You know that meme about anxiety that goes something like, “Hold on. I’ve gotta overthink about it.?” That’s pretty much me. The majority of the time. In some form, anxiety has always accompanied me on my journeys. Sometimes in the back seat quietly peaking its head up over my shoulder every once in while, and other times, like when I suffered from severe postpartum anxiety and intrusive thoughts, it has been the pilot of this ship. For the most part, I had a pretty good handle on my anxiety in my early 30’s. Life was moving along nicely. That was until I had kids. There’s nothing like babies and kids and pregnancy and childbirth and PARENTHOOD to wake up that backseat driver and push you right out of the front seat. But if you have anxiety as a parent it doesn’t mean you have to always be teetering on the edge – holding on for dear life from that shriveled up fossilized french fry you’ve found lodge into the carseat. Postpartum goddess and guru, Karen Kleinman, author of Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts, says it best: “Recognizing and understanding your anxiety might mean the difference between unnecessary suffering and healthy coping.”
So what does parenting with anxiety mean for me? It means a lot of self care. And I don’t mean in the form of manicures and massages and GNO’s (although don’t get me wrong – these are important much needed time outs that can FEED your soul). I’m talking about the type of self care that involves doing the hard work, the heavy lifting. For me it means still going to therapy every other Monday to make myself accountable for my anxiety and to figure out what I can do to make it better. It means that I do a lot of checking in, grounding and mindfulness when I feel my brain going to that place. Stoping. Taking a deep breath. Fact checking what my brain is telling me vs what is really going on. ANXIETY IS A LIAR, and when we take the power away from our thoughts, they become that, just thoughts.
If I feel my heart starting to race or a tightness in my chest, it means pressing pause on whatever I’m doing and (if possible) splashing some water on my face, sticking my head in the freezer (silly sounding but totally effective), or using some yummy smelling hand cream to get in touch with my five senses and to ground myself back to the present.
Sometimes doing my best also means taking medication. There is SO MUCH stigma around medication – everyone, everywhere wants to be the one who “doesn’t need it” – myself included for a long time. I would advocate for everyone else, but when it was my turn to take that little white pill I’d come up with every excuse in the book. My favorite analogy for taking medication for anxiety goes something like this: “I wear glasses. Can I manage without glasses? Well, yes, probably. I could squint a lot, constantly move up close to anything I want to see…I could just accept that I’ll never be able to see eagles flying in the sky or whales jumping out of the ocean.But why? Why try so hard to manage life when I could just put on a pair of glasses? No one would ever suggest a near-sighted person should just work harder. No one would say ‘Maybe that’s just your normal’ to someone that needs glasses. They would say ‘Let’s go to the eye doctor and get you a prescription so you’re able to see again.’ So, I’m here to tell you its ok. Its ok to take medication. Its one tool in your toolbox. It doesn’t make you weak. It makes you strong, mama.
Sleep. I know that sleep is huge for me, so making sure that I get at least seven hours a night is a must. No screen time right before bed (easier said than done) so my mind can relax. I found checking Insta or FB right before I went to bed made my mind race with all sorts of thoughts. Find a little nighttime ritual that sets your body up for a deep sleep. We play ambient sounds thru Alexa and use some lavender spray on the sheets before bed. You could always put on your essential oils diffuser or do a quick mindful meditation thru one of many free apps available. I LOVE Insight Timer and Calm!
Lets go back to social media for a second, I know that this can be a huge trigger for me and a lot of other parents. Social media can be amazing and give us a support system and help us connect with other parents – just like in this platform. I find personally and professionally, that social media can also be fuel for the fire. I refuse to read sad or upsetting stories about babies and children. It doesn’t make you a bad person to not read it – you must protect yourself – JUST KEEP ON SCROLLING! It’s like a social media version of ear muffs.
Exercise and clean eating is also a must to keep my anxiety at bay. It’s no secret that exercise helps improve our mood thru the release of endorphins. This was a major hurdle for me, but something that I had to commit to because I knew how important it was to my over all mental health. Doing some moderate to light exercise 3 x week makes me feel more level headed and clear. It makes me feel like a good mom! I’m not talking about anything crazy (but if that’s your thing by all means go for it). For me, it is 20 mins on the bike or a 30 min jog in the park. Just pushing your stroller around the block or getting out in the fresh air and running around with your kids at the park can be invigorating. And it’s a win/win for everyone involved.
Here’s another tough one: learning how to say NO and then doing it! If you’re anything like me you’re a people pleaser and you want to do all of the things, all of the time. There would be some weekends we’d look at the calendar and see that we had committed ourselves to too many things, and that would send me into a complete tailspin and my anxiety would go into overdrive. I had to learn to under schedule. CRINGE. To say no to that second birthday party in 1 day or that playdate when your kid had a crappy night sleep, or your husband’s brother’s girlfriend’s BBQ that interferes with bedtime. Its OK to say NO!
And the big finale – the concept of radical acceptance. For years, I fought the fact that I was an anxious person. If someone mentioned that I was anxious, I’d almost physically wince. I’d get defensive and angry. When I was struggling with severe Postpartum Anxiety after my first was born, it took me OVER A YEAR to accept help. When I finally completely and totally accepted that anxiety was a part of my life and probably always would be— I stopped letting it define me. I was no longer an “anxious parent”. I was a parent who had anxiety – along with a long list of other wonderful traits.
So what am I saying? – I’m saying OWN IT. Talk about it – speak its name. Call yourself out. Tell your family and friends whats going on – they can’t begin to understand if they are left in the dark. I also started finding the humor in it. “Anxious mom, over here!” I’d say if the after school playground banter turned to something that would start to make my heart race. And you know what? I realized when I let my guard down – that I wasn’t alone. That there are plenty of other parents out there having the same struggles, and we are all just doing our best and TRYING to do our best for our kids. At the end of the day, healthy moms equal healthy families and we owe it to ourselves and our children to be present and available.