Dancer Sharna Burgess Says Intrusive Mom Thoughts Caused a "Full-Blown Panic Attack"

Australian ballroom dancer Sharna Burgess — best known for her role in "Dancing With the Stars" — is getting vulnerable about the unexpected side of motherhood. In an interview with Good Morning America, Burgess shared her experience with intrusive mom thoughts.

"I had imagined the absolute worst-case scenario. And I felt myself having this panic attack, which I've never had a panic attack before," she said. "I'm a new mom, and all of a sudden, I was in this full-blown panic attack."

Burgess first opened up about this postpartum challenge in an Instagram post, admitting that the intrusive thoughts initially made her think "something was wrong with my brain." But they are a very "real thing," she said.

Burgess explained them as "these super dark thoughts of all the things that could go wrong. All the ways I or life could accidentally hurt my baby. Falling down stairs holding him, sickness, a car accident.. the list is long but I won't share it. If you know you know."

The intrusive thoughts came as a shock to Burgess who had otherwise been handling postpartum life relatively well. "I was doing great with postpartum and I definitely couldn't say that I was struggling with postpartum depression, but I certainly struggled with those intrusive mom thoughts," Burgess told Good Morning America.

The dancer welcomed her son, Zane Walker, earlier this year with partner Brian Austin Green, an American actor known for his roles on shows like "90210" and "Desperate Housewives."

"5 months in and I still get [intrusive thoughts] but I have learned to tame them and understand them and most of all.. realized I am not alone. That last one was a huge relief," Burgess wrote in her Instagram post. The dancer went on to explain why this sort of negative thinking occurs.

"I guess it makes sense too, we have this massive responsibility suddenly upon us when we leave that hospital . . . in a diaper.. sleep deprived, emotionally charged but also depleted, trying to piece ourselves back together and let's not forget .. in pain. That new responsibility is filled with so much love, wonder and awe but nobody warns you about the equal amount of fear that now lives within you. It's the most excruciating love you've ever felt and its overwhelming, at least for me it was."

According to Harvard Health Publishing, intrusive thoughts often stem from stress or anxiety — even biological or hormonal shifts (like postpartum bodily changes) can trigger strange or disturbing thoughts. Often, intrusive thoughts take the form of troubling images that might include "violent or sexual, or a recurring fear that you'll do something inappropriate or embarrassing," Harvard Health Publishing notes. These thoughts aren't uncommon, as the Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that roughly six million Americans are impacted by intrusive thoughts. And a 2019 study published in BMC Psychiatry, reported that over 70 percent of new moms have said they've experienced intrusive thoughts of infant-related harm.

"I shake it off and call in a memory that I can't wait to make with Zane. All of the firsts that he has coming."

However, there are ways to cope. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says identifying these thoughts, facing them head-on, managing stress levels, and focusing on healthy sleeping habits can all help with severity.

Burgess shared two coping tools in her post that she uses regularly, including deep breathing exercises.

"1. Deep cleansing breaths taking in as much air as you can and hold as you say 'I release all thoughts that do not serve me' then control that breathe out imagining those words and the feeling they bring leaving you. Repeat repeat 2. When I need a quicker fix I physically swipe my hand in front of my eyes and say 'no' and imagine that image being destroyed and gone. I shake it off and call in a memory that I can't wait to make with Zane. All of the firsts that he has coming," she writes.

When it comes to mental health — especially after giving birth — it's important to remember you're not alone. "You're doing great mama, remember that 🤍," Burgess said in her post.