It is really common to feel anxious after experiencing any kind of trauma. Here are some strategies you can experiment with that might help you to manage your anxiety, so you can begin to feel safe and connected again.
Fear and anxiety are natural responses to threatening situations. Symptoms of anxiety can include:
- Feeling ‘jittery’ or on edge
- Feeling afraid, as if something awful might happen
- Physical symptoms like a racing heart, nausea or sweating
You might find that reminders of the trauma trigger feelings of anxiety, or it might feel as though anxiety occurs out-of-the-blue. These are normal responses to what was an abnormal event. Anxiety is part of what makes us human. It is part of our survival system, our body’s way of responding to threat. It isn’t dangerous, just uncomfortable.
‘Name it to tame it’
We often feel the urge to push away difficult feelings, understandably. This can be counterproductive and make them feel more overwhelming in the longer term. Naming your feelings can make them less intense and more manageable.
So, when you’re feeling anxious or upset (or any other difficult emotion), pause for a moment. Take a deep breath, and acknowledge the feelings when they arise. For example, say to yourself “I’m noticing anxiety is here right now” or “I’m noticing that I’m feeling sad about what happened”.
In doing this you stay connected with the feeling, rather than pushing it down, but you also create a bit of space around the feeling. You don’t need to react to it, it will pass. You might imagine it floating away in a bubble or cloud.
We have so many words to describe emotions, yet recognising different emotions can take some practice. If it is hard to recognise your feelings you might want to look at a feelings wheel on the internet.
You might notice that you are blaming yourself for what happened – trauma will do that. Don’t believe everything you think – thoughts are not statements of facts, they are just mental events.
Explore the now
Distressing memories of a trauma can leave you feeling like you are “reliving” it. Feelings and thoughts you had at the time of the trauma may come back so it feels like it is happening again right now.
If you can, bring your focus into the present moment. Remind yourself – right now, in this moment, all is well.
- Notice your breathing and the sensations of your breathing. Where can you feel the breath in your body? Is it in your chest? Your nostrils? Your abdomen?
- Notice the ground beneath you. Where you make contact with it.
- Look around and notice what you see, what you hear, what you can touch and what you can smell. Right now, in this moment.
These are ‘grounding strategies’ – tools which help you to stay in the present moment. Grounding can help increase your sense of safety and control when anxiety bubbles up.
You can then shift your focus of attention to something else – to what you need to do, to what you were doing before you noticed the anxiety, or to something else. Try to do this mindfully, with your full attention.
Be gentle with yourself
Experiencing anxiety is really hard. You might even consider it a ‘warning light’ indicating you need to look after yourself. Your body’s aroused state after a trauma might make this difficult, but it is important to be kind to yourself to aid your recovery. Perhaps ask yourself ‘what would I do for someone I care about who is feeling this way?’ – and give yourself permission to do this for yourself.
For example, you may need to look after your body with:
- Rest and relaxation
- Nourishing food
- Light exercise
- Pleasurable activity
If there are people around who are in a position to take care of you, whatever that looks like, then it is okay to ask for and accept their help right now. Equally, can you step back from some responsibilities right now? Maybe someone else can do the chores or take care of the baby.
Remember that you need to ‘put your own oxygen mask on first’ e.g. if you don’t care for yourself, you won’t have the resources to look after those people who might depend on you.
Connect with others
You are not alone: anxiety is a part of being human. Lots of people you know will understand what you are going through. We all need the support of others, but research shows this is especially true in the perinatal period when social support acts a buffer against postnatal anxiety and depression.
Try to connect with people you trust – perhaps your partner, a family member or friend. Arrange a walk, a coffee or a WhatsApp conversation; whatever feels easiest. I know it can feel difficult to share how you feel. If you can be brave enough, however, you might find they also open up about their feelings, leading to a closer relationship.
Seek professional help
If you feel your experiences are having a significant impact upon your day to day life, your relationship with others and/or your baby please discuss this with your GP, or another care professional you feel you can speak openly with.
With the right kind of support, it is possible to process what has happened, feel safe again and move forward.
Contact me for more information about how I might help you.
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Dr Miriam Inder – Helping you have Better Beginnings
I am a highly experienced Clinical Perinatal Psychologist specialising in helping people in the perinatal period. Supporting women who are hoping to be mothers, preparing to be mothers or are mothers already.
I started Better Beginnings after experiencing challenges on my own journey to motherhood. It made me reflect on how hard this period can be. Fortunately, I had a group of friends who were there to support me. But if I felt like this, with my psychologist training, how were other parents coping?
I became passionate about using my expertise as a Perinatal Clinical Psychologist to make a positive difference to other mother’s early parenthood experiences.