Postpartum Separation Anxiety

When away from your child, do you often feel irritable, distressed, guilty, or prone to catastrophic thoughts? If these emotions occur frequently, such as when you’re at work, after dropping your child at school, or while they are with another family member, you might be experiencing Maternal Separation Anxiety (MSA).

MSA makes parents worry about their child’s health or safety frequently, if not constantly. It may also trigger anxiety over the fear of missing crucial bonding opportunities.

MSA can disrupt focus and concentration, cause mood swings, reduce sleep quality, or even cause panic attacks. Unlike postpartum separation anxiety, which typically occurs in the first months after childbirth, MSA can happen at any point during the child’s lifespan.

Fortunately, numerous strategies and approaches can help you manage your MSA. Consider these practical tips to alleviate anxiety and restore your well-being.

1. Start Small

To manage separation anxiety when away from your child, begin with brief, controlled intervals of separation. Start by leaving your child with a trusted family member or professional caregiver while you stay in another room or step outside for a short errand, such as a 10-minute trip to the store.

Gradually extend these separation periods to help both you and your child adjust, build confidence, and lessen feelings of anxiety. As you become more comfortable, you might slowly increase the duration of time spent apart.

Adapt this approach to fit your daily routine; initially, it might be just a few minutes and can later extend to several hours. Monitor how your child reacts to your absence and adjust the duration of separation as needed. The key is to ensure that both of you are comfortable with these periods of absence.

Maternal Separation Anxiety

2. Establish a Goodbye Routine

Managing MSA can also involve establishing a goodbye routine or ritual. This routine should consist of consistent, comforting actions and words that reassure your child of your return.

For instance, before leaving the house, you might incorporate a specific gesture (such as a hug and kiss) combined with reassuring words (“I love you, Mommy will be back soon”). If your child is old enough, you can develop this ritual together to ensure it feels comfortable for them.

An effective goodbye routine should be brief, easily repeatable, and positive. It helps you prepare for the separation. Maintaining consistency and a positive approach in this ritual is crucial for building confidence and a sense of security in your relationship.

3. Stay Positive

Anxiety can impact both you and your child. Children are often sensitive to their parents’ emotional cues, such as changes in voice tone, body language, or facial expressions. This sensitivity can lead to a process known as emotional contagion, where children mirror the emotional states of their parents. So, if you exhibit anxiety, your child might also start to feel anxious.

However, the good news is that emotional contagion also applies to positive emotions. Maintaining a positive and confident demeanor can influence your child to adopt a similar emotional state. This approach can help your child associate separations with positive experiences, reinforcing that being apart is a normal and manageable aspect of life.

4. Keep Busy

Participating in activities that engage your mind and senses is an effective strategy for managing various forms of anxiety, including MSA and postpartum separation anxiety. Keeping mentally occupied helps divert your attention away from negative or catastrophic thoughts.

Dedicating time to work, household chores, or engaging in hobbies like art, exercise, or crafting can be valuable coping mechanisms. Not only do these activities help manage anxiety, but they also offer additional benefits like stress relief and a sense of achievement.

5. Trust the Caregiver

Similar to postpartum separation anxiety, the leading cause of MSA is worry about your child’s safety, health, and overall well-being. These concerns can escalate into catastrophic thinking, such as undue fear or mistrust toward your child’s caregiver.

Whether your child is with a babysitter, a family member, or at a daycare center, reassuring yourself that they are safe is vital. Here are some tips to help alleviate your anxiety and reinforce the belief that your child is safe:

6. Practice Self-Care

Incorporating self-care activities that focus on your physical and mental health is another effective strategy for coping with MSA. Here are three self-care practices and the benefits they offer:

Fellow Parents for Advice and Support

7. Ask Fellow Parents for Advice and Support

It is normal to struggle or have trouble managing the effects of maternal separation anxiety, especially on your own. Seek support from fellow parents who have experienced MSA on parenting forums and social media groups. They can help you in the following ways:

8. Focus on the Benefits

Maternal separation anxiety, postpartum separation, and anxiety from your husband share a common characteristic: they often lead you to dwell on adverse outcomes, activating the fight-flight-freeze response. Like other anxiety disorders, an essential strategy for managing MSA and easing the stress of being away from your child is to concentrate on the positives. Some benefits of separation for parents include:

Your child can also benefit from normalizing separation and learning to spend time apart from you. Some advantages for your child include:

Enjoy Your Motherhood Journey with the Mind Health Group

Stress and anxiety can impact mothers at any stage, whether you’re a first-time mom or have several children. If you’re struggling with issues like postpartum separation anxiety or maternal separation anxiety, the Mind Health Group is here to help.

Our therapists are equipped to provide personalized guidance, support, and resources designed to alleviate your concerns and foster a healthier, stress-free environment for you and your child. Reach out to us today to discover more about our support services and telehealth options.

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