The building blocks of anxiety, depression, low self-worth, guilt, and shame are made up of the lies we tell ourselves. Some may call these lies “Cognitive Distortions,” others call them “automatic negative thoughts,” but whatever name you choose to give them, they are in the driver seat and our emotions end up along for the ride. Our thoughts postpartum can have a dramatic effect on our healing.
Here are some of the lies we may tell ourselves as Moms:
“What if I’m not feeding her enough?”
“What if I lose the baby?”
“What if something bad happens to my child and I’m not there to prevent it.”
“I should have been able to get more done today.”
“I should be happier to be home with a new baby.”
“I shouldn’t have snapped at my husband like that.”
“I’m a failure.”
“I’m not doing a good job.”
“This will never get better.”
“This is hopeless.”
The Power of our Thoughts and Their Impact Postpartum
To fully validate the power of our thoughts, it is helpful to understand the basic premise behind Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This counseling approach presumes that our thoughts dictate our feelings which dictate our behaviors. Most therapists out there will subscribe to different theoretical approaches, but I’d be fairly confident to assume that almost all utilize some element of CBT as a tool to help those struggling with anxiety, depression, trauma, and the like.
And so the principle goes – if we want to change anything; if we want to begin to find healing and freedom from Postpartum Anxiety and Depression; we need to begin with our thoughts.
Slowing It Down
Did you know the average person experiences somewhere between 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day? Per day! And typically 98% of those thoughts are repetitive. The problem arises, then, as most of us aren’t aware of the majority of these thoughts. All we know is they flow constantly and without abandon right under the surface of our consciousness, triggering us to experience certain positive and negative emotions in response.
So then where do we start in our attempt to control our thoughts rather than letting them control us?
Well, firstly we need to slow.it.down.
Slow down that stream of consciousness to the point to where you can identify individual thoughts. Slow it down to the point where you can discover events that triggered those thoughts. Slow it down to where you can pinpoint specific emotional and behavioral responses. To slow it all down allows you to see the cause and effect. Our anxiety and hopelessness then become less random. It begins to make sense why we feel the way we do.
Patterns of Negative Thinking
There are many types of cognitive distortions or patterns of negative thinking which can lead to anxiety and depression. We will talk more in detail about all of these at our next PPD Group taking place on June 4th, but in the meantime here’s a few that you may recognize (from David Burns “The Feeling Good Handbook”):
Jumping to Conclusions – When you are preemptively assuming that things will turn out badly.
Examples: “What if I never bond with my baby?” “Today is probably going to be awful.”
All-or-Nothing Thinking – When you perceive things in absolutes and extremes.
Examples: “I am completely failing as a mother.” “I got absolutely nothing done today.”
Should Statements – When you criticize yourself with should’s, have-to’s, musts, and the like.
Example: “I should be able to pump more – what’s wrong with me?” “I have to work out every day if I’m going to lose this baby weight.”
These are just a few of the many negative thinking patterns that add fuel to the Postpartum fire. Even just writing them down sparked a bit of anxiety in me, so imagine the effect when we are plagued with these thoughts from the moment we wake up to the moment we (try to) fall asleep.
Again, we will discuss these thoughts and methods to combat them more at our next PPD meeting, but for now let me keep it simple.
- Identify the thought(s) that is(are) stirring up anxiety and depression.
- Look at that thought. Weigh it out. Is it true? Is there evidence to support it?
- Identify what emotions and behaviors that thought is then triggering.
- Dispute the thought. List out the reasons why it is untrue. Begin to train yourself to reason with facts over emotions.
- Replace the thought with something true. The truth does not have to be sunshine and rainbows. It does not need to be the opposite of the negative thought. But it will be something more life-giving; something that leads to peace and contentment rather than panic and sadness.
- Keep doing this, over and over and over again. Until your heart catches up with your head.
I look forward to discussing this with you more on June 4th. It will be a great opportunity for us to identify our lies (we all have our “go-to’s) and help each other gain the skill and confidence to start fighting back.
Come join us at Breath of Life Birth Center on the first Monday of every month, for our PPMD Mom’s Groups. This is a group for all women, and those who may be experiencing postpartum mood disorders or similar symptoms, are curious, or just want to connect with women on this wild ride we call Momming. Click here for event details.
Courtney Ellis is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor providing confidential, spiritually-sensitive therapy to the Tampa Bay area. Learn more about her at www.healinghurtinghearts.com.