an issue in the past, this is more frequent, with the anxiety symptoms increasing during the perinatal period.
It’s useful for a future or a new parent if they can distinguish between their worries, stress and the physiological symptoms of anxiety. They can better identify what they’re experiencing, better understand their reactions and as such work on the situation. For example, we can offer strategies to face worries, others for managing the anxiety emotion, others to work on behavioural reactions such as avoidance and reassurance, which trouble the way the person functions. Other techniques can also be used to work on vulnerability factors the person may have.
The Levels of Anxiety
How do I know if my anxiety is excessive?
Great question! No set criteria for the quantity of anxiety exist, what is seen as reasonable or excessive, or types of anxiety that are better or worse than others. It’s all about how the person experiences the anxiety in its intensity. It’s a very subjective notion which belongs to the individual. Each person is unique, each life lesson learned over time and their age impacts the way they react and deal with new situations, difficulties, the unexpected and problems that need to be solved.
A woman can be uncomfortable with the fact that she doesn’t know how the delivery will be. A father can be uncomfortable not understanding why their baby is crying.
A first criterion to distinguish what is “more excessive” anxiety is the disruptions that the anxiety causes on the person’s way of functioning.
A dad can worry about their skills and be scared of doing something bad to their baby. However, if their anxiety means that they let their partner take on most baby responsibilities because they’re afraid of erring, it disrupts the way the father normally functions with their offspring.
In the same way, we can expect a mother will be worried the first time she leaves her baby to go out with friends or their spouse. She will call the babysitter to check how things are going to be reassured. However, if her going out causes physical discomfort due to her anxiety, and she has to go home to calm down and care for her baby, this is much more than merely being worried.
According to some research, 60% of parents indicate that they’re worried more after the arrival of their child, and about 25% say their worries negatively impact how they function. One parent in four has a higher level of anxiety during this period, which is rather high.
The notion of disruption or interference in quality of life is essential to consider. Close ones, friends, parents, the spouse can help reflect on the space that anxiety takes at a personal level, but also on the relationship dynamics, the couple and family.
A second criterion is distress the parent can feel due to their anxiety. Signs of distress can be sadness, depression, dark thoughts, a feeling of vulnerability, isolation or the impression that they lack support.
If one or both of these elements is present, either the disruption of the way they function or distress, the parent possibly has more excessive anxiety, what they could categorise as “less normal.” However, the anxious person shouldn’t always be asking themselves if their anxiety is normal, if it’s justified. It’s more the distress they feel that will help the anxious person become aware of their problem and then get help.
Read the next part of this article, Signs of Anxiety.
This post is also available in: French