Anxiety is hard to sit with, I understand that uncomfortably jittery feeling. At best, anxiety tends to put a little damper on your day. At worst, well, it can derail your schedule, your wellness and your balance for extended periods of time.
If you’re even the slightest bit anxiety prone, months of quarantine has probably done zero favours for your mental health. I get it. At best, anxiety tends to put a little damper on your day. At worst, well, it can derail your schedule, your wellness and your balance for extended periods of time. It’s so common that moms of young children and women in the perinatal phase suffer from anxiety (yes, it’s normal!).
As a mental therapist, I have a number of effective tools and strategies to help you kick anxiety in the butt… especially during this jittery and uncertain period in time.
But before breaking it down, let’s pause for a minute and remember that transitioning into motherhood is a difficult and oftentimes nerve wracking time. Most women struggle to an extent—that’s to be expected.
The good news though: despite what your favourite Instagram accounts might have you thinking, you don’t need to commit to long-term therapy or a massive self-improvement plan. Below, I’m breaking down simple and easily approachable ways to manage bouts of anxiety.
What is anxiety?
In recent years, it kind of feels like “anxiety” became everyone’s go-to term. It IS a common mental health issue and our modern society is a great contributor. But when we hear our loved ones say things like “I have so much anxiety this week,” or “This work-from-home arrangement is making my anxiety worse,” what does that actually mean?? How does anxiety look for each of us and how can we recognize when our own anxiety is at work?
Anxiety can take many forms. It can feel like dread, uncertainty, worry, nagging fear, confusion or queasiness. It is SUPER common in pregnancy and earlier motherhood too. You might notice shallow breathing, a quickening pulse or that cold sweaty feeling. This sort of unease can become an issue where some individuals notice that it’s getting in the way of life, preventing them from working as they intend to or interfering with their ability to feel well. In that case, it could be an anxiety disorder which is worth professional attention. In other cases, which I’m addressing here, there are simple tactics you can employ to put anxiety in its place.
So, how can we begin to wrap our arms around anxiety? Of my ten tips below, hopefully a handful will resonate with you.
Be a detective.
This is my way of saying: look at your life and pay close attention to what might be triggering your anxiety right now. Does it fluctuate? (I.e. sometimes it’s bad, other times it eases up.) What do you suspect makes it worse? What makes it more difficult to deal with? Once you look closely, you might be able to catch the culprits and in turn, grant yourself some peace.
Nourish your body.
Yes, this is a mental health discussion but your physical health plays a significant role in supporting your mind. Take care of your body! We know that the parts of the body are all connected so watch how you’re caring for your physical self. That means being mindful of what you’re eating, making sure you’re eating enough, slowing down when it’s meal time, staying hydrated… the whole thing!
As a mom, you’ve probably had to really tune into your physical self in recent years. You know which foods make you feel good and which ones… don’t. Ask yourself if there are small things you can do on a day-to-day basis to improve your nourishment overall.
Watch the caffeine.
Caffeine worsens anxiety. Chances are, you already knew that. If you didn’t, sorry to burst your caffeine bubble! As with anything, some people are more sensitive than others. So… watch your caffeine and how it makes you feel. If your wave of anxiety came after two or three strongly-brewed Americanos, it may be a sign you need to reduce.
Once we pay attention to how our coffee affects our mood, we can make necessary changes. And if you’ve been anxious lately, reducing caffeine will only ease symptoms.
Do something for yourself.
I understand that this one can feel hard. Think about the mothers in your life. How many of them give more time to others than they do to themselves? All of them? Here’s the thing: it can be tempting to always focus on your family, but you have needs too. Don’t forget about those. Take a moment and reflect on what those needs might be.
There’s probably an activity you’ve been meaning to do, a hobby you’ve been wanting to reacquaint yourself with or maybe it’s just something simple like calling up an old friend or listening to that album that really takes you back. Check in with yourself and commit to doing one thing just for you!
Watch your self talk.
We all have an inner critic and she tends to especially come out when we’re tired, run down or anxious. The inner critic is that nasty little voice that cuts you down, tells you you’re not good enough, suggests you’re not measuring up or that you’re not doing a good job (at mothering or otherwise). It’s so easy for new moms to give power to this inner critic because when going through major and important life changes, there’s so much opportunity to feel inadequate. Here’s the problem: these criticisms make you feel attacked. When attacked, you go into flight-or-fight mode and your nervous system becomes stimulated. It’s not good to be in that mode all the time.
Self kindness actually reduces anxiety so to silence that inner critic, think of a neutral statement to counter what she’s saying. For example, instead of saying “I failed as a mom today,” try “I had some challenges today and I did my best.”
Move your body.
This piece of advice can be mildly annoying, I know.
But it’s also true.
Yes, exercise is important but that doesn’t mean you have to run a half-marathon. Any type of movement will do! Choose something you actually enjoy or you’ll never bother to actually do it. That can be an evening wind-down yoga routine, a dance session or a walk with your best friend. Make it easy, reasonable and realistic.
It’s funny how something that requires literally no energy is often the thing we struggle with the most. For many moms, prioritizing sleep is really hard. When the kids go to bed, it can be so tempting to stay up to maximize those alone-time evening hours. Here’s the problem: when we push back our own bedtime in favour of binge-watching that Netflix series or escaping with a really good book, we can end up sleep deprived. That worsens anxiety. If you’ve been feeling anxious, tighten up your sleep schedule temporarily to build your resources back up again.
Make anxiety your BFF.
OK, hear me out. Instead of noticing your anxiety, fighting it and getting upset about being anxious, try listening to it. Why are you feeling anxious? What’s your anxiety trying to tell you? There’s probably a message there. Imagine your anxiety is a friend of yours who is struggling.
Think about how you can provide support. When you stop resisting, you’ll stop adding tension to your situation. And when you accept anxiety instead of pushing it away, you can get to the root of what is causing it.
Do something soothing.
Self-care isn’t just a trend that makes for good material on Instagram. When you’re experiencing high levels of anxiety, your body senses a threat and goes into fight-or-flight mode. This stimulates your nervous system (in a bad way) and so, you need to work to bring yourself back down to a relaxed state.
To do this, you want to pick an activity that is soothing for you and brings comfort. That could mean lighting candles and getting into a hot bath, making yourself a cup of hot chocolate or taking time to shut the door, wrap yourself in a cozy blanket and diffuse your favourite essential oils. These soothing activities are science-backed so next time you dismiss this stuff as selfish or frivolous, know that the opposite is actually true!
Take care of business.
Sometimes our anxiety likes to come out when our to-do list is just too long. When little day-to-day tasks start to pile up, we can start to feel stressed and overwhelmed. Overthinking is anxiety’s best friend.
When you actually set aside some time to “take care of business” or knock things off that list, it feels really good. Getting order back into your life is a smart and effective way to zap anxiety and keep it from spiralling out of control. Once you make a point to cross things off that list one by one, you’ll feel rewarded… and you’ll probably realize they weren’t even that big of a deal to begin with.
What have you been putting off? What task or project has been intimidating you? Making a dent in these types is likely to alleviate much of the anxiety you’re experiencing. Just don’t spend ALL your time on this stuff…
Anxiety is hard to sit with, I understand that uncomfortably jittery feeling. The good news is that there is so much that you can do to manage it. I see moms of young children struggling with feeling overburdened, not good enough and spread thin. To be fully honest, there are ways to feel in control and actually cruise through (and enjoy!) this journey in early motherhood. Trust me, I’ve been there.