Worry, Stress, and Anxiety

And what’s the difference Anyway?

Worry, stress and anxiety are pretty common in our busy day-to-day rush. And often one can lead from one to the other in a blended haze with or without kids in the mix.

But when you add in being responsible for a new little life, no matter how much we love and adore them it adds a whole new level of worry, stress and anxiety.

New Motherhood, especially in our first pregnancy has a whole host of “what if’s” and unknowns and new experiences, right from the day we get that very first positive test.

After the first wave of joy over your expected new bundle we all start to worry about some things like getting the baby’s room ready, is baby healthy? Am I healthy? And what the heck is happening to my body?

And a whole host of other things related to our pregnancy, and the up and coming birth.

At some point we start asking questions, and possibly freaking out. I know I asked a lot of questions the first time I was pregnant and needed to understand what was all going on. But then again I also freaked out a lot too so…

How about we start at the beginning, and look at what the difference is between worry, stress, and anxiety as a new expectant Mom.

a woman holds her head as she worries over stressful ideas floating above her.

Worry

Wendy just found out that she is expecting her first baby, she is so excited and is sharing the news with everyone she meets.

When Wendy talks to her coworker, Michelle jumps in with how bad her morning sickness was and that she couldn’t eat her favorite foods during her pregnancy.

Wendy now is thinking about the food in her diet and is worried it could harm the baby or make her sick.

Worry is one of those things we do almost daily, it’s our mind focused on negative or unknown situations and outcomes. Worry can be repetitive and seem obsessive. Worry is a thought process entirely in our minds.

The Good News about Worry

Did you know that there is productive and unproductive worry?

I grew up hearing the “worry is like a rocking chair, gives you something to do but gets you nowhere.” not sure who said that but it’s stuck in my mind for years.

But that’s not actually accurate, it should say unproductive worry.

Productive worry is a whole other ballpark. Productive worry recognizes that you have more control of a situation than unproductive worry.

For Wendy’s worry to be productive she makes a plan to talk to her care provider (Doctor or Midwife) about what is safe to eat and if anything she is currently eating needs to be removed from her diet during her pregnancy.

Pregnancy Worries Could Include:

  • Is baby healthy?
  • Am I eating enough?
  • What do I need for the baby’s room?
  • Am I gaining enough/not enough weight?

Postpartum Worries Could Include:

  • Is my baby normal/healthy?
  • Am I recovering fast enough?
  • Am I feeding baby the right way?
  • Am I caring for the baby properly?
  • Is there something I should be doing differently?

Handling Worry

Our worries are in our head, so it makes some sense that when we are worrying we need to get out of our heads, right?

Trying something like journaling, talking to a friend, playing some music (and singing or dancing along), and praying or meditating to help get your mind off it.

a mother trying to feed a screaming baby, the mom holds one hand to her forehead and has a stressed look on her face.

Stress

Stacey is driving to work when someone cuts her off in traffic. When she brakes to avoid hitting them the car behind her rear-ends her.

As she sits there stunned at what just happened she hears fast uneven breathing, her heart is racing and her body feels like it is shaking.

Stress is something we all experience in some form or another every day.

A car accident like Stacey’s is more dramatic than what we deal with most days and will create a more noticeable response.

But the big thing with stress is that it is a completely physical response.

That means it is how your body reacts to something. Historically this is our fight or flight (or freeze) response. We see that we could get hurt, and our body is preparing to defend ourselves for survival.

How intensely our bodies respond will vary based on the situation.

Pregnancy Stressors

  • Invasive tests
  • car accidents
  • falling
  • lifting too much weight
  • high impact sports and workouts

Postpartum Stressors

  • C-Section Recovery (if you had one)
  • Physical Appearance
  • Lack of Sleep/Exhaustion
  • Lack of nourishment (when you don’t have the energy to care for yourself)
  • Fussy baby

Handling your Stress

With stress being a physical thing try something physical to get your body focused elsewhere. Often a walk in nature, dancing to some fun music, a gentle pre/postnatal work out, or stretches (provided you’ve been cleared for it) can help burn off the adrenalin.

Just make sure to drink water while you are at it to help flush out the hormones your body just dumped into your system.

a mom watches her child play on the floor with a look of frustration or anxiety on her face

Anxiety

Annie is waiting to see her doctor, she wants to ask her doctor about a test she thinks is unnecessary. As she thinks about it her palms start to feel clammy and she can feel her heartbeat wildly in her chest.

She keeps thinking that if she goes through with this test she is putting the baby at risk. She is also scared that by asking her doctor they will question her ability to be a mother…

When her name is called she feels like she is trying to move through molasses just to stand up.

Anxiety is a combination of worry and stress, the mental and physical coming together. And most of us will experience it at some point or another in our lifetime.

Heck many of us deal with it daily, and becoming a mother adds more opportunity for it to occur.

Anxiety can be compared to a false alarm, remember how stress is the physical response to a threat? Well, anxiety is a mental and physical response when we expect a threat that’s not there.

Annie for instance has no evidence that her doctor won’t welcome her questions and find the conversation to be helpful in understanding and helping her better. Yet Annie is still showing physical signs of stress (sweaty palms, heart racing) and mental signs of worrying (assuming the worst of the test and anticipating her doctor’s response).

A mom rests her head on folded arms on her baby's crib and looks to be asleep

As someone who lived with anxiety for a number of years, I can tell you it’s exhausting.

And for many new mothers we handle our anxiety, stress and worry by reaching out to those around us who have been there and handled this already.

This can be a great help, or as I’ve experienced, an exercise in being told “you are worrying for nothing”, or “it’s all in your head” which usually makes you feel more anxious.

But that’s the kicker about dealing with anxiety, your brain can keep winding you up over and over and overturning “that funny look your doctor had while talking to you” into a full-blown case of the worst ever happening…

Now that we understand how worry, stress and anxiety relate to each other, how about we look at how they play into Mommy Burnout