I was never an "anxious person" until I became a mom. I remember the day my daughter was born and they handed her to me to breastfeed her. I think that was the moment my anxiety was "born." I remember her crying and wiggling her tiny feet as she tried to latch but couldn't. I tired holding her tiny body as her head wobbled back and forth. I remember thinking to myself that she must be starving! I felt like I was failing her by not being able to help her latch. It was an awkward dance between us, nothing like what I had imagined. I felt defeated as I asked the nurse for formula just to stop my daughter from crying. As I watched my daughter gobble down the formula I started crying and this was the moment I realized that Motherhood was going to be quite the journey.
My daughter is now five years old and this anxiety has only grown. It's such a difficult job being responsible for the life of another human being. A tiny person who looks to you for all the answers. I see motherhood as an opportunity to raise a human being with strong values, a well rounded individual , who is kind hearted, has a healthy self esteem and treats others with respect. I want to raise happy healthy kids but I realize that most things are out of my control, and this is where the anxiety can come in.
So what exactly is anxiety? Anxiety can best be described as the unhelpful thinking patterns we experience when our mind fixates on threats, uncertainty and negativity (The Wellness Society www.wellnesssociety.org). Anxiety is a normal and often healthy emotion. However, when we regularly feel disproportionate levels of anxiety, it might become a medical disorder. "Anxiety can occur on it's own as a response to stress or it can tigger stress. When it occurs as a response to stress it can intensify the stress and in worst cases lead to panic attacks." It's important to note that " you cannot control anxiety from occurring- this is your brain's automatic survival mechanism. What matters is learning how to respond to anxiety helpfully. so that you don't get carried away by it." (The Wellness Society www.wellnesssociety.org)
So since this anxiety is normal, it begs the question how can you deal with it? This might sound simple but one of the very first thing I try to do is "breathe." When I find myself worrying about, for example, how I'm going to wean my daughter (yes we were able to establish a great breast feeding relationship that didn't end until she was 2 years and a few weeks old. I'll share this journey in another blog), I stop, take a deep breathe and try to figure out my irrational thoughts. I then try to separate what I can control from what I cannot control.
I also use distraction. I like having what I call "projects" to work on. Planning a birthday party, researching and planning an adventure for the family, working on a new hobby. I find having something to work on can always distract me from the unwanted thoughts in my head.
Another important way of managing your anxiety as a mom, is to talk to other moms. When I first became a mom, I realized that I needed other moms in my life. I found myself reaching out to every one in my contact list who had kids. I felt the need to connect with another human being who would understand what I was going through. I also needed to find moms who were not at work (most of my friends were working and not available to speak during the day time or at midnight when my daughter's colic started). I started scouting Facebook and joined a baby wearing mom group that I think "saved my life." Whenever I find myself overthinking stuff I reach for my phone and start messaging a friend. At the end of the conversation I find myself laughing at how silly I was and shaking my head in disbelief because I blew things our of proportion.
Making time for myself always helps. Sometimes I find myself in a rut where I am constantly complaining about not having time for myself. These thoughts then impact my behavior and I become irritable. When I'm irritable then my responses with the kids are short and sharp. One thing leads to another and before I know it I have two children who crying and whining. When I take a closer look at the situation I realize that if I had taken a break I would be less irritable and more engaged. For me, even a ten minutes break can make a difference, so I may go sit outside, get some sunlight and breathe. Sometimes I call a friend and just chit chat about something frivolous or just vent and get a good laugh.
Something new that I have been trying is exercise. Now that I'm getting "older" my metabolism is slowing down. Shelter in place hasn't helped, as I find myself snacking a lot. I've started walking (I tried jogging but I just can't go for long distances, ok fine , I can't even jog for super short distances either). I started walking one mile three days per week with the hope of increasing this over a period of time. Walking helps me with breathing and clearing my mind. It gives me my "me -time" and helps me to burn some calories.
Take the time to think about what triggers your anxiety. Now, think about what you can do to manage your anxiety. Anxiety is normal so learning how to cope is essential. I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and remember it's never too late to start taking care of yourself.