Today, Chrissy Teigen opened up about her experience with postpartum depression and anxiety in an essay for Glamour magazine that's equal parts raw and powerful. She describes feeling depleted, never hungry, just plain unhappy, and in constant physical pain after her daughter Luna's birth — all with the Chrissy candor that makes us obsessed with her in the first place.
Thankfully, Teigen eventually saw a doctor who was able to diagnose her, which was a relief, but the months before that hurt, physically and emotionally, she says. "Getting out of bed to get to set on time was painful," Teigen writes. "My lower back throbbed; my shoulders — even my wrists — hurt." One symptom of PPD is feeling physical aches and pains — like stomach aches, headaches, or muscle and back pain — and it's also a symptom of anxiety and depression. Mental tension can lead you to be physically tense, too, says Catherine Monk, PhD, Associate Professor of Medical Psychology (in Psychiatry and Obstetrics and Gynecology) at Columbia University. "Over time, that tenseness could cause a back ache or overall tension and discomfort," Dr. Monk says.
There's also some evidence that your immune system isn't properly regulated when you're depressed, so you could feel achy like you have the flu, she says. And hormones can play a big part, because your stress hormones can't regulate either — which makes your body more alert and strained, like you're in a "chronic fight or flight" scenario, Dr. Monk says. Some new moms are used to being able to work out and get a good amount of sleep — and then, suddenly, they aren't, so there's a "change in relief" that contributes to depression, she says.
Teigen describes going in circles with doctors and specialists at the hospital, like she "was in an episode of Grey's Anatomy," just to figure out why she was in so much physical pain. "Maybe it was a kidney infection? No one could figure it out," she says. "I saw rheumatoid doctors for the wrist pain; we thought it might be rheumatoid arthritis. I felt nauseated all the time, so I saw a GI doctor. I wondered: Am I making this all up? Is this pain even real anymore? " Only later, when Teigen says she was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety, did she make the link that her physical pain was caused by her anxiety. "Unfortunately, when medical health providers are treating women during pregnancy or postpartum, there's so much pressure to focus on the baby's physical health, not how [the mother] feels," Dr. Monk says. "What's hard to get [doctors] to ask about is their mind and brain, rather than their body."
Between 70 and 80% of women feel negative feelings or mood swings (a.k.a. the "baby blues") after they give birth, which can make it tough to pinpoint postpartum depression. Up to one in seven women experience postpartum depression, according to the American Psychological Association, but Teigen says she felt like there was a stigma just mentioning the word "depression." Postpartum depression also manifests in completely different ways depending on the person, so the symptoms can be all over the place.
In most cases, depression is treated through behavioral interventions, like mindfulness practices and therapy, Dr. Monk says. Medication can be the best option in severe cases, she adds, and Teigen mentions starting an antidepressant in her essay. "Given that a woman is in good physical health, mindful walks, yoga, pilates, and swimming can help ease the body as well as the psychological mental problem," Dr. Monk says, adding that massage, acupuncture, and saunas can help, too.
Teigen's essay is powerful because it shows that anyone can feel down, even if they seem totally fine — and feeling down can be a total mind/body experience. "This is a really good example of how we all should be thinking about a person's mind and body together — particularly with obstetrics and pediatrics, the experts that have most contact with women," Dr. Monk says. "They, too, can ask about mental health, as well as whether [their patients] can move around with their C-section scar."
As for Teigen, she tweeted today that talking about her depression has made people ask how she's doing. Let that be your cue to not hesitate to ask the new moms in your life how they're feeling — both physically and emotionally.
If you are experiencing postpartum depression, please call the Postpartum Support Helpline.
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