The birth of a baby is a time of celebration and joy. However, most parents of newborns experience significant anxiety mixed with their happiness. They worry about the health and safety of their infants and all of the responsibilities of being a parent. In fact, these worries can become overwhelming and even obsessional.
Obsessions are frequent, disturbing, attention grabbing, unwanted thoughts that seem to pop into the mind uninvited. People work like crazy to rid themselves of obsessional thoughts, but usually fail trying.
A study at the Mayo Clinic found that most parents have uncontrolled, disturbing thoughts shortly following the birth of a baby. Many of them worry about the possibility of actually harming their infants through neglect or even hurting the babies intentionally. Professionals don’t consider the phenomenon to be Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) because it’s almost always temporary. Nevertheless, some of these thoughts can seem pretty weird. A few examples:
We told you that these thoughts might sound a little bizarre. However, researchers have found that, although upsetting, such thoughts are perfectly normal and generally go away in a matter of weeks. The sleepless nights and stress of having a major new responsibility provide fuel for these thoughts. For women, fluctuations in hormones are thought to be possible contributors to this common phenomenon. You might be surprised to know that problems with such obsessional thoughts are more frequent than postpartum depression.
A new study is being conducted by Jonathan Abramowitz, Ph.D and colleagues at the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at the University of North Carolina, College of Arts and Sciences. Abramowitz describes perinatal anxiety, a disorder which includes uncontrollable worries during pregnancy and shortly after the birth of a child. These parents not only worry excessively, but sometimes also have panic attacks. A few are stressed to the point that they have trouble caring for their babies. Interestingly, the investigators do not make a sharp distinction between what they call perinatal anxiety and the OCD-like thoughts that normally occur shortly after a new birth.
Some readers may wonder why we titled our blog Anxiety and OCD Exposed.
The term Exposed brings up a variety of possible meanings:
Yes, mental health professionals treat anxiety and OCD through a method called exposure. Basically exposure means that you face your fears. In other words, you are exposed to what makes you anxious or feel distressed about. It sounds pretty simple and in a few cases it is. However, most people need a carefully planned exposure that’s carried out in graded steps over a period of time.
Here’s an example of exposure. Say you have a youngster who’s terrified of water. Common sense (although not everyone has that attribute) would say to most folks—don’t throw the kid in the ocean. A sensible approach might involve starting with a small backyard swimming pool with an inch or so of water. Then you might add another inch or two of water the next day. After much playing and splashing, you’d probably take the child to a bigger pool, or a beach at a calm lake. Swimming lessons might take place weeks later or even the following year. Finally you might consider a trip to the ocean with lots of supervision—that’s how an exposure would typically work.
Along the way of experiencing exposure, revisions are often made to the exposure plan. For example, if the child with fears of water balks at the swimming pool, you could start with a bit of warm water in the bath. At the ocean, play could begin in the sand with exposure to the water after a few days of getting used to the noise of the surf.
Okay, we’ve introduced you to the concept. Look for much more information in future blogs. For now, take a few minutes and think about things in your life that could benefit from a little more exposure.
Treating OCD usually includes an additional element called response prevention. But we’ll discuss what that’s all about in …
John Grohol, Psy.D. recently invited us to join PsychCentral by hosting a blog on anxiety and OCD. We are delighted to undertake this opportunity. We know that millions of people suffer from anxiety and/or OCD and many of them yearn for up to date information. That’s what we plan to bring to you.
Over the coming months we will offer insights derived from our years of clinical experience as well as thousands of research articles we have read. Since we write many books in the For Dummies series, you can expect us to communicate in clear, understandable terms without a whole lot of professional jargon. Call us on it if we slip!
We hope to hear suggestions, comments, and questions from many of you. Although we can’t answer every single question you might have, we will address most of the topics you send to us at some point. We are looking forward to communicating with you and greatly appreciate your interest.
I’m very pleased to introduce our new blog on anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It is hosted by renowned clinical psychologists Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. and Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D., co-authors of numerous books, including Anxiety for Dummies, Depression for Dummies, and Seasonal Affective Disorder for Dummies.
Their recently released book is entitled, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies which will provide an introductory, common-sense guide to OCD. We’re excited to have these two great psychologists blog on these topics, and look forward to their contributions!