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How Motherhood Affects Anxiety

My Anxiety Completely Transformed When I Became a Mom, but Not in a Good Way

They say energy can't be created, only transformed, so maybe I should have known that my anxiety disorder wouldn't magically disappear when I became a mom. I had dealt with anxiety my whole life before I was formally diagnosed in college. What led me to believe this debilitating mental illness would cure itself after therapy and medication had barely been able to rein it in?

It's the cruel joke of the universe that all children think their parents have their sh*t together — and only once we become parents ourselves do we discover that this isn't the case. I guess I'm no different; I have to admit I was more than a little annoyed when I realized my anxiety was here to stay after my daughter came into the world.

I'm not going to sugarcoat anything here. More than a year into this parenting journey, I still feel major anxiety over my adventurous toddler.

Instead, just like the law of thermodynamics predicts, my anxiety transformed into new manifestations. The energy once reserved for my debilitating fears of social rejection, academic failure, and other personal inadequacies was redirected. Now I mostly obsess over my daughter's safety and comfort. While I do still worry about how others perceive me as a mom, that takes a backseat to the blind fear that comes with being responsible for another human being's life.

When my daughter was a newborn, I mentally catalogued all possible causes of discomfort at the first sign of tears: Is she sick? Is she teething? Does she have a fever? Is she too hot? Too cold? Then if by some miracle the crying subsided and she fell asleep, the questions became more morbid: Is she still breathing? Did she suffocate or choke or freeze to death? What am I forgetting? I couldn't relax anywhere, even at home. I recalled all the studies I'd read about the most common baby injuries and how they usually happen in the child's home.

I'm not going to sugarcoat anything here. More than a year into this parenting journey, I still feel major anxiety over my adventurous toddler. A simple trip to the playground involves constant second-guessing about whether I've dressed her in enough layers, whether she'll break her leg going down the slide, and whether I'll lose sight of her for just long enough that something terrible happens.

Yet the more I acknowledge my fears, the easier it gets to address and evaluate them. And with time, I'm learning how to apply my coping mechanisms from before parenthood in a way that works with my new identity as a mom. If I can't find quiet relaxation at home, I go to Target to browse for an hour. Instead of watching TV before bed, I settle down with a few pages from a book. I confide in my partner, who talks me through anxious moments and takes over bedtime when I can't do it. While I may never be rid of my anxiety, I hope that I'll reach a point where I'm able to more effectively control it. The key is that I'm constantly working at it — channeling and transforming that anxious energy toward productive resolutions.

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