The more I talk with other moms, the more I realize that anxiety is way more common than I once believed it to be. In addition to my own experiences, I have a number of friends who’ve shared their own stories (parents and non-parents, alike). While I can't and won't speak for everyone who suffers from anxiety, I do think there are a few universal ways friends can help friends or, specifically, how non-mom friends can help a new mom with anxiety.
In my own experience, men and women who aren’t parents don’t always know just how to help a friend or friends after a new baby shows up and completely alters their lives. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to help a new mom, and there are a lot of ways to help a mom with anxiety, so it would make sense that there’s plenty of things to do for people who fit into both categories. Most importantly, you don't need to be a mom yourself in order to help a new mom with anxiety. The arbitrary categories we place ourselves in (moms vs. non-moms) should never keep us from assisting and supporting one another. Especially when we call one another friends.
So while everyone experiences both anxiety and motherhood in their own ways, and some of these suggestions won't be as beneficial as others. However, they’re pretty good places to start when thinking about the new mom in your life who happens to also be feeling anxious.
Anxiety can be beastly, let me tell you, so any effort she’s making to function like an adult human should be met with praise and cookies. OK, maybe that’s a slight simplification, but supporting her as she navigates the ups and downs of motherhood and anxiety, is crucial.
Name Specific Things You’d Like To Do To Help
Lots of friends of new parents frequently offer their assistance by saying somewhat vague things like, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do." I'd like to think it's said with the best intentions, but instead of saying something on-specific, try saying something like, “Let me bring you lunch on Thursday,” or “Can I start a load of laundry for you?” or, “Does your dishwasher need to be loaded or unloaded?” It’s a win-win since all the new mom has to say is “yes,” and a non-mom friend can stay in his or her comfort zone and help without dipping into baby care (in case that’s not their thing).
In my own experience, having someone in my life who insisted that they weren’t going anywhere, despite the challenges that anxiety was creating, was a great source of comfort and motivation for treatment. Honestly, I wanted to be better for him. While not everyone will have the exact same reaction I did, it’s almost always a good idea to be available and supportive.
Support Her Choices To Seek Help
I’ve had a number of friends pursue treatment for anxiety, but I’ve also known people who suspected they had it and chose to deal with it on their own. On a personal note, I rarely suggest that there’s a one-size-fits all approach for new moms, especially when physical and mental health is involved. However, I make an exception by usually (read: always) suggesting you consulting with a medical professional if you suspect something serious is going on. Always, you guys.
Ask Her How She’s Doing, And Don’t Just Take “Fine” As A Response
Exception: you can tell she clearly doesn’t want to have a deep conversation at that particular moment. In case she does, however: be ready.
Be Intentional With Any “I Know Someone Who…” Stories
Even if you’re not a parent, you probably had them and know some of them and interact with some of them on a regular basis. You may know stories or have anecdotes that help or encourage or bring hope, especially if there are parallels to her current situation. However, don't use said anecdotes or stories to downplay or invalidate her specific situation.
Remind Her That There’s Life Beyond Motherhood
She’s probably feeling so entrenched and overwhelmed that a world beyond the sleepless nights, stressful mornings, endless tears and dirty diapers feels totally unreachable. Your presence, and your insight, can help give her some necessary perspective.
Give Genuine Compliments
Are you impressed with her ability to function on so little sleep? Do you think her lullaby-singing is lovely? Do you think she’s a total badass for treating her anxiety and trying to move past it while simultaneously being a tremendous mother? Let her know.
Run Errands That Are Tough To Do With A Newborn
I assure you, it’s much, much, much easier for you to do a loop around the grocery store than it is for her. Unless you find yourself with a cart that has a wonky wheel, in which case you’ve experienced hell earth and please accept all my condolences.
Help The Way You’d Help Any Friend With Anxiety, Or Any New Mom Without It
Really, the fact that you don't have kids doesn't really need to be an issue. If this other mom is important to you, and you are to her, your presence and support in general will make a difference regardless of whether or not you're a parent.
Be Supportive Of Any Diagnoses She Receives And Treatment She Pursues
Help her process if you need to, and remember, it’s not really about you. Sure, it can affect you, and you're allowed to care and have feelings about the situation. However, treatment is really about getting her to be her best again; for herself and for her baby. Helping her remember that makes you an awesome friend.