Olivia Munn Recalls ‘Incredibly Difficult’ Postpartum Anxiety: ‘Truly the Most Challenging Thing’

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Olivia Munn underwent breast cancer treatment last year after a surprise diagnosis, but in a new interview with People, she said even that experience wasn’t as difficult as postpartum anxiety.

“It was truly the most challenging thing,” said Munn, who shares her two-year-old son Malcolm with partner John Mulaney. “It was incredibly difficult. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would put my postpartum anxiety at 100… I went through something challenging this past year,” she continued, referencing her breast cancer battle, “but I don’t think it compares to what I went through postpartum.”

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Postpartum anxiety affects 1 in 5 postpartum moms, according to one 2018 study, and can come with symptoms including constant worry, fear of something bad happening, racing thoughts, and sleep and appetite changes, per Postpartum Support International. It can also come with physical symptoms, like dizziness and nausea.

For Munn, PPA manifested as difficulty breathing, which she says started a month after she gave birth. “I woke up out of nowhere” at 4 a.m., she recalled. “I can’t breathe. My chest is tight and it stays like that all day long.” Those symptoms — the early wake-up, the immediate anxiety, the symptoms continuing the rest of the day — occurred every day for “almost a year,” Munn said. “There would be days where I would have to be clenching on to John’s arm and walking from room to room. I couldn’t manage.”

Postpartum anxiety isn’t as well-known as postpartum depression; Munn said she’d heard of the latter, but wasn’t familiar with PPA. And while some women can experience both, the 2018 study found that 1 in 4 women who experience PPA do not experience depression at the same time. Those patients may be “slipping through the cracks,” wrote psychotherapist Melissa Weinberg in a piece for Psychology Today. “They are left feeling isolated and like something is wrong with them. They struggle and don’t always know why.”

Munn managed to stay present and enjoy her time with her new baby even while struggling through her anxiety symptoms, which she said “just eventually lifted,” but the experience left her with a profound empathy for moms going through the same thing. “I didn’t have thankfully any intrusive self-harm thoughts or anything negative towards my baby at all,” she said. “I know a lot of women deal with that and my heart goes out to them because there are just feelings and thoughts you can’t control when you’re postpartum like this.”

Weinberg described PPA as “quite responsive to treatment,” which could include cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, exercise, a good diet, and getting good sleep (as much as possible with a newborn), according to Cleveland Clinic. Medications are also an option, but breastfeeding moms should discuss it with their doctor first.

For Munn, the easing of her anxiety meant she finally “started feeling like myself again, and I started feeling better.” That was when she received her breast cancer diagnosis, which came as yet another unexpected challenge. “I really just didn’t have a moment to catch my breath,” Munn said.

She knows her body has permanently changed since giving birth and breast cancer treatment, “but that’s ok for me. It truly is,” Munn said, noting that spending time with her son puts everything in perspective. “I feel so happy that I got myself through it… it’s a very profound journey to find out how much strength and resilience I have. It’s more than I thought I had.”

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health, including anxiety, depression, or self-harming thoughts or behaviors, resources are available to help. Call the 988 Lifeline if you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts or urges, or text the Crisis Text Line for any mental health crisis by texting HOME to 741741. For more resources, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.

Before you go, check out our favorite affordable mental health apps:


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