Anxiety Disorders are the most common mental illness in the US and affect 40 million adults.
I was an anxious child, an anxious young adult, and now I am an anxious mother. Or rather, I am a mother who focuses daily on managing her mental state of mind so that she may be the best for her kids. However, about a year ago, while getting my girls ready to head out for the day… it happened. A full blown anxiety attack. A tunnel vision, room closing in, tightening of the chest; I think I am going to die, panic attack.
The scariest part? Thinking you are going to die and having two small children, who depend on you, looking back at you. I quickly got our landline handset and sat back down on the floor. Knowing the phone was accessible for my four-year-old to call 911 made it easier to begin to sort through the physiological feelings. You see, these were feeling that I knew well. Although, I had’t had a panic attack since college.
What exactly does a lifetime of stress look like, anyway? It was destroying a gold ball chain necklace at three by nervously biting each ball until it was dented and smashed. At seven it was diarrhea for a week before summer camp. At eight (and ten) it was throwing up on my best friend on the school bus on the first day of school – sorry Carrie, it was worse for me than for you, I promise. It was lip-biting and nail-picking my way through middle school. And becoming borderline depressed in high school as the natural anxiety met typical high school social anxiety, and I lacked the coping mechanisms.
By the time I was in my last quarter of college, I had already landed my first big girl job (because anxiety can also look like perfectionism). Between finishing school and co-managing a team of 40 in the midst of a recession and employee layoffs (alongside a boss akin to Meryl Streep’s character in the Devil Wears Prada) my anxiety was out of control. I had graduated to heart palpitations, insomnia, and full blown panic attacks – most of which I dealt with by partying it all away with the young and fabulous in Miami, and a growing cigarette habit. By age 24, I was unhealthy, exhausted, and miserable. I refused to accept that this was how I would feel the rest of my life and took an honest inventory of the things I could do to better cope with a natural overactive amygdala. I changed my life, in every sense imaginable, and most importantly began working toward creating harmony within my body and life.
One of the life changes I made was a career change, and while studying about role nutrition and wellness play in our mental health was able to make great strides in my life. I am here today to share with you, my top four tips for managing anxiety as a mother.
This one is huge guys, and I’ll tell you why. One of the most stressful parts of being an anxious person is the concern over how others will perceive you. The worry that no one understands what you are going through, or that you are strange or weird for feeling how you feel. It creates a downward spiral that creates more anxiety. If you wake up feeling anxious, share it with your spouse or partner. It can be casually said over coffee or brushing your teeth. You will feel relief having put it out there, and they will be able to be more compassionate for knowing. As for the kids, boy, are they resilient, and understanding in ways that will surprise you. All I have to say is “Mama is feeling a little anxious,” and my crazy kiddos morph into Mother Theresa who wants to breathe with me. They feel helpful and understanding my behavior is comforting to them.
Take an honest look at your life. Are there aspects that might be contributing to, or creating anxiety? Nutrition plays an enormous role in mental health, and sometimes it’s a matter of a couple of supplements, or dietary changes, that can make a world of difference. Are you practicing self-care? Anxiety or not, self-care is not a luxury, but is in fact, vital for our mental and emotional health – especially as mothers. Take inventory and create an action plan
“Mama, I think you need to exercise. You seemed stressed” – My five-year-old. Physical activity is one of the greatest things we can do for our mental health. You don’t have to join a cross fit gym or even take up running to reap the benefits. A simple brisk walk is proven to impact mental health for the better.
Mama, you are not alone. Dealing with anxiety alone as a mother can be suffocating. If you’re not certain what is causing the stress, or how to manage it, know that there are Licensed Mental Health Professionals, Certified Life Coaches, and Certified Health Coaches available – many of whom offer their services on a sliding scale to accommodate any budget.
In my case of the panic attack of 2016, it only took a couple of sessions of talk therapy with a mental health counselor to pinpoint the source and come up with an action plan. Rather than feel ill-equipped and powerless, I felt like an in control, pretty great mom.
And you can too.