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It's common for new mothers to feel overwhelmed during the first few weeks and even months after childbirth. But if these feelings persist — and are accompanied by shortness of breath, racing thoughts, heart palpitations, feelings of impending doom, dizziness, numbness in your hands or feet, nausea, a flushed face, sweating, or chest discomfort — you may have postpartum anxiety, a form of postpartum depression. And when these symptoms come in waves, they're called panic attacks.
If you're experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, talk to your doctor. You may benefit from therapy and/or medication. With help, you'll be able to get relief.
You can also try these self-help techniques to keep panic attacks at bay:
- Eliminate caffeine. Even the small amounts in decaffeinated coffee, colas, and chocolate can aggravate anxiety.
- Avoid alcohol. It may calm you down at first, but it can interfere with sleep. It's also a depressant, so you may end up feeling worse. Also, if you're taking antidepressants, they might not work as efficiently if you have alcohol in your system.
- Exercise gently. Be careful with strenuous activities — a rapid rise in your heart rate can bring on an attack.
- Eat nutritiously and avoid going for long periods of time without eating. Changes in blood sugar sometimes trigger physical symptoms — such as light-headedness — that mimic panic attacks and can make you worry that you're having one.
- Practice deep, slow abdominal breathing.
- Try relaxation exercises. Keep in mind, however, that some people become more anxious if they focus on how their body's feeling or try too hard to relax. If you don't like the way relaxation exercises make you feel, try another way to lessen your anxiety.
- Talk with your partner and other loved ones and let them know how they can help you calm down before an attack happens — and what they can do if you're having one.
- Distract yourself. When you feel symptoms of anxiety, try to not focus on them — it gives them more power. Instead, do something: Call a friend, take a walk, or watch a silly TV program to get your mind thinking about something else.