Managing your anxiety, while driving with baby
Having a new baby is many things, especially your first. It’s wonderful, of course, but it can also be stressful, boring, repetitive, confusing and shocking. And that’s ok! That’s normal. However, few people feel comfortable admitting those feelings. Someone once told me that on their first night home from the hospital they woke to hear the crying baby, looked into the bassinet and thought, “We’ve made a huge mistake.”
One of the best things new mothers can do to manage all of this change and all these feelings is to get out. Get out! Getting out of your home is one of the best things for both you and baby. This needn’t be a big outing or a long outing. A slow walk half-way down the block and back is just great. However, if you’re wanting to venture a little farther, meet up with a friend or attend one of the many doctor’s appointments your baby will have in those first six months. Driving may be required.
Driving with baby is a special skill. You will make strange voices and noises. You’ll be shocked by your ability to reach far into the backseat. Driving with baby, particularly solo, can lead to a great deal of anxiety. It’s frustrating when you’re on your way and baby starts crying. It’s scary when that crying turns into screaming. It’s natural to feel helpless and worried when baby won’t stop. So, what can you do when baby is in the back and you’re driving up front? Try the following and see what works for you.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
One of the gold standards in depression and anxiety treatment, the gist of CBT is to identify distorted thoughts and reframe them, thus lowering the intensity of heightened emotions one may be experiencing. CBT works off of a basic concept (the cognitive triad) of how thoughts (cognitions), feelings, and behaviors are all connected and impact one another. Distorted thoughts are extreme, catastrophic, and highly judgmental of oneself. If you are using the words “always, never, should” there’s a good chance that it’s a distorted thought. If baby starts crying, turning red, essentially freaking out, it’s understandable that you may think, “Omg, there is something seriously wrong. Baby is going to cry so hard they won’t be able to breathe. They are going to choke and die.” Starting the reframe with a validating statement is helpful, “It’s understandable that I’m feeling scared and worried. This is stressful.” Identify the feeling and acknowledge the situation, then move onto challenging each one of those distorted thoughts, sentence by sentence. Certain questions will help you with the reframe, “What is probable versus possible? What evidence do I have that this will happen? Is it helpful to think this way? What would I tell a friend in the exact same situation?” The reframe may look like the following, “it is normal for babies to cry in the car. Crying is one of the few ways babies can communicate. It is impossible for baby to stop breathing or die from crying. I hate that I can’t soothe baby right now and the crying is totally triggering me. Just because I don’t like this and am feeling anxious doesn’t mean something is wrong.”
An overused word for sure, it’s important to remember that Mindfulness is also an actual modality of therapeutic treatment. Similar to CBT, we are going to pay attention to the thoughts that arise during stressful situations. Rather than working on reframing them though, we are just going to notice them and label them, “That’s a worry thought. That’s an anxious thought.” Mindfulness is all about noticing what’s happening without judgement and bringing yourself back into the moment. Another great Mindfulness tool is called Observe and Describe. This is simple. While driving, use your senses to observe what is happening around you and describe it to yourself. Identifying and labeling the other cars is great, “Blue Prius, white Prius, black Tesla, red Tesla, green Mini Cooper.”
Baby gear can be key here. Making sure your set-up is fully serving your needs can go a long way. A lot of people find moving the car seat behind the passenger seat provides easier access to baby if need be. Seeing baby through the mirrors that attach to the backseat headrest goes a long way. Having toys or anything you can pass back to baby (such as a pacifier) often helps a parent feel like they are at least trying something. If you can, consider traffic, your own energy level, and baby’s habits.
Over the years, several patients in my postpartum group shared that practicing driving with baby helped grow their confidence. One patient made it a habit to try driving with baby a little bit twice a week. The first several times she simply went down the block and back. This helped her get comfortable, build some positive connections between driving and baby and got that all important positive feedback loop going in the brain. A positive feedback loop doesn’t have to be full of perfectly positive thoughts. It is often the mind’s way of simply recognizing, “I did that. I drove down the block and back.” Adjectives need not be used. Just recognizing the fact that you did actually drive down the block and back can get the positive feedback loop going.
I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) at a group practice in Beverly Hills and maintain a private practice in the Los Feliz/Silver Lake area. I provide individual, couples and group psychotherapy to both teens and adults. My practice approaches include, but are not limited to, CBT, EMDR, psychodynamic and mindfulness therapy. I started my career at psychiatric hospital working on both the inpatient units as well as developing and running the hospital’s long-term outpatient Partial Program. I then spent five years at Kaiser Permanente’s LA Medical Center providing individual and group psychotherapy in their outpatient psychiatry department. Women’s health, in particular perinatal health, has always been a passion of mine. While at Kaiser I started their Post Partum Depression/Anxiety Group. As an alum of the Kaiser MSW Training Program, I was excited to join the training team as a clinical educator when I returned as an LCSW. I love collaborating with my patients as they identify patterns, achieve their goals, cope with change and improve their well-being.