The 4 most obvious signs of anxiety in pregnancy

While the rates of mood disorders in pregnancy and in postpartum are exactly the same, we remain tight-lipped about mental health challenges in pregnancy. Prenatal anxiety is just as common as postpartum depression.

signs of anxiety in pregnancy

Though mainstream conversation wouldn’t have you believe it, anxiety in pregnancy is just as common as postpartum depression. In discussions about the transition to motherhood, we hear the term “postpartum depression” quite commonly. Mental health struggles during pregnancy however is a neglected topic. It’s no wonder that no one seems to know about the mental health matters that so many women suffer from in the months and weeks after conceiving. While the rates of these mood disorders in pregnancy and in postpartum are exactly the same, we remain tight-lipped about the former.

And I want to change that. 

It shouldn’t be news that women experience anxiety and depression in pregnancy. Women carrying a baby have been struggling with their mental health since… always.

Just because we don’t talk about it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. But because we don’t talk about it, many women feel isolated in their experiences. So. If you’re pregnant and feeling worried, down, anxious or just having a hard time managing your mood, the first piece of good news is that you’re not alone. The second piece of good news is that all of your symptoms are treatable. And I mean all of them.

Society may have you thinking that pregnancy is simply a blissful period of basking in the prenatal glow. I’m here to debunk this myth.  Truthfully, pregnancy can be a challenging time. I mean, why wouldn’t it be? Your body is going through immense change and your entire life is about to shift!

If you’re having a hard time recognizing your own anxiety, you’re in the right place.

Below are the four most obvious signs that you’re struggling and might need some extra support.  

1. You feel nervous, agitated, or uneasy.

You can probably think of a time recently when you felt nervous about something (that awkward conversation with your mother in law, the one-on-one call with your boss). Physical feelings of jitteriness, discomfort and unease are sensations you can usually feel in your body. 

You know that uncomfortable stomach-dropping, heart-pounding feeling that you have before a major pitch or presentation? 

Sometimes we struggle with those anxious sensations for seemingly no reason in our day-to-day life. If you’re feeling like that consistently throughout the day, that’s a problem and a huge sign that anxiety is playing too large a role right now. There are many simple ways to manage that! Listen to your body—it’s saying something.

2. You’re having stomach issues and difficulty breathing, or sleeping.

Anxiety often shows up in your body in more than a butterflies-in-your-tummy kind of way. Oftentimes, people even mistake physical symptoms of anxiety for something else. (In my experience in early motherhood, I didn’t recognize my anxiety and thought I had problems with my lungs!)

Constantly having pain or a queasy feeling in your stomach or having diarrhea are physical signs of anxiety. Many also express difficulty sleeping which can take a toll when nights of poor sleep quality accumulate. A common physical symptom of anxiety (and one that women especially talk about ) is shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and just feeling like you can’t get enough air. 

Have you experienced one or more of these symptoms since becoming pregnant? Your body is always giving clues when things are out of balance—paying attention to these clues is a pretty good step to get your health (physical and mental) back to where you want it.

3. Scary or disturbing thoughts.

In the time since you found out you were pregnant, you may have started to experience unsettling thoughts. Unwanted images or scary scenarios that pop into your mind out of the blue are called intrusive thoughts. They’re SO common especially during pregnancy and early motherhood.

We’ve all had that experience of driving down the road and suddenly envisioning ourselves veering into oncoming traffic or driving off a bridge. It’s a scary scenario we’ve imagined, it flashes into our mind out of nowhere and it’s quite disturbing. That’s an intrusive thought. 

The phenomenon that causes that dark traffic accident thought is the same one at play during pregnancy. In pregnancy, intrusive thoughts might involve you getting hurt and losing your baby or having a complication during labour. This is really common but we can add it to the list of perinatal mental health concerns that society ignores.

Because intrusive thoughts aren’t commonly discussed, most women don’t know that this sign of anxiety actually has a name. Nor do they realize that it happens to the majority of pregnant women—not just them. (If only we had realized how normal this is, we would have spared ourselves so much guilt and shame…)

How to know if these thoughts are dangerous: 

If you’re experiencing intrusive thoughts which revolve around harm coming to you or your baby, consider if these thoughts are in alignment with what you want. If you’d NEVER be OK with that scenario coming true, then they’re likely a sign of anxiety. If the thought is in alignment with what you want, then you do need to reach out for help (call 911).  Most of the time, intrusive thoughts are merely a sign of anxiety—which is why we find them disturbing.

There’s no shame in that.

4. Worrying about the future.

If you’re spending a lot of your time running possible scenarios through your mind or stressing about the “what ifs,” that’s a sign that you may be suffering from anxiety in pregnancy. Your inner dialogue might run a string of worries like “What if my boss doesn’t give me enough time off?”, “What if my husband is a bad dad?” or “What if something bad happens when I go into labour?”

There’s a difference between anticipating what’s ahead and getting stuck fretting about what could happen way down the road. If the hypotheticals of the future have you unable to properly live in the present, that’s a sign of anxiety. If you’re feeling stuck in this anxious thought cycle, know that you absolutely can move past this state of worry.

Even though some anxiety during pregnancy is completely normal, it’s not spoken about often enough in our society. When we don’t acknowledge these painful experiences, women feel isolated in their struggles. Feeling as though you’re the only one with these experiences creates a sense of shame. That just makes it even more difficult for women to reach out and get support.

If any of the above signs of anxiety during pregnancy describe what you’re going through, just remember that you’re not alone, and each of these symptoms is completely treatable.

You deserve support. You can feel at ease in your own mind with the proper tools, information and skills.

10 Realistic Ways for Moms to Manage Anxiety

Anxiety is hard to sit with, I understand that uncomfortably jittery feeling. At best, anxiety tends to put a little damper on your day. At worst, well, it can derail your schedule, your wellness and your balance for extended periods of time. 

If you’re even the slightest bit anxiety prone, months of quarantine has probably done zero favours for your mental health. I get it. At best, anxiety tends to put a little damper on your day. At worst, well, it can derail your schedule, your wellness and your balance for extended periods of time. It’s so common that moms of young children and women in the perinatal phase suffer from anxiety (yes, it’s normal!).

As a mental therapist, I have a number of effective tools and strategies to help you kick anxiety in the butt… especially during this jittery and uncertain period in time.

But before breaking it down, let’s pause for a minute and remember that transitioning into motherhood is a difficult and oftentimes nerve wracking time. Most women struggle to an extent—that’s to be expected.

The good news though: despite what your favourite Instagram accounts might have you thinking, you don’t need to commit to long-term therapy or a massive self-improvement plan. Below, I’m breaking down simple and easily approachable ways to manage bouts of anxiety.

What is anxiety?

In recent years, it kind of feels like “anxiety” became everyone’s go-to term. It IS a common mental health issue and our modern society is a great contributor. But when we hear our loved ones say things like “I have so much anxiety this week,” or “This work-from-home arrangement is making my anxiety worse,” what does that actually mean?? How does anxiety look for each of us and how can we recognize when our own anxiety is at work?

Anxiety can take many forms. It can feel like dread, uncertainty, worry, nagging fear, confusion or queasiness. It is SUPER common in pregnancy and earlier motherhood too. You might notice shallow breathing, a quickening pulse or that cold sweaty feeling. This sort of unease can become an issue where some individuals notice that it’s getting in the way of life, preventing them from working as they intend to or interfering with their ability to feel well. In that case, it could be an anxiety disorder which is worth professional attention. In other cases, which I’m addressing here, there are simple tactics you can employ to put anxiety in its place.

So, how can we begin to wrap our arms around anxiety? Of my ten tips below, hopefully a handful will resonate with you.

Be a detective. 

This is my way of saying: look at your life and pay close attention to what might be triggering your anxiety right now. Does it fluctuate? (I.e. sometimes it’s bad, other times it eases up.) What do you suspect makes it worse? What makes it more difficult to deal with? Once you look closely, you might be able to catch the culprits and in turn, grant yourself some peace.

Nourish your body.

Yes, this is a mental health discussion but your physical health plays a significant role in supporting your mind. Take care of your body! We know that the parts of the body are all connected so watch how you’re caring for your physical self. That means being mindful of what you’re eating, making sure you’re eating enough, slowing down when it’s meal time, staying hydrated… the whole thing!

As a mom, you’ve probably had to really tune into your physical self in recent years. You know which foods make you feel good and which ones… don’t. Ask yourself if there are small things you can do on a day-to-day basis to improve your nourishment overall.

Watch the caffeine.

Caffeine worsens anxiety. Chances are, you already knew that. If you didn’t, sorry to burst your caffeine bubble! As with anything, some people are more sensitive than others. So… watch your caffeine and how it makes you feel. If your wave of anxiety came after two or three strongly-brewed Americanos, it may be a sign you need to reduce.

Once we pay attention to how our coffee affects our mood, we can make necessary changes. And if you’ve been anxious lately, reducing caffeine will only ease symptoms.

Do something for yourself. 

I understand that this one can feel hard. Think about the mothers in your life. How many of them give more time to others than they do to themselves? All of them? Here’s the thing: it can be tempting to always focus on your family, but you have needs too. Don’t forget about those. Take a moment and reflect on what those needs might be.

There’s probably an activity you’ve been meaning to do, a hobby you’ve been wanting to reacquaint yourself with or maybe it’s just something simple like calling up an old friend or listening to that album that really takes you back. Check in with yourself and commit to doing one thing just for you!

Watch your self talk. 

We all have an inner critic and she tends to especially come out when we’re tired, run down or anxious. The inner critic is that nasty little voice that cuts you down, tells you you’re not good enough, suggests you’re not measuring up or that you’re not doing a good job (at mothering or otherwise). It’s so easy for new moms to give power to this inner critic because when going through major and important life changes, there’s so much opportunity to feel inadequate. Here’s the problem: these criticisms make you feel attacked. When attacked, you go into flight-or-fight mode and your nervous system becomes stimulated. It’s not good to be in that mode all the time.

Self kindness actually reduces anxiety so to silence that inner critic, think of a neutral statement to counter what she’s saying. For example, instead of saying “I failed as a mom today,” try “I had some challenges today and I did my best.”

Move your body. 

This piece of advice can be mildly annoying, I know.

But it’s also true.

Yes, exercise is important but that doesn’t mean you have to run a half-marathon. Any type of movement will do! Choose something you actually enjoy or you’ll never bother to actually do it. That can be an evening wind-down yoga routine, a dance session or a walk with your best friend. Make it easy, reasonable and realistic.

Prioritize sleep! 

It’s funny how something that requires literally no energy is often the thing we struggle with the most. For many moms, prioritizing sleep is really hard. When the kids go to bed, it can be so tempting to stay up to maximize those alone-time evening hours. Here’s the problem: when we push back our own bedtime in favour of binge-watching that Netflix series or escaping with a really good book, we can end up sleep deprived. That worsens anxiety. If you’ve been feeling anxious, tighten up your sleep schedule temporarily to build your resources back up again.

Make anxiety your BFF.

OK, hear me out. Instead of noticing your anxiety, fighting it and getting upset about being anxious, try listening to it. Why are you feeling anxious? What’s your anxiety trying to tell you? There’s probably a message there. Imagine your anxiety is a friend of yours who is struggling.

Think about how you can provide support. When you stop resisting, you’ll stop adding tension to your situation. And when you accept anxiety instead of pushing it away, you can get to the root of what is causing it.

Do something soothing. 

Self-care isn’t just a trend that makes for good material on Instagram. When you’re experiencing high levels of anxiety, your body senses a threat and goes into fight-or-flight mode. This stimulates your nervous system (in a bad way) and so, you need to work to bring yourself back down to a relaxed state.

To do this, you want to pick an activity that is soothing for you and brings comfort. That could mean lighting candles and getting into a hot bath, making yourself a cup of hot chocolate or taking time to shut the door, wrap yourself in a cozy blanket and diffuse your favourite essential oils. These soothing activities are science-backed so next time you dismiss this stuff as selfish or frivolous, know that the opposite is actually true!

Take care of business.

Sometimes our anxiety likes to come out when our to-do list is just too long. When little day-to-day tasks start to pile up, we can start to feel stressed and overwhelmed. Overthinking is anxiety’s best friend.

When you actually set aside some time to “take care of business” or knock things off that list, it feels really good. Getting order back into your life is a smart and effective way to zap anxiety and keep it from spiralling out of control. Once you make a point to cross things off that list one by one, you’ll feel rewarded… and you’ll probably realize they weren’t even that big of a deal to begin with.

What have you been putting off? What task or project has been intimidating you? Making a dent in these types is likely to alleviate much of the anxiety you’re experiencing. Just don’t spend ALL your time on this stuff…

 


Anxiety is hard to sit with, I understand that uncomfortably jittery feeling. The good news is that there is so much that you can do to manage it. I see moms of young children struggling with feeling overburdened, not good enough and spread thin. To be fully honest, there are ways to feel in control and actually cruise through (and enjoy!) this journey in early motherhood. Trust me, I’ve been there.

 

 

Affirmations For Moms: Boost Your Mood + Transform Your Inner Critic

Critical thoughts are so harmful because they’re habitual, not because they’re true. Positive affirmations work because they help rewrite a story you’ve been telling yourself for years.

Affirmations For Moms_ Boost Your Mood + Transform Your Inner Critic _ Kate Borsato

In the topsy-turvy life-upside-down era that is the coronavirus pandemic, mindset shifts and positive thinking are—and I cannot stress this enough—essential tools for your mental health and wellbeing. 

This is exactly why I’m pointing out the power of positive affirmations.

You’ve probably at least heard of positive affirmations, right?

These are the motivational quotes sprinkled through your Instagram feed as you mindlessly scroll to zone out after a rough day. These are the helpful picker-uppers written in cursive that you pin to whatever Pinterest account eases your pandemic blues. (If you don’t have one yet, check out mine!) They’re the mantras you see online, the positive phrases written on cards you can buy in bookshops, the one-sentence positivity burst your best friend just posted in her story.

Once you look for them, positive affirmations are kind of everywhere. And for good reason: they actually work. Scientific studies back them. I back them because I see evidence of them working. I use them in my own life and encourage them in my practice as well. Why? I’m going to dive right into their power and break it all down. Hopefully, I even convert you into an avid positive affirmation user!

Your thoughts impact your mood. Affirmations are a way to plant positive thoughts.

As a mental health therapist, a huge part of my job is to help women lift their mood, bring joy back into their lives, manage overwhelm and control anxiety. Motherhood feels hard because motherhood IS hard. Motherhood is especially hard during the early days (it’s a MAJOR life change! Why wouldn’t it be?) and even more so during a global pandemic! So many women come to me asking “How do I feel better?” “How do I feel happier?”  “How do I enjoy myself?”

Certainly there are times in life that call for a big change. That could be a job change, an overhaul of lifestyle habits, a change in city or in a relationship that needs to shift. That’s one thing.

Sometimes though, the day-to-day needs a little tweak or edit so that you can feel joy again or so that you can feel that your days include YOU, the things that make you happy and the things that you are personally interested in.

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“The way that your thoughts work and how they impact you is at the core of why we use affirmations.”

When examining the day-to-day stress, anxiety or just overall dissatisfaction, your thoughts are the perfect starting point. The way that your thoughts work and how they impact you is at the core of why we use affirmations. This is because your thoughts directly impact your mood, your emotions, your feelings and also your physical self. Sometimes as a result, those thoughts can have a major influence on your day.

Not quite convinced? 

OK. Try this: imagine a food or drink that you really love. As you’re picturing that margarita pizza or strawberry cheesecake or whatever it may be, pay attention to how you feel physically. Does anything change? Maybe your mouth starts watering! That right there is an example that illustrates how a thought can have power over you in a physical sense.

The same things happen with emotions. Our thoughts come first (a memory, our reaction to a movie we’re watching or even a song we’re listening to) and then an emotional response comes right afterwards.

See where I’m going with this? A positive affirmation or mantra can be that “thought” triggering the good mood and positive associations that follow.

Once we understand the thought to emotional response connection, we can start to influence our feelings.

Once it clicks that your thoughts often dictate whether you feel happy or sad, you can also understand that you have the power to influence this whole connection. That’s an incredibly good piece of news.

How do you want to feel? A really common element of thought work that many women in particular find useful is self compassion.

Are you someone who is really hard on yourself? How many times a day are you coming down on yourself or beating yourself up? That pattern is something you can shift. If you want to feel lighter, and happier and at ease in your life, you can shift your thinking.

Sounds easier said than done, right? I have a metaphor to help with that.

Enter the forest metaphor.

To understand how we can create new thoughts that resonate, picture for a moment what it’s like to walk through a forest on a well-groomed trail. It’s easy to walk on, it’s a well trodden pathway, it’s a walkway that has been taken time and time again.

Thoughts that we gravitate towards or that feel almost automatic are like that well-groomed, highly travelled trail. When you think something over and over again, it’s just like wearing a path through a thick forest. Eventually, it becomes that well-groomed trail that is so easy to walk on especially compared to the surrounding untouched landscape. Now, if you went hiking in that particular forest, you’re going to take the path of least resistance. Think about it: why would you even attempt to hack your way through the bush when you have a much simpler option right in front of you?

Even if we have recurring thoughts that have absolutely no use or positive purpose, we can think them so frequently that they carve that path—a wellllll beaten one! Your brain then becomes like you hiking through that forest: it takes the path of least resistance and automatically goes down that road.

This is exactly why establishing new thoughts takes so much work. These new thoughts are competing with that established, well-groomed trail. Think about that forest: carving a new path through all that bush takes so much work and effort in the same way that establishing new thinking patterns does.

Critical thoughts

Knowing all of this, why don’t you examine some of your own negative thought patterns. What is a critical thought that you often gravitate towards that doesn’t serve you? It could be something like “I’m a bad mom.” “I’m always so overwhelmed.” “I’m a bad partner.” or “I’m so boring, nobody likes me.” It’s so common that people carry these kinds of thoughts for years and years.

Critical thoughts are hard to let go of because they’re habitual, not because they’re true.

If you want to create a new thought, give your brain something to go on. When you catch yourself drifting to that original critical thought, give it an alternative or a replacement to think of instead. For example, those could be “I’m a great mom and I’m doing my best.” “I provide my kids with everything that they need.” 

When the replacement thought doesn’t feel true…

Oftentimes, the new thought or affirmation won’t feel true at first. That’s OK and that’s totally understandable. You’re in the early stages of rewriting a story that you’ve told yourself for years so it makes sense that you won’t always believe the counter-statement right away. It might even feel phoney. That doesn’t matter. That’s not the point.

The purpose is that you are laying the foundation for your brain to take a new pathway. You’re starting to carve out that new trail to replace the old one! So, when you use an affirmation, it might work right off the bat, it might not. What the affirmation is doing though, is it’s giving your brain a new direction. It’s giving your mind another possibility.

Some of the affirmations that I created specifically for mothers can be found here. The reason why I created these cards is because I believe in their power and because I wanted to support mothers to have self-compassion. It IS acceptable to carve out time for self care and give yourself your own love and attention.

How to use Affirmation Cards:

There are no rules with affirmation cards, just try out different ways to use them and see what fits best for you. Here are some things I do:

1. Intentionally pull one card each day.

I like to keep a pile on my desk and each morning, I flip them over so I can’t see, and then I choose one card to give me a morning message. You might choose one card for the week and focus on that message.

2. Tuck them in your purse, desk, post them on your fridge.

It’s fun to find them when you’re not expecting it. Maybe you have a favourite card that seems to deliver the exact message you want to hear – in that case, I leave that card out in plain sight!

3. Have them available to you on a regular basis.

When we use these on a daily basis, they have a positive impact on our thought habits, our self confidence, our belief systems and our mood.

I also believe that when self care and working on ourselves starts to feel like a huge thing to add to an already overburdened schedule, we become overwhelmed.

So start small.

Affirmations are so simple, they’re effective and they will help you achieve your overall goal of feeling happier and more at ease in your day-to-day life.

I’d love to hear what you notice when you start using affirmations! Feel free to share, get in touch, or leave a comment letting me know your experiences.

Scary Thoughts In Pregnancy And Postpartum

During pregnancy and new motherhood, intrusive thoughts can take a lot of forms. Most frequently, they center around the idea of harm coming to your baby or kids.

Scary Thoughts In Pregnancy And Postpartum - Kate Borsato

Let’s be frank: motherhood is hard. Adjusting during the postpartum phase is a huge challenge for most new moms. And I get that. My mission with my work is to support moms and moms-to-be with the really complicated stuff—and to actually keep it real and give you the truth, from a psychological perspective, unedited.

Because I believe in being honest with the facts, I’m talking to you about a touchy, often not discussed topic: intrusive thoughts. This is when unwanted or disturbing thoughts pop into your head. They can be unnerving and unsettling which is why I’m breaking down what these thoughts look like, why they happen, what to do about them, when to seek help and how to best preserve your mental space so that these scary thoughts become less prominent in your day-to-day life.

What are intrusive thoughts exactly?

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts or images (usually about your baby or child) that pop into your mind seemingly out of nowhere. They’re often disturbing or upsetting and they don’t align with what you want for your child. They just happen. It’s like they flash into your mind out of nowhere..

Because these thoughts are so dark and unsettling, we don’t often discuss them. I mean, I get it: imagining dropping your baby while changing her diaper doesn’t exactly make for light chit-chat over coffee. As a result, you probably have NO idea how common this is. As a mental health therapist for moms, I have tons of anecdotal evidence of moms experiencing these scary thoughts. If you’re more of a concrete numbers person, consider that studies have turned up results indicating that 95 to 100% of mothers have experienced exactly this.

So what does that statistic mean then? If this kind of invasive mental imagery is this common, it means you’re not alone, you’re not crazy, you’re not losing your mind and you’re not a bad mom.

What do these thoughts often look like in postpartum?

During the postpartum season of motherhood, intrusive thoughts can take many forms. Most frequently, they center around the idea of harm coming to your baby or kids. A common theme could be that you, as the mom, is causing harm either intentionally, or by accident.

Here are the common themes that intrusive thoughts typically fall within, along with examples of each:

    • Sickness related. You’re scared your baby or toddler will be exposed to harmful bacteria or that you’ll contract the coronavirus and put them in harm’s way.
    • Centered around them getting hurt. You picture your child falling or getting in a car accident. Your imagination conjures up an incident where she harms herself with a utensil in the kitchen. You imagine dropping your baby and causing irreparable damage.
    • Thoughts around sexual abuse or molestation. You think about what would happen if you touched your baby inappropriately or what would happen if somebody else molested your child.
    • Harm that could come to you! Out of nowhere, you think about what would happen to your child if you got in a car crash or got sick with COVID and died.

What does this mean about me?

When these intrusive thoughts happen, so many women fear that it means something about them. There’s the thought, followed by internal dialogue about that thought… “What is wrong with me?”, “Am I mentally ill?”, “Could I be a danger to my kids?” 

I want to remind you that there’s nothing wrong with you, although I understand that these thoughts can be incredibly distressing. Remember that these thoughts are common among most mothers, they’re just thoughts, and they don’t actually mean anything.

The key thing to keep in mind is that these imagined scenarios are things that you don’t actually want to happen. That alone means that you’re NOT a risk to your family. Many moms fear that these thoughts mean that they’re unsafe or that they might do something bad. But the thoughts themselves are not that powerful.

Ask yourself this: Are these thoughts in alignment with what I want? Would I be OK if this happened? Usually that’s a hard and solid NO. That’s why you find them so disturbing in the first place.

When should I seek help? 

Let’s pause there for a moment. If you ask yourself the above questions and you feel that you would be okay with these scenarios happening, or you want then to, that’s a medical emergency and you need to reach out for help. If this is the case, call 911, a doctor or a therapist. Feeling as though you actually want to harm your child or yourself is an indicator that you need support (Postpartum Support International is a great resource to start with as well)

If the unsettling scenarios that pop into your head are NOT what you want, then that’s a basic thinking error. This doesn’t mean anything about you as a mom, and it doesn’t mean you’re dangerous or unsafe. What it could mean is that you’re experiencing anxiety.

If intrusive thinking is interrupting your day, becoming hard to manage, causing a lot of upset, or you’re having these kinds of dark thoughts all the time, reach out to a therapist and get some support. This kind of destructive imagery is unnerving, disturbing and it can be tough to live with and process. The good thing is that you absolutely can learn to shift your mind away from these thoughts. You definitely can heal from this but you shouldn’t expect to do this on your own.

OK, so how do I deal with intrusive thoughts?

I’ve written a more in-depth, comprehensive guide on intrusive thoughts linked here. For now, I’m going to walk you through a quick but effective step-by-step for managing these intrusive thoughts so you can get on with your life and enjoy your family.

Step 1: Learn About Intrusive Thoughts

The first thing you’re going to want to do is educate yourself about intrusive thoughts (which is what you’re doing right now). The more you can understand what is happening, the less alone and scared you will feel. Once you understand that your experience is quite common, you might find that your worries start to fade already.

Step 2. Avoid Making Meaning Out of Your Thoughts

The problem with intrusive thoughts is that so often we put weight and meaning into them. We think that they are significant and so we give them power. By putting energy into them (like believing them, or worrying about what they mean about us or the future), we make them worse.

If we have the thought and get scared (or think there’s something wrong with us!) it becomes harder to deal with. On the other hand, if we have the thought, take a breath, remember that it’s normal, recognize it as JUST a thought that doesn’t mean anything, you can start to take the power away from it. When we think “Yeah it’s just a thought, it doesn’t mean anything,” we take the power away. (I know it sounds easy but with practice, it gets easier…)

SO: you’re just witnessing the thought, you’re not going to add more meaning to it, you’re going to remind yourself that this is normal and that yes, you ARE a good mom despite this thought.

Step 3: Be In The Present

Next, focus your attention on being in the moment, which is essentially what mindfulness is all about. You see, you can’t be in two places at once. So if your mind is in the present moment, you can’t possibly be worrying about anything else.

So, try managing these unpleasant thoughts by turning your focus to the present moment, asking yourself: What am I seeing? What am I hearing? What am I reading?

It’s likely that the thoughts will come back, that’s normal! Just draw your attention back to the present moment. This is what mindfulness is all about and it may take some practice at the beginning. Sometimes you might need to change your scenery. Head to the backyard or a different room or pour yourself a cup of coffee and focus on that. The point is to put energy into whatever is happening right this second.

Another tip:

Be mindful of the content you expose yourself to. 

Now, more than ever, we need to be mindful of what we allow into our lives… and when! The news can create images that are disturbing and hard to shake. If that’s the case for you, limit it. Sometimes reading about or talking about others’ intrusive thoughts can be upsetting or can plant the seeds to make this intrusive thought phenomenon worse. Scary movies are, for obvious reasons, upsetting and can give your mind content to latch on to. You don’t have to welcome all of these images into your life right now.

Be aware of what makes your mental health worse—even more so during pandemic times—and create boundaries. It’s OK to be protective of yourself especially during pregnancy and postpartum. Remind yourself that it’s absolutely OK to say “No, I don’t want to watch that horror movie tonight,” or “No, I don’t want to watch the news today.” That’s just self care.

Give yourself permission to be clear about what’s allowed in… and what isn’t.

One final resource…

Mama, I hope these tips make you feel less alone, more normal and more at ease. For continuing to improve your overall wellness and mental health, I’ve prepared a Postpartum Mental Health + Wellness Workbook. You can work through this at your own pace to make yourself feel less anxious, more grounded and more supported during this time.

 

How To Deal With Negative Postpartum Body Image

Were you surprised by your postpartum body? Are you still surprised at how your body is looking and feeling after giving birth? We don’t often see what a mother’s postpartum body actually looks like so that surprise is only natural.

How To Deal With Negative Postpartum Body Image - Kate Borsato

You’re standing in the mirror after having your baby and your postpartum body isn’t what you expected.

You don’t really recognize your body anymore. You see stretch marks, your breasts have changed, your skin looks different and maybe you’re worried about all the weight you think you need to lose. You don’t love what you’re looking like… maybe you even hate it. I’ve been there before. I get it.

It can be so difficult to accept your postpartum body, there’s no doubt about that. Below are some suggestions on how to cope if you’re not loving your appearance these days.

(I’ve also created a postpartum body image workbook and a mental health and wellness workbook if this experience sounds like you!)

Acknowledge societal expectations placed on our bodies.

As your body changes, you probably notice some self-judgement.  But I want you to think for a moment about where that shame comes from. Think about what has formed your opinions on body image and what you’re “supposed” to look like.

If you’re struggling to accept what you see reflected in the mirror, understand that that’s not your fault. Acknowledge that you’ve likely grown up in a culture that values women primarily for aesthetics and has very narrow ideas about female appearance. Those rules even apply to pregnant and postpartum women. Think about how unfair that is! At a time when the focus should really be on health and the major adjustment ahead, society adds this layer of self-consciousness to all that you’re already managing.

No wonder you’re struggling!

Recognize your own criticism.

Were you surprised by your postpartum body? Are you still surprised at how your body is looking and feeling after giving birth? First of all, this sense of surprise is completely natural –you probably hadn’t seen any accurate representation of what to expect. And if you had, it was probably sprinkled with judgement.

Oftentimes our disappointment or confusion in this situation only reflects that our expectations were not accurate to begin with. When our reality doesn’t meet the expectation, we tend to feel embarrassed or ashamed.

Imagine that the critical voice you hear inside you was a distinct part of you (you could even give her a name, or at least think of her as separate).  What types of things does your critical self say? How does she make you feel? Does that voice suggest that there’s something wrong with your body as it is right now?

When you can begin to notice that harsh running commentary about your “flaws”, you can start to create some space around it, so that eventually you don’t believe every single thing that part tells you. Another way you can manage this critical part of yourself is to get connected with it’s opposite: your kind and compassionate self.

Access your wiser, compassionate self. 

Your compassionate self is the part of you that knows you’re actually okay no matter what you look like. Yes, that part of you exists even if you feel like it might not! Maybe her voice is quieter, or less convincing, or she might even feel completely foreign. But she’s there. Trust me! Perhaps you’ve been underutilizing this side of yourself for too long.

Learning to honour yourself (your true compassionate self, that is) is much easier said than done. I get that.

One of the most effective ways you can begin to move away from your critical self and toward your more compassionate self is to think about what you would say to a friend who is struggling with the same postpartum feelings.

Would you treat her the same way? Likely not.

We tend to be way more compassionate with our close friends than we are with ourselves. Don’t blame yourself for this either. This is how you’ve been taught to relate to yourself as compared to others.

So what would you say to a close friend who hated her postpartum body after giving birth? Maybe you’d remind her about the incredible miracle her body just performed. Maybe you’d talk to her about keeping expectations realistic with her changing body. Or maybe you could work with her to help her realize that this is just temporary.

So given the fact that you know exactly how to talk to a friend who’s struggling with these feelings, how can you then turn that kindness toward yourself?

Reframe the way you think about your body.

I want to help new moms shift the way they value their bodies from  outwards appearance, to what they are capable of doing.

Function over aesthetic. What you can DO rather than what someone else sees. See how powerful that shift it?

What is instead of judging your “imperfect” post-baby bod, you focused on the fact that your body just grew a human? What if you could be in awe of your physical self?

There’s a practice called body gratitude where we take a minute to shift away from aesthetic judgement and instead be grateful for all that your body has helped you achieve. That body you’re hating on is the same body that allows you enjoy coffee, a glass of wine, sex, movement and sunshine.

Yeah, there might be stretch marks on that strong body, but so what? Do those things that you dislike about your physical self actually get in the way of you experiencing the joys of life? I doubt it.

You don’t have to love it… just don’t hate it.

I know that for some women, the idea of self-love and body acceptance makes them twitch. They feel like it’s just too much, or that they couldn’t possibly like what they see in the mirror.

I get that. Sometimes loving yourself feels so far away that you might feel completely excluded from this conversation. I get that.

What if I told you that you don’t actually have to love yourself? That doesn’t need to be the goal. But what if you could arrive at a more neutral place instead? Like, “oh, huh. There’s my stretch marks. I see them. Moving on.”

I don’t expect you to look in the mirror and proclaim your excitement about something that you genuinely don’t like right now. But just do put energy into hating that part either.

This concept is called body neutrality, and it’s all about developing a respectful relationship with your body, but not loving or hating it. Instead, you don’t have to have overly positive or negative feelings toward your body at all. It just is. (You can read more about body neutrality here).

Embracing body neutrality is a true godsend during the postpartum phase. This is the idea that you don’t have to force yourself to love something but you don’t have to hate on it either.

Sure, your breasts have changed and maybe you don’t like how they look, for example. That’s fine! An inner dialogue that says “Alright, this is different,” is better than “I hate how my breasts look.” You don’t have to fake your way into loving every single detail, but you could choose to respect those changes, and be gentle with yourself.

I want moms to know that they are worthy of their own love, compassion and acceptance… no matter what your body looks like these days!

Let me know in the comments what resonates with you here! I’d love to hear from you!

xo

Kate

Confession: I’m a terrible memory keeper and I fear I’m letting my daughters’ childhood memories slip away.

What if we allowed ourselves to be in the moment and surrender to the reality that memories will fade because that’s what memories do? What if that loss just adds to the sweetness of the now? 

Whenever I see an ad enticing me to buy a new photo album, or I see another mom posting about what her child did on this same day last year, my heart sinks a bit. 

As I witness other moms doing an incredible job of documenting the sweet journey of their families, I can’t help but notice that I seem to lack the mom journalist skillset. 

And it feels awful.

I was given plenty of warning that these days with young kids would fly by. “Make sure to write things down,” other moms told me. “Take pictures because you’ll forget,” they said.

I remember looking at my four-month-old baby thinking, “how could anyone possibly forget these details?” How could I ever forget the way her cute little face crinkled into a smile or her drowsy expression as she slipped into a milk-drunk coma?

But those wise moms were right. It turns out that a sleep-deprived brain doesn’t exactly consolidate memories very well. It doesn’t matter how special those moments are—our brains aren’t exactly a vault to stow away the important memories for decades to come. 

And to be honest, I feel a little sad that I can feel myself losing hold of the details. These individual memories are like little grains of sand and they slip through my fingers and vanish in the wind. Sometimes I can’t bring up even a glimpse of certain seasons of motherhood no matter how hard I rack my brain. I realize now that though irritating, those “write that down!” warnings were warranted, because I feel those memories floating away. 

And that’s when the wave of guilt hits me. In these moments I feel low because it’s as if I’m completely failing to do my job as memory keeper and keepsake creator.  

I’m bad at it.

Logging the milestones, documenting the memories, snapping the shot and freezing the little moments in time… these aren’t my strong suits. Really, it’s true. 

This blog is my space to dole out truths about the experience of motherhood—unvarnished. 

So here’s my confession:

I can’t tell you when my oldest daughter started crawling, said her first words, or lost her first tooth. I can hardly remember what life was like when I had two babies under 17 months. 

I don’t have that cute ruler on the wall that tracks their growth. 

I never made a baby book. 

I don’t write down the funny things they say, even though everyone tells me to. 

Here’s how my documenting goes: On a good day, I might write their name and date on some of their “masterpieces” that they bring home from school, but for the most part, I shove the piles of paper crafts in an oversized Ikea bag in the basement closet.

And there it sits. 

The other day, my daughter had a meltdown when she discovered some of those masterpieces in the recycling bin. She looked at me with that unmistakably confused expression, “how could you?” I didn’t realize it was so special to her! 

“I’ll get to the art bag later,” I tell myself.

Just like I’ll get to the photos that need to be organized and the hundreds of blurry selfies my kids take that end up on my harddrive because I can’t be bothered to delete them. I say that one day, I’ll get to the old computers and external storage devices that hold all the memories with absolutely zero structure. Then there’s the handmade birthday cards and beaded necklaces and little four-year-old treasures that are so sweet but where do I actually put them? There is no place. There’s no system. 

Quite frankly, this whole keepsake situation is a fucking disaster.  

But here are a few questions I’m sitting with right now: why does being a mom automatically have to mean being the family journalist, too? Does my husband fret about the lack of memory-keeping structure? Does he get ads for Picaboo and Shutterfly photo books? Do his friends post memories of what their babies did last year? Will our kids ask him in 20 years for their childhood keepsakes?

No. That’s not part of his job description.

Somehow, it has become mine. 

And as I move through these early years of my job as a mom, I’m learning that I just don’t have the mom-journalist skillset. Nor will I invest in obtaining it. 

That can be a difficult thing to come to terms with. I tell myself it’s because I’m busy and don’t have the time, but I have to accept that this is clearly not something that I value.

Why the guilt, then? 

Well, let’s look at the word “guilt.” We feel guilty when we think that we have done something wrong. It’s about our actions (or lack thereof). So essentially, as I’m faced with the reality that I’m a shitty memory keeper, I have this feeling that I’ve done something wrong.

But have I, like actually done something wrong? 

Is it wrong if my kids grow up to be adults and I can’t tell them how tall they were when they were three years old? 

Is it wrong that I didn’t save their gross decayed teeth for them? 

Is it wrong that I don’t have a baggie of hair from their first haircut?

Is it wrong that I haven’t printed annual photo books to celebrate each and every milestone no matter how small? 

Is it wrong that most of their art will be recycled? 

The answer is: it depends. It’s all about what you value. 

For me, I’m decisively admitting that I don’t actually value all of those keepsakes in the way that society tells me I should. Being a mother doesn’t require me to scrapbook in my spare time or keep a reporter-style notebook of cute, verbatim quotes from their early years. And I’m admitting that being the family journalist isn’t my strength. I don’t really enjoy doing it. I’m not that good at it. 

And maybe I don’t want to spend my time that way!  What if that’s OK?

What if I just opt-out of the memory keeping and opt-in to being in the moment, knowing full well that some of these memories will stay and others will disappear? And that there won’t be any real reason for either.

Is it possible that this perspective will actually help me—help us—live more in the present moment, anyway? To be IN the experience, rather than obsessing about creating a memory OF it? 

My mom recently gave me one shoebox of printed photos with a writing sample by five-year-old me tucked inside. Just one. And you know what? This is enough to give me a glimpse of what my life was like when I was little. It’s enough to remind me that I was cared for, that my parents treasured the masterpieces I created. That something I did mattered enough to toss in a box. 

It was enough. 

I don’t need to know how tall I was when I was three. Or the first word that came out of my mouth. Or to see how my artistic skills progressed throughout kindergarten. I don’t feel like I’m missing out because my mom didn’t curate these keepsakes. 

And as I consider this, I feel a little less guilty. My kids probably won’t care either. Chances are, they won’t even ask.

My perspective is this: what if we take a big breath and let go of the expectation to be mom journalist of the century? What if we allowed ourselves to be in the moment and surrender to the reality that memories will fade because that’s what memories do. What if that loss just adds to the sweetness of the now? 

My heart sinks when I feel the nag of the photo album advertisements. It sinks when I see other moms doing what I feel like I should be doing. It sinks when I realize that these memories of my precious girls will vanish but we can’t stop time. We can’t control which moments we’ll remember forever and which ones will be forgotten by next week.

And quite possibly, that’s just one of the many bittersweet realities of motherhood and I’m working on embracing it.