Can I make intrusive thoughts go away? 4 ways to ease your mind

Can I make intrusive thoughts go away? 4 ways to ease your mind


The truth is that this happens to most people and it especially happens to mothers postpartum.


Scary or unwanted intrusive thoughts during the postpartum phase is one of the most common reasons why many women seek therapy or mental health support. These scary thoughts in motherhood can really weigh on you and have an impact on your mental wellbeing, mood, and even how you go about your day. 

Most of us experience intrusive thoughts at one point or another. These are the unwelcome, disturbing images that enter your mind seemingly for no reason. You’ve probably experienced this. But what separates normal intrusive thoughts that everyone has, and that are problematic is all about the impairment those thoughts have in your life. Thoughts are just thoughts, but if those thoughts impact you in significant ways then they are something to pay attention to and get support with. 

An example of an intrusive thought could be envisioning a car crash while you’re driving to the supermarket with your children in the back seat. It could also be mentally picturing your child falling down the stairs and breaking her arm. Or, a common one, being somewhere high up like a cliff or the tenth storey of an apartment building and wondering if you’ll jump. You might be nodding along as you’re reading this thinking, “Yup, I’ve totally imagined some of these horrific scenarios!” 



Sometimes these thoughts are even violent, or disturbing, and can cause you to question yourself. But regardless of the content of your thoughts, the process to manage them is the same. If you’re alarmed about your thoughts, I want you to know that you’re not weird, or wrong, or a bad mother. The truth is that this happens to most people and it especially happens to mothers postpartum. You can read all about intrusive thoughts here to find out why they happen, what they look like, and what they mean. 

For the sake of context though, the really quick explanation is that intrusive thoughts that cause significant distress in your life are a product of anxiety. Your hypervigilant, protective mother brain is on high alert assessing threats and scanning for danger. And sometimes, these thoughts are based in scary scenarios that have either already happened, or could possibly happen in the future (like if your child has a serious medical condition). Your brain is endlessly creative and so any thoughts could become intrusive when they bombard you and cause distress. 



What intrusive thoughts sound like


One of the most important things about intrusive thoughts is to recognize them for what they are (intrusive, involuntary, and often meaningless, more on that later.) You might have a hard time identifying these thoughts for what they are at first. That’s why I’m providing a list of some of the most common intrusive thoughts that I hear from new mothers all the time. Please note that I’m naming these in order to normalize the scary thoughts that many mothers experience and to help you recognize this common symptom in motherhood so that you can feel less alone and less scared when they pop up. Please take care while reading. 

  • “My baby is so tiny and vulnerable. What if I drop her? What if I let someone else hold her and they drop her?” 
  • “My child is signed up to go swimming/rock climbing/on an active school trip. What if there’s an accident?” 
  • “What if he falls down the stairs?”
  • “I hope I don’t inappropriately touch my child while diaper changing.” 
  • “I could get in a car accident/plane crash/natural disaster and what would happen to my kids?” 
  • “What would happen if I got diagnosed with a serious illness and died?”
  • “There are so many illnesses dominating headlines. What if my child gets sick?”
  • “What if the older one plays too rough and hurts the younger one?”
  • “Why can’t I stop picturing gruesome dog attacks?”
  • My husband works a dangerous job, what if he doesn’t come home? 
  • My child has a medical condition and I can’t stop worrying about how their life will be. 



How can I make intrusive thoughts go away? 


This is one of the most asked and most researched questions for mothers who experience intrusive thoughts. This is something that can have a significant impact on your happiness, your mental health, your routine and even your relationships with family. It’s understandable that you may then want to put your focus into stopping the thoughts in their tracks. That makes sense, right? These horrifying mental images are causing distress, why not learn how to prevent them from happening in the first place? 

The unfortunate thing is that you can’t actually stop them (not directly, at least). That’s not how the mind works. Focusing on the thoughts in this way is actually putting energy into them and making the problem worse (even though your intentions are the opposite). 

Consider this example: If I were to tell you to think about anything other than a green goat, what would happen? In trying not to think about a green goat, you’re probably thinking about only that, right? The same thing goes with intrusive thoughts. 



So what do I do then? 


In knowing that you can’t really make intrusive thoughts go away,  you may feel at a loss when trying to learn how to manage them. The fortunate thing is that there *are* some actions you can take to take their power away and lessen the impact they’re having on your life. Here are four simple steps which will enable you to get a grip on this thinking pattern. 

  • Name them. Having a mental image about something awful happening to you, your children, or your partner can feel really devastating. Mindfulness is key here though. When you recognize one of these thoughts as it pops up, try naming it. Even saying out loud, “That’s an intrusive thought,” can help you recognize it for what it is. It’s just a thought, it’s not real, and it’s often not realistic. 
  • Negotiate their meaning. Our minds can play tricks on us. One of the problems with intrusive thinking is that we can make more meaning of them than necessary. An example of that would be if you have the thought and then you spiral into an anxious cycle afterwards. That could look like worrying about whether or not the thought was a premonition, wondering if you’re a bad mom, fearing that you’re a danger to your kids, or changing your behaviours in an attempt to prevent the thought from becoming reality. For example, maybe you have a scary thought about your baby falling off the changing table. If you start handing off that task to your partner instead as you yourself avoid it, you’re giving the thought weight and meaning. Instead, try saying, “That’s just an intrusive though and nothing more. This just means I’m feeling anxious these days.”
  • Get proactive with anxiety management. Since difficult intrusive thoughts are often just a product of anxiety, one of the best things you can do is look for ways to reduce said stress and anxiety. The issue isn’t really whether or not your child falls down the stairs or if you one day get in a car crash. These situations are hypothetical and haven’t actually materialized. The same cannot be said for your anxiety though. Take a look at your life and ask how you can manage this better? What self-care strategies can you implement each day? Movement? Calming music? Finding more moments to slow down, and sit in silence with a cup of tea? And what can you take off your plate? Maybe your schedule is too jam-packed or you’re doing the bulk of parenting responsibilities. When you do an assessment of your routine and stressors, you can come up with a plan. If you’re at a loss, here are 10 simple ways that you can manage anxiety every day
  • Seek support. Sometimes you just need help! If intrusive thoughts are way too frequent or they’re having a significant impact on your overall well being, reach out to someone for support. Everyone receives support in a different way so think about the strategy that works best for you. Asking a family member to step in with some childcare could make all the difference in easing your anxiety. Or, set up an appointment with a trusted therapist trained in perinatal mental health who actually *gets it.* I’ve made an entire career out of supporting mothers through this chapter and if you’re in Canada, my team of qualified therapists at The Canadian Perinatal Wellness Collective are here to support you. If you’re more into self-study, my new workshop on intrusive thoughts is a good place to start. Check it out here! 


What postpartum anxiety feels like: 8 early signs you may be suffering

What postpartum anxiety feels like: 8 early signs you may be suffering


Suspect you may have PPA? Here are 8 of the most common signs.


The weeks and months after giving birth is a significant time in your life. In fact, it’s probably one of *the* most memorable times ever. But there’s also a lot of confusion, a steep learning curve, and emotions usually run pretty high. That makes sense. 

Between recovering from birth (especially in cases where it was traumatic), learning to breastfeed, dealing with sleeplessness, and sitting with new mom anxiety, this period isn’t an easy one. (As if that’s not an understatement, right?!) Of course, there’s a lot of joy during this stage of the perinatal period. But there’s also a lot of mood challenges, mental health difficulties, and anxiety. 

Having a new baby is confusing enough as it is. Hey, you have the needs of a whole human being to look out for! But your wellbeing matters just as much and shouldn’t be overlooked. And when you’re not even clear about your own mood changes, that can just make everything feel so much more confusing. 

If you’re reading this in the postpartum period and you know *something* feels off, there’s a chance you’re dealing with postpartum anxiety (PPA). 



What is PPA? 


PPA is an anxiety disorder that feels mostly the same as general anxiety. The difference is that it occurs during the perinatal period whereas regular anxiety can happen at any point in your life. It’s different from what we know as the “baby blues” which is a temporary emotional dip that many women experience right after birth as their hormones adjust. 

If you already have an anxiety disorder or you’ve experienced mood difficulties in the past, you are at a greater risk of suffering from PPA as well. (Though, there’s no way to be 100% certain.) A lot of women ask what postpartum anxiety feels like, when it happens, or how to get clear on whether or not PPA is at play. 

Below, I’ve rounded up some of the most common indicators that you could have PPA. How many do you relate to? 



8 signs you may be experiencing postpartum anxiety: 


  • You feel nervous for most of the day. Do you spend a significant portion of your waking hours worrying about something? A lot of women who experience postpartum anxiety say that their thoughts jump from one fear to the next, to the next. This could be about anything related to your baby’s sleeping or feeding habits, to you missing an important cue, or maybe you’re anxious about returning to work and how you’ll balance both areas of your life. The question to ask yourself here is if the anxiety is infrequent, or if it’s taking up most of your days. 
  • Your mind is preoccupied with intrusive thoughts or “what if” thinking. Intrusive thoughts are the scary thoughts or images that pop into your mind for no reason. Usually they relate to harm coming to you or your baby and they can be quite disturbing. You might, for example, be dining on a balcony and suddenly have a sudden mental image of your baby slipping off the side. Even though these thoughts are hard to sit with, they’re just a sign of anxiety and don’t mean anything beyond that. If they’re causing you a lot of trouble, then check out this workshop where I teach you how to manage these thoughts. 
  • You struggle to sleep at night. Alright, we all know that moms with newborn babies spend a lot of the night hours awake, feeding, or settling cries. These are exhausting, but normal, sleep disturbances. If, however, you regularly experience insomnia and are unable to sleep beyond that (i.e. when your infant is fast asleep, you’ve already fed her, and you have the opportunity to rest), that’s one of the early signs of PPA. 
  • You’re more irritable or angry than usual. This isn’t one of the most obvious signs of anxiety that we first think of but anger and being quick to snap is a sign of PPA. Think about it: anger or irritability come up more easily when our needs aren’t being met. Since anxiety drains your batteries and is a constant burden on your mental energy, you’re more likely to be at capacity and therefore quicker to anger. 
  • You experience physical symptoms like nausea or headaches. When we think of anxiety, we may think about that uncomfortable, queasy feeling in the stomach. That’s a physical sign that something is off and postpartum anxiety could be taking a toll. Other physical signs to look out for could include difficulty breathing, a tightness in the throat or chest, fatigue, nausea, headaches, or brain fog. Ask yourself when these feelings set in and if they’re accompanied by anything else on this list. 
  • You can’t stop overthinking. Overthinking is also known as ruminating. Many anxiety sufferers deal with this mental habit. Do you regularly find yourself getting stuck on one thought that you just can’t let go of? For example, maybe a conversation really bothered you and you can’t stop replaying it in your head. You could also be dealing with a baby-related issue (her stomach is upset, she isn’t sleeping through the night, or you’re having trouble with breastfeeding). Ruminating is when you go over the problem again and again in your mind. If your thoughts are repetitive, on loop, and never actually reach a solution, postpartum anxiety could be the real issue.
  • You suspect that the anxiety is going overboard. What’s the difference between normal worry and postpartum anxiety? When you’re the main caregiver of a delicate and tiny baby, it’s only natural that some things are going to make you nervous. When your baby cries and you don’t know why, that’s upsetting. If he has an infection, it’s normal to worry. The issue is when your level of worry is disproportionate to the trigger. Or, if the cause of your anxiety isn’t logical or likely but is having a negative effect on your wellbeing anyway, that could be a sign of a bigger issue. 
  • You’ve changed certain behaviours in an effort to avoid or control uncomfortable feelings. Certain symptoms of anxiety (like intrusive thoughts, phobias, or worry) OCD) can actually become so serious that we start to change how we act in order to avoid the discomfort. This is not what we want to do, as it gives power to the anxiety.. This is also a sign that you’ve attributed too much meaning to your thoughts and may need help managing them. Say you often catch yourself worrying about an accident occurring by the river near your home, for example. If you start avoiding walking past the river even though it’s on the way to several areas where you need to go, that would be a sign of anxiety becoming problematic. 


How many of eight signs of postpartum anxiety do you relate to? I hope this content always helps educate and give insight into personal patterns. 

If you’re here, I want you to know that even extreme cases of PPA are treatable. If you know that you’re dealing with postpartum anxiety (or you’re just feeling anxious in general), I have two tools for you. Firstly, my course Mama Calm addresses all things anxiety. From PPA, to understanding intrusive thoughts, to learning anxiety management tools, I’ve got you covered. Secondly, my anxiety workbook is a free resource for those of you who want a simple starting place today.  


Why ruminating is keeping you stuck

Why ruminating is keeping you stuck


This circular thinking is repetitive, unproductive and may *feel* like a genuine attempt to solve a current problem.

Here’s an all too common scenario: you’re in bed at night ready for some much needed relaxation and sleep. You’ve turned the lights out but the second you do, you start to replay a conversation from earlier in the day. You get stuck on the intention behind what was said (“What did he mean when he said X? Was he really implying Y?”). You wish you had responded differently in the moment. (What I *should* have said was…). And before you know it, you’re thinking in circles replaying the moment over and over again. 

Have you been here before? 

Or maybe your mind isn’t stuck on a particular conversation or event from the day. Sometimes our minds can cling to details around future plans, milestones, something that’s causing stress, or general life satisfaction. 



Maybe you’re a mom who is wanting to add to your family, for example. You already have a child and now your fertility journey for baby number two isn’t going as expected. You might notice yourself obsessing over possible pregnancy symptoms, worrying about the what ifs, stressing over IVF treatments, or going over plans again and again. This is called rumination.



Ruminating 101


If this is sounding familiar, you might have a problem with rumination. Ruminating is a mental pattern where you can get stuck on a thought that you’re unable to let go of. It’s circular thinking that is repetitive, unproductive and may feel like a genuine attempt to solve a current problem or address a situation. If you’ve felt as though you just can’t get something off your mind, or you’ve been accused of obsessing or overthinking, you’re likely someone who has a pattern of ruminating. 

This is something that almost everyone experiences from time to time so if you’re recognizing yourself in this article so far, that’s not a bad thing. All mental habits, worries or anxieties can be treated. So it’s not just you and you can learn to break this habit. 



What does rumination look like in motherhood? 


Rumination is so common in motherhood. (That’s why you’re here, right?) Motherhood is generally quite a difficult time. Adjusting to increased responsibilities, dealing with anxiety that you couldn’t have seen coming, and mourning the loss of your past self all contribute to the stress. It seems reasonable that mentally, you just don’t have the capacity to think through things logically. Plus, you might notice yourself getting more stressed out about things that may not have bothered you before. There are also so many triggers that could cause thoughts to turn into a (seemingly) unstoppable series of ruminating thoughts. 

The below list includes common examples about what rumination might look like in motherhood. Relate to any of these? You’re not alone. 

  • Fertility. Wanting to add another member to your family but you’re experiencing fertility issues and you can’t stop thinking about it. 
  • Family planning. You *thought* you’d want more kids but now you’re not so sure so you go through the options on repeat every day.
  • Conversations. You replay conversations that already happened or you play out difficult talks in your mind that have yet to be had. 
  • What ifs. What if this? What if that? You create scenarios in your head, plan prevention or just generally stress on repeat about things that haven’t happened yet (and may never). 
  • Sleep. Ruminating about sleep (or lack thereof) can sound like replaying thoughts such as: “I’m going to be so tired tomorrow.” “I won’t be able to have the day I thought I’d have.” Or, “What’s the point of sleeping now? I’ll just have to get up again in X.” 
  • Career and returning to work. It’s so hard to be the mom you want to be and have the career you want to have. That’s why a lot of women find themselves trying to problem solve around this topic over and over again. (“Should I even go back to work?” “Becoming a mom has delayed my career. 



Why rumination is counter productive


How many of these examples sound familiar or relatable? Some? A couple? All? Ruminating can feel like it’s just you thoroughly thinking through a problem in an effort to come up with the best solution. The intention there is a great one. The reality, however, is that you just spend your time and energy thinking in circles. This is unproductive, draining, and not a good use of your mental space. The difference between rumination and spending time thoroughly thinking through an issue is that rumination doesn’t make any progress—you’re just thinking about the same thing over and over again. Ask yourself: has there been any movement on this issue? If not, it’s probably time to set it aside and move on. 

Easier said than done, right? 

I hear you and I understand that. As mentioned here though, every thinking pattern or habit can be changed. Ruminating is really just a symptoms of anxiety given that it’s based in worrying or trying to solve uncertainty. I’ve devoted my entire career to helping women—moms in particular—solve the anxiety-related issues that pop up in life… and especially in motherhood. Rumination, what-if thinking, stressing about fertility, and sleeplessness all fit under that umbrella. 

For support with all things anxiety, take a look at my bestselling course Mama Calm. Imagine a mind that feels calm, settled, and at peace rather than stressed out, chaotic, and unhappy. 


7 ways to regulate your nervous system and restore your calm

7 ways to regulate your nervous system and restore your calm


Imagine this scenario. It’s the Saturday morning after a long, stressful week. You’re in major need of self-care and some time spent relaxing with your family. Instead, the microwave is beeping, cartoons are on, noise from the street is audible, and your two kids are talking over each other trying to get your attention. Yikes! It’s way too much. You feel like you’re about to blow up. 

Relatable? If you’re a mom of young children or babies, this probably feels familiar. Situations like these are the perfect example of why we talk about nervous system regulation. This refers to the practice of physically calming your system down so that you can return to a state that is calm, rational, and grounded. 

“Nervous system regulation” is a term popping up all over the place these days. (If you run in circles that talk about mental health or if you engage in a lot of wellness content.) 

So why do we even talk about this? And why is nervous system regulation particularly important for mothers? 

In a nutshell, your nervous system is kind of like your personal surveillance system that’s designed to keep you (and your family) safe. It’s always running in the background looking for potential threats. The problem? It can be pretty sensitive sometimes and becomes activated unnecessarily. (Like during the Saturday morning example I shared above.) 

When this happens, you feel tense, on edge, unable to relax, hypervigilant, and you’re more likely to snap at your family or show up in a way that’s not aligned with how you want to be. 

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, quick to anger or always stressed, these strategies will enable you to bring yourself back down to calm in the moment. (Even when your kids are around!) :


  • Breath work. There are a lot of different styles of breath work that will help you regulate your nervous system. Try them out and see which one (s) work for you! Some examples of breathing exercises include: box breathing, belly breathing, yoga breathing, or extended exhales. When trying box breathing, inhale as you visualize drawing one side of a box. Hold your breath for the duration of the next side. Breathe out for the third side and hold for the final one. 


  • Movement. Give all that nervous energy somewhere to go! And no, this doesn’t have to be an intense cross fit session. Don’t overlook the benefits of something as simple as a walk. The over and back bilateral stimulation regulates your nervous system. Plus, getting away from the things that are causing stress will be a good reset. Being outdoors in an environment with forests, rivers, and clean air is known to reduce cortisol. 


  • Use your voice. You don’t have to be the next Rihanna to enjoy the perks of singing (or humming if you prefer). When you activate your voice, you’re stimulating your vagus nerve which in turn calms your nervous system. Pretty cool, right? Singing or humming isn’t the only way to do this: you can also gargle or flap your lips. 

  • Physical touch. You’ve probably heard of the cuddle hormone, oxytocin. When you cuddle or hug a loved one (or snuggle the family pet), you decrease stress, lower your heart rate, and stabilize your nervous system. If no one is in the house with you, you can do this for yourself by using a weighted blanket or even hugging yourself firmly.

  • Rocking. Rocking from side to side soothes your nervous system for many of the same reasons that walking does. The bilateral stimulation in your body brings you back to a state of calm as gentle, rhythmic rocking releases endorphins and improves your mood. There’s a reason why parents rock their babies in order to stop their crying and that works for you too! 

  • Cold exposure. Sometimes when we’re triggered and our nervous system is kicked into high gear, we feel hot, sweaty and unable to cool down. For this reason, I’m recommending cold exposure. This can look like grabbing an ice pack from the freezer and placing it on your chest. Or, consider taking a cool shower. 


  • Shake it out. When you feel that fight-or-flight mode kicking in, try stopping in your tracks and taking a quick minute to literally shake it out. Direct that burst of energy into a quick dance session or shake your hands and arms. You can also try stomping your feet or doing heel drops. (Lifting and lowering yourself to the ground by lifting yourself to your toes and then dropping back down so that your heels are flat on the floor.)


Regulating your nervous system is a hot topic right now for good reason. And it isn’t something you usually learn in a day. This is about more than just calming down. You have to actually learn how to physically do that. If this is speaking to your experience lately, I have two resources that can help. My workshop with therapist Jana Jesson is here. If anxiety is at the root of your overwhelm, consider my bestselling course, Mama Calm, which addresses all things anxiety. 


How to manage anxiety when it’s about real problems

How to manage anxiety when it’s about real problems


How do I cope with anxiety when the threat is real? What’s the difference between anxiety that’s based on realistic and possible outcomes versus anxiety that is not.


Managing anxiety can be difficult under the best of circumstances. If you struggle with anxiety, you’ve probably had days where you’ve felt totally knocked off your feet or your thoughts have spiralled out of control. When you’re dealing with this mental health challenge (especially during the perinatal period or early motherhood), you’re likely experiencing more than just a case of butterflies in your tummy. Anxiety can lead to rage, insomnia, the inability to focus, intrusive thoughts, or just feeling physically unwell. Even high-functioning anxiety can cause self-doubt or low self worth. 



If this is something that you’ve been struggling with a lot lately, then you’re probably at least aware of some of the tools you can use to bring your nervous system down and control anxiety. Oftentimes, you’ll hear about giving your anxiety a bit of a reality check. This can sound like, “Most of the things you’re worried about will never happen,” or “Is that fear actually realistic or are you just anxious?”  

But what happens when your anxiety is based in reality and these arguments therefore aren’t valid? 

In this post, I talk about the differences between anxiety that’s based on realistic and possible outcomes versus anxiety that is not, and how to cope when the threat is real. 



When anxious thoughts aren’t based in reality


When you’re dealing with scary thoughts in motherhood (known as intrusive thoughts), OCD, you’re sleep deprived, or your nervous system is overwhelmed, your thoughts might focus on things that really aren’t all that likely.

For example, you may have a fear that someone will break in in the middle of the night… despite the fact that nobody ever has and your home is extra secure. Or, you may have a compulsive need to clean the kitchen to avoid illness even though it’s always spotless and nobody in your family has experienced food poisoning from something they’ve eaten at home. Maybe, you have an intrusive thought about accidentally driving off a bridge with your kids in the car (as scary as it is, you know you’re not actually going to do that!). 

Because these thoughts aren’t based on something that is likely to happen, it’s possible to de-escalate the anxiety with logic. For some people, it can be easier to let go of these worries in these situations because reason has a better argument than your worried, what if thinking. 

Other times though, even if you can reason with anxiety, it’s not helpful. Anxiety will always find the loophole, and pull you into the debate over and over again. 



Anxiety about very real threats


But what happens when your anxiety is triggered by something that isn’t so far-fetched? How can you control anxiety when it’s based on very real concerns? Sometimes anxiety is based on unlikely far-fetched worries, but other times, it’s a reaction to probable or realistically possible outcomes that we don’t want to be faced with. 

Maybe you don’t even normally struggle with mood issues or anxiety but now, a situation that your family is dealing with has you awake at night, fretting throughout the day, quick to anger, or unable to focus on anything else. This is completely valid. This is also one of the most frequently asked questions that mothers in my community ask about. 

Some of the most common anxieties rooted in realistic threats include: 

  • Anxiety about a recently diagnosed medical issue or condition
  • Anxiety about real health threats like COVID, or RSV
  • Fearing your abilities to deal with something like a disability or learning issue
  • The stress of being pregnant again after a miscarriage
  • Unease about finances and supporting your family after a job loss
  • Wondering how you’ll cope during a time of extreme inflation
  • Worrying about your child who is being bullied in school
  • Worrying about children’s emotional wellbeing after the loss of a loved one
  • Anxiety around the unknowns of divorce or separation 
  • Having to juggle turbulent co-parenting situations after a divorce/breakup
  • Fearing threats to safety while they’re in school  
  • Worrying about threats that you face because of where you live (i.e. high crime rate, natural disasters, etc.)



How to cope:


First of all, if you’re relating to anything in the above list, your feelings are valid. Anxiety is always hard to sit with and that’s even more so the case when your thoughts are centred on something real, probable, or currently upon you. That’s not to invalid other forms of anxiety—like less-realistic intrusive thoughts —but it is to acknowledge that this is hard and you may need to rely on slightly different coping methods. 

If this post has so far been describing your experience, consider the following coping tactics: 


1. Practice tolerating uncomfortable things. This is not the strategy that people typically want to hear about, I get that. We usually want to get rid of problems, and not feel pain. Of course that’s what we all want! But as yu know, like throws some curveballs, and sometimes these curveballs don’t go away, or at least not anytime soon. So what an you do then? A major part of anxiety management is learning to sit with the discomfort of the “threat” and more specifically, accepting that you don’t know what the future hold. Yeesh, so tough. 

So let’s say your child has a medical condition that’s scary: how can you practise saying something like “yes this is so scary, and it’s so hard not knowing, and I can still be okay even with those fears.” Sometimes reminding ourselves of the human experience that almost always contains suffering can be helpful. “This is so hard, but I know I am not alone. I can handle this.”

Anxiety is really a doubt disorder, where we struggle to accept uncertainty and not knowing. The way through this is practising sitting in that uncomfortable feeling of not knowing what will happen, rather than trying to control or predict or avoid.  All we can do is our best in any given moment. And the more we can accept uncertainty, the better our experience in this life will feel. 


2. Control the controllable. You’ve probably heard this piece of advice before, right? Anxiety lives in the future. It exists because of the unknowns or the uncertainty in your life and the fact that in many situations, you have no say about the outcome. Controlling the controllable, on the other hand, enables you to assess the situation to see what you do have power over. When you become determined to take charge where you can, you might be surprised by all the ways where you can influence how you deal with a stressful event. For example, no matter the source of the anxiety, you can always control: 

  • How you treat your body
  • Whether or not you carve out adequate time for sleep and downtime
  • Who you choose to socialize with (and whether or not you spend time with those who energize you instead of drain you)
  • Whether or not your days include simple self-care
  • If entertainment like books, the new, movies, and TV create a sense of calm rather than adding to the nervous energy 


3. Set up a plan and avoid rumination. When dealing with something complicated like a separation from your partner, a stressful financial situation or a scary diagnosis, it can be helpful to sit down and really think through a solid plan of action and stick to it. Think of it from all angles. Why is this the best way to manage this challenge? How will you communicate that with your family? What’s the biggest obstacle that could get in the way of executing this plan and how will you overcome it? How can you still focus on what’s important to you in life, even though this hard thing is happening? 

Once you’ve thought through these questions, try to avoid ruminating. Ruminating is the action of overthinking, analyzing, and problem-solving on a loop. Even though it can *feel* productive, it isn’t. Ruminating just serves to take up more mental space, pull your focus back to the problem instead of to other things in your life, and it contributes to increased stress and burn-out. 

You will need to learn how to notice when you’re ruminating, so that you can catch yourself in the act, and choose to focus on something different. Easier said than done, I know. 


4. Sharpen your anxiety management tools. Not all anxiety management tools work equally for everyone so you get to take the lead here and choose which one(s) you want to use to improve your experience. Some of the best methods to manage anxiety (many that you can learn in therapy or self-help courses) include: mindfulness, meditation, time in nature, exercise, creative practices, mantras, nervous system regulation skills, compassionate self-talk, and even daily journalling. 

Managing anxiety and learning new mental habits isn’t something you master overnight though—it takes practice, patience, routine, and repetition. That’s why one way to protect your mental health while faced with difficult scenarios in life is to sharpen these anxiety tools by including them in your daily routine as much as possible. That light feeling you might get after a run may not happen the second day out but if you stick to it, a month from now that could become your lifeline. Similarly, setting an intention at the beginning of a morning yoga flow might not come naturally at first. By week two though, this could be the morning routine that sets the tone for your day. 


5. Outsource support where possible. Despite the stereotypes, we’re not meant to be the “mom who does it all.” (And honestly, can we just ban that term already?! It’s such an unrealistic standard and it just makes moms feel bad!) You’re not meant to do this all alone. You need help and it’s a sign of strength to ask for it. That could mean reaching out to family and friends of course. It could also mean booking time to talk with your child’s teacher, finding the right specialists or doctors in the event of a medical issue, or finding a community of others who are going through the same thing you are. The value of feeling seen, validated, and supported by the right people isn’t to be underestimated.  


If you’re dealing with a trauma, processing a difficult event, or generally anxious about real threats that are a risk to your family, there’s always support for that. My course, Mama Calm, is my bestselling program for those who struggle with all kinds of anxiety. This is where you learn to recognize your anxiety and how (and when!) it shows up for you. As for those anxiety management tools mentioned in this article, this is where you learn them all so that you can choose which one(s) work best for you. Learn more here.


Anxiety-related insomnia: Why can’t I sleep even though I’m exhausted?

Anxiety-related insomnia: Why can’t I sleep even though I’m exhausted?


For moms who are feeling fatigued, sleep deprived and way too anxious about bedtime…


You’re exhausted and yet when the sun sets and it comes time for bed, you can’t sleep at all. You toss and turn. You wonder if your child/baby is actually safe (despite all the precautions you take to ensure that they are). You go over the day’s ups and downs and ruminate over what could have gone better or whatever upset you. 

Pretty soon, it has been an hour or two since turning out the lights and you’re still wide awake… despite feeling so fatigued all day long. Or maybe you fall asleep, but after getting up to feed your baby, you lay wide-awake and can’t drift off again. 

Sound like your reality these days? This could be anxiety-related insomnia. 



I remember experiencing this myself. I’d lie awake all night so much that I came to dread bedtime. I felt like I was in this alternate universe⁠—one where I was alone and awake counting down the hours until sunrise… and everyone else was fast asleep. There’s no beating around the bush here: this feels awful. 

If this is you, you might notice yourself adding to the problem with thoughts like: “What’s the point of sleeping now?” “I’m going to be even more exhausted tomorrow?” “This is so pointless—I hate how sleep is going these days.”

If you’re struggling with anxiety-related insomnia in pregnancy or motherhood, I want to walk you through everything from identifying the problem, getting to the root, and making some necessary changes. 



Identifying anxiety-related insomnia


Insomnia is defined by having difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or waking too early despite having given yourself plenty of opportunity to get adequate hours of shut eye. This is about the difficulty with sleep that is above and beyond the challenges that are directly related to your kids (like waking up to feed or change). 

You might wake up with a sense of dread and never feel completely rested. This can be a short-term issue (as in lasting three months or less) or it can be ongoing and long-term. If you’re dealing with insomnia, you probably feel fatigued, experience mood changes, you worry about sleep before going to bed, and you’re having trouble concentrating throughout the day. 

Insomnia is a state of hyper-arousal which means that your mind is highly active, you’re hyperaware, hyper-vigilance, and in turn, more prone to stress. Women who are pregnant or have recently given birth need to know that anxiety-related insomnia is experienced by a larger percentage of women in the perinatal stage compared to women of the same age who are not. 



Why a proper night’s sleep is so important


Ever notice how everyone seems to check in and focus on your baby’s sleep during the early postpartum weeks and months? Hello, what about mum’s sleep!? 

I remember feeling so shocked by how sleepless this time was, how alone I felt in this struggle and how impossible advice like, “Sleep when the baby sleeps!” felt. People tend to show genuine concern over whether or not your infant is sleeping (valid and well meaning) but your own sleep (or lack thereof) is arguably more important. 

Quality and quantity of sleep is correlated with every facet of health—especially mental health. In a society that often prizes early risers or those who sacrifice hours or shut-eye in order to “be more productive,” we tend to forget this. 

So much of our physical and mental health hinges on our ability to get decent sleep each night. And I know, this can feel totally out of reach or even impossible during the early stages. But we have to look at the importance of continuing to work toward more sleep for parents. Without it, you could experience poor mental functioning, a poor immune system, higher blood pressure, higher risk of health issues, poor moods, and a higher risk of mood disorders. 

If you’re in the perinatal stage and suffering from anxiety-related insomnia, you’re at a greater risk of developing postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. 



Ok, so why does anxiety cause insomnia?


The anxiety that you’re experiencing prevents you from shutting off your mind or tuning out repetitive or negative thoughts. Hands up if your internal dialogue sounds a little bit like…

“…What if my baby/child isn’t actually safe and something happens?”

“…If I fall asleep now, I’ll only get X hours of sleep. What a disaster!” 

“…That thing today made me so upset, what I should have said is X.” 

“…My baby almost got hurt today. Let me think nonstop about how I could have prevented that.”

“…What if I missed a cue from my baby and something bad happens tonight? It will be all my fault.”

See how all of these types of thoughts are rooted in anxiety and likely would prevent you from feeling relaxed enough to sleep? 

Dwelling, ruminating or anxious “what if” thinking are the types of thoughts patterns that keep your mind from being quiet. Did you know that anxiety is also generally much worse at night for a reason?

If you’re a new mom, you’re also just prone to being more on guard. When you have a baby or little ones, you’re naturally going to be more aware of potential dangers or threats. Your nervous system (i.e. that good old flight or fight response) is more activated as well. All of these lead to increased anxiety. Remember: you cannot be anxious and relaxed at the same time. 

So if you’re dysregulated and your nervous system is working overtime, you’re not going to be able to be in a calm enough state to sleep. Doesn’t that just make sense? 



What else contributes to insomnia? 


Sure, anxiety has a lot to do with why you might be wide-eyed well into the wee hours every night. But for mothers in the perinatal period, there’s a whole list of other contributors as well. Some include: 

  • Physical changes. (Pregnancy, labour, breastfeeding, hormonal changes and circadian rhythm all can cause levels of discomfort which interrupt sleep.)
  • Increased stress. (There’s more on your plate, the stakes are higher, and many relationships go through some level of tension during this time.) Hence, why you might feel like you hate your partner after having a baby.
  • Mental distress. (You may have a family history of mental health issues or you may have a personal history with this.)
  • Lifestyle factors. (Sedentary lifestyles as well as diets consisting of high levels of sugar, alcohol and caffeine are the perfect mix of factors that could lead to insomnia)
  • Behavioural changes. (You’re up more with a baby or with kids. If you already struggled with insomnia, this will only make matters worse.)
  • Individual factors. (Things like perfectionism or being highly sensitive can contribute to insomnia.) 



Getting a better sleep 


Even though it might not feel like it, there’s a lot that is within your control in order to get a better night’s sleep during this period of life. Start by assessing your own situation to learn of the potential causes. Certain things like improving your sleep environment or making simple lifestyle changes are relatively easy. Take a look at the room you’re sleeping in. Could it be more comfortable? Is there anything you can do to reduce light, noise, and manage the temperature better? 

Next, be honest with yourself about what lifestyle changes need to happen. When things feel chaotic during the postpartum period, it can be easy to put exercise or movement on the back burner. Something as simple as a daily walk or a gentle yoga sequence while your baby is napping totally counts. Let it be easy, right? 

Diet is another important area to look at. Again, the stress of early motherhood leads lots of us to craving more desserts or comfort foods than before or that extra glass of wine on a more regular basis. While that may bring comfort in the moment, those are things that can have a negative impact on sleep. Could you get a similar comfort from something else that isn’t laden with sugar and/or alcohol?

As discouraging as it can be to be battling with insomnia, it’s important to remember that this is a struggle only for right now. This is not forever. You will get through this patch. You won’t always be this exhausted. You will sleep again. 

For added support, I have a course designed to help you deal with anxiety-related insomnia during the perinatal phase: How to Manage Insomnia and Sleep Anxiety in Early Motherhood. Learn why you’re struggling to sleep, what’s getting in your way, and what steps to take that actually work. Let’s get you feeling less sleep deprived and more calm, rested, and capable for what your days present!