Occasional worries or moments of stress are a natural part of parenthood. Abnormal anxiety is when those worries aren’t rooted in a realistic fear or they begin to control your actions
What’s the difference between normal worry and anxiety? For moms who feel on-edge, stressed, nervous and just generally on heightened alert, this can be the million dollar question.
So many moms find themselves wondering whether they’re experiencing abnormal anxiety, general stress, or regular worry. Because these can all look similar, it can be difficult to tell the difference.
A good way to get to the bottom of whether or not your experiences are “normal” is to ask yourself: “Is this becoming a problem in my life?”
It’s normal to worry. All parents worry about the wellbeing of their family from time to time. Think about how natural that is: there are more things that have to be on your radar, there are more potential threats to evaluate, and you’re responsible for taking reasonable action to protect your little ones. Occasional worries or moments of stress are a natural part of parenthood.
Abnormal anxiety, however, is when those worries aren’t rooted in a realistic fear or they begin to control your actions and day-to-day life.
If you’re having a hard time understanding whether or not anxiety is playing too significant a role in your life, the below guide can help you understand the difference between what’s normal… and what’s not.
What normal worry looks like:
If your fears or worries look like these descriptions below, then you’re probably in that “normal” zone.
The problem you’re focused on is in an attempt to resolve a current situation.
When a threat or a real problem presents itself, worrying in response to that issue is a natural response. If, for example, you find yourself weighing appropriate actions in response to the fact that your child is being bullied at school, that’s a normal worry. Because the situation is real and upon you, the stress is warranted.
You have some control over the worry process.
Are you able to separate yourself from whatever is stressing you out or is it consuming all of your mental space? If you have some control over your emotions towards the situation, then what you’re experiencing is still in the healthy range of normal worry. If you’re able to think about it but then set it aside in order to have dinner with your family or take a call from your sister, that’s a good sign.
These worries are in a response to a specific trigger.
What happened before you started to feel anxious? When there’s a specific cause or trigger, the thoughts that follow are usually a natural response. For example, if you saw a car driving well over the speed limit just outside your house where your kids play, it’s understandable to fear an accident and move your children to a safer space.
You’re not spending most of your time in a panic cycle.
If you’re able to keep your thoughts in check without cycling out of control, you’re probably experiencing normal worry versus a more problematic anxiety. Ask yourself: am I considering a situation from a realistic angle without blowing it out of proportion or am I focusing on unlikely worst-case scenarios? If it’s the former, you’re doing alright.
Signs you could be dealing with abnormal anxiety:
There’s a line between regular, healthy worries versus anxiety that is not productive and problematic. These are the red flags that anxiety is playing a role.
You’re attempting to reduce general uncertainty.
A lot of unhealthy anxiety comes from a place of wanting control. Are you constantly trying to manage things that are outside of your control? That’s impossible to achieve. All that does is add to anxiety and overwhelm. While it can feel constructive, it’s not.
Nothing specifically caused it, you’re just stressing out of habit.
There’s a big difference between noticing something upsetting or receiving a stressful message and then having an emotional response based on that. But if you’re feeling anxious all the time and independent of whether or not something has caused to trigger that unease, then you might be dealing with anxiety that is no longer considered normal. Do you wake up anxious? Do you feel anxiety spike at random times for no reason?
The focus of your thoughts are unlikely.
It’s one thing to worry about a child’s scraped knee and respond by disinfecting and bandaging up the cut. It’s another thing to assume it will become infected, monitor the injury continuously, and prevent your child from riding her bike as a precaution. One way to tell the difference between healthy worry and abnormal anxiety is to ask yourself: “Is what I’m fearing logical and realistic or is this scenario in my mind unlikely?”
The anxiety is getting in the way of everyday life.
One of the biggest tell-tale signs that a regular, logical fear has crossed over the abnormal anxiety is when your actions change in an effort to prevent or avoid whatever is causing the anxiety. If your day-to-day life, routine or relationships are being compromised because of whatever is stressing you out, that is no longer normal and you do not have to live with or accept that.
Looking for more support with anxiety, stress, and overwhelm in motherhood? Be sure to follow along on Instagram and send any thoughts or questions my way.
And if you’re feeling like you’re experiencing abnormal anxiety and not just riding the waves of the regular worries that all parents experience, I have a course for that. Mama Calm is the one stop shop for moms who want to gain control over anxiety and redirect their attention to activities that bring them a sense of ease and joy. Learn more here.
If your preventative measures for your health or your kids health go beyond what the average parent in your social circle does, that could be a sign that you’ve crossed the line from normal worry to chronic anxiety.
If you’re a mom, you’ve probably experienced your share of health related worries and possibly health anxiety. Looking after tiny humans is no small feat.
When it comes to health, preventing illness and injury, we can miss our own body’s signs, symptoms and red flags, so it’s no wonder that many moms fear illness going undetected in their children.
The pandemic obviously hasn’t done any favours for health anxiety for moms either. After years of pandemic-related precautions, confusing and conflicting news, and first-hand experiences with COVID, health anxiety has spiked for many of us.
If you constantly find yourself worrying about the health of yourself or your family, that can become stressful and take a toll over time. Some worry is normal, sure, but it’s always helpful to understand what’s normal, what’s not, and how to cope if the anxiety is getting out of hand.
Here is a guide to health anxiety in motherhood as you navigate this tricky area.
Health anxiety in mothers: When is it anxiety and when is it normal worry?
Certain worries are normal. As moms, it’s our job to observe the health of our little ones and do what we can to keep our families happy and healthy.
Obviously, as a primary caregiver, you’re going to need to tune into your children’s behaviour, energy levels, and symptoms. Standard preventative measures like using hand sanitizer, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, dressing properly for the weather, and avoiding sick friends and family are all normal actions to prevent illness as much as possible. It’s totally normal and natural to worry about COVID, cold and flu season, or even accidents. It’s also normal to limit dangerous, age inappropriate activities for little ones when the risk of injury is high.
But when these worries become obsessive (consume a lot of your mental energy) or you change your actions drastically in an effort to avoid any kind of illness or injury, that’s a sign that it could be a bigger problem like anxiety.
If these worries are getting in the way of how you live your day-to-day life, then that’s no longer what we’d consider “normal”. So if you’re constantly monitoring kids even when they don’t show any signs of sickness, or you’re spending time self diagnosing online, that’s often a symptom of anxiety. Another way to think about it is that is your list of preventative measures goes well beyond what the average parent in your family or social circle is doing, and if this is bothersome to you or causing problems in your life, then it could be anxiety at play.
If this sounds like your experience, the good news is that there’s a lot you can do to keep this health anxiety in check.
How to cope:
Everything is treatable, and manageable, let’s start by saying that!
And this includes health anxiety in motherhood. I have supported many moms who are able to find so much more calm and ease even if they felt stuck in the worries at what ifs. It’s totally possible.
If fears about health issues happening to you or your children are getting in the way, here are some ways you can keep that at bay.
1. Quit consulting Dr. Google.
While it may feel like you’re just doing your research to thoroughly check out any symptoms that you’re observing, constantly researching online can just add fuel to the fire. In some instances, this kind of “checking” can be part of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which is a form of anxiety.
It’s so tempting to check the Web MD page or Google over and over again because there is endless information on the internet, and it can feel comforting to learn, and to feel more in control. But the problem is, it’s limitless. There’s no number of webpages you could view that would put your mind at ease – the anxiety and worry is still there. So in the end, actions like Googling or scrolling the internet usually just increase anxiety.
Plus, self diagnoses are often wrong and the information you find online often can enable you to build a case that something worse is at play when in reality, it may not be a disaster after all.
Of course, there is a benefit of the information at your fingertips. So what I suggest is setting a limit, where you allow yourself a reasonable time to read about one of your worries (let’s say 15 minutes), and then you commit to closing the website and moving on with your day. Can you give that a try?
2. Limit conversations around health issues.
Ever notice how that news article about some horrific accident made you start worrying about something new? Or your friends talking about sickness suddenly added another fear to your worry list?
If you know that certain conversations around COVID, freak accidents, or tragic diagnoses trigger anxiety that leads to you worrying for days, you need to put a boundary in place, and it’s totally okay to do that!
These kinds of discussions often strengthen the pathways in your brain that enforce thoughts like, “These worries deserve all my attention. I need to be on alert at all times.” Essentially, talking about terrible things makes your brain think that it needs to be hypervigilant and pay attention because something dangerous is around the corner.
To limit or avoid these conversations, you can just politely explain that you’re managing your anxiety around this stuff and would rather not focus on things that are worrisome. Sometimes it takes several attempts to shift conversations, as friend groups tend to get used to speaking in a certain way.
3. Revisit your values.
Getting clear on your personal and family values is an exercise every parent should do because values are essentially a roadmap for the way your life, the way you parent and how you spend your time.
For example, do you value quality time, spirituality, money, movement, nature, time with extended family, travel, or food/nutrition? Knowing your top three values (there are hundred of values by the way) will help you make decisions according to those.
For example, if spending time in nature is your top value, spending a Sunday walking with the family in the woods will help you feel more connected and fulfilled, which in turn reduces anxiety—including health anxiety.
You see, sometimes anxiety can suck you in so that you give it all your energy. You worry, ruminate, play out scenarios in your mind, and put a lot of effort into avoiding the things that you’re worrying about. And even if you’re successful in doing that, you still might not be living a fulfilling life.
When you start focusing more of your energy on the things you truly love and value (not just avoiding anxiety) you truly start to feel like yourself again.
4. Remember that worrying doesn’t fix anything.
Worrying feels productive, doesn’t it? Part of your brain is patting itself on the back thinking that it’s somehow solving problems.
But worrying doesn’t actually do anything to change a current situation or prevent anything bad from happening. The only thing that stressing or ruminating does is take up mental space and energy, and snowball into more worry. That’s it.
The thing about anxiety is that when we spend time thinking about a situation, it can give us a false sense that we have control. But often we don’t. So after doing the regular responsible actions (like sure, ask your doc about a symptoms or check temperature a new times), but then try to unhook from that anxious part of your brain that wants more more more of you.
Some people will say “but I need to think about something to solve a problem or plan!” to which I say, “yes, of course you do!” But once your start circling around a problem without making progress, your thinking is no longer productive.
Reviewing conversations, thinking about worst case scenarios, or worrying about what ifs is just not productive.
I hope these tips have given you a starting point to begin challenging health related anxiety. You’re always welcome to reach out with any questions you have, and follow along at @kateborsato on Instagram.
And if anxiety is getting in the way, I have a course for that! Mama Calm is your go-to resource for all anxiety-related matters in motherhood. Whether it’s intrusive thoughts about your child falling down the stairs or endless fears about your health, Mama Calm is a solution-focused course that gives you the tools and strategies to put all types of anxiety behind you. Learn more about it here.
In order to manage anxiety, you have to turn on what’s called your “parasympathetic nervous system.” This allows you to relax, think clearly, get out of your head (where anxiety lives).
If you’re reading this, you know—at least generally—what anxiety it is. Likely, you experience it in your own life. Possibly, it’s even impacting the way you live.
Anxiety can show up in many different ways depending on the individual. Some experience physical sensations like butterflies in the tummy, increased heart rate, sweating, or feeling like there’s a lump in your throat.
It can also show up as difficulties with mood: losing your temper, feeling irritated, crying often, or feeling frustrated and self-critical. If you experience anxiety on a regular basis, it could also lead to insomnia or fatigue.
Even though it’s hard to sit with, anxiety has a purpose. It’s your body’s natural fear response that’s there to keep you and your family safe. It’s there to signal to your brain that there may be danger and that you may need to take action. That’s a good thing… however it becomes a problem when that function goes into overdrive and gets in your way.
When you’re anxious, it’s because your nervous system is detecting a threat—real or perceived. Even something like a crying baby, feeling overwhelmed, or self-critical thoughts can kick your nervous system into fight-or-flight mode. When you’re in this state, you’re not calm or clear-headed. In order to get to a place where you’re able to manage this anxiety, you have to turn on what’s called your “parasympathetic nervous system.” This is what allows you to relax, think clearly, get out of your head (where anxiety lives) and into your body.
Below I’ve described six ways to reduce anxiety when it spikes.
1. Sensory Scan
This is a quick and easy exercise where you intentionally shift your focus away from what’s bothering you and into your physical senses instead. For this practice, take a moment to run through each sense—smell, taste, sight, touch, and hearing—one at a time.
What do you notice for each?
Keep it simple by noticing three things for each sense.
What do you hear? See if you can tease apart all the different sounds around you.
What do you smell? Notice anything?
What do you feel? Could be the temperature in the room, the texture of your clothing, or the pressure from the chair or floor beneath you.
What do you see? Look around and notice what colours or patterns stand out to you. Even with your eyes closed, you can notice a colour on the back of your eyelids.
What do you taste? Lingering coffee? Or maybe nothing. Just notice.
The idea here is that mentally, you can’t be in two places at once so if you’re focusing on your physical senses, you’ll be unable to pay attention to anything else. It gives your nervous system a break from the perceived threat, and a chance to settle down into a calmer state.
2. Grounding visualization
When stuck in a cycle of anxiety or panic attack, some people say they feel disconnected, or like they’re floating. This is the opposite of feeling grounded, safe, and secure.
If this is feeling relatable, a grounding visualization can be helpful to re-establish the sense that you’re totally supported and a part of something bigger.
To do this, close your eyes and imagine yourself being grounded and completely anchored to the earth. Notice how your feet are firmly planted to the floor or soil. Think about how that is connected to the foundation of your home or earth’s center. Knowing that you are connected to something can feel comforting or soothing. When visualizing this, remind yourself that you’re still, safe, and protected.
I love to visualize how my body, at all times, is anchored to the Earth with gravity, and that I am quite literally connected through each cell of my body to the ground beneath me. I find that focusing on this connection helps me get out of my head, and into my body, and therefore feeling much calmer. Give it a try!
3. Engage one of your senses
Where the first exercise is a way to observe each of your senses briefly, this practice is about picking one and taking a deep dive to fully explore that particular sense.
Take taste for example.
Choose a tea, a favourite candy, a piece of fruit or your lunch. Refocus your attention to fully concentrate on what that tastes like and how your body reacts to the flavours you’re experiencing.
If you decide to indulge in sense of touch or feeling, take a hot shower or go sit outside in the sun. What happens when you notice the sun’s rays on your face?
It’s up to you which sense you want to explore. Some people might feel more connected to taste, while others might feel calmed by the smell of essential oils.
Again, the idea is to bring mindful awareness into the moment, into your actual experience rather than focusing on whatever is causing you anxiety.
4. Deep belly breathing
Deep belly breathing is actually the fastest way to calm anxiety, signal to your nervous system that you’re ok, and bring yourself to that state where your parasympathetic nervous system is turned on.
When you’re stressed out, panicking, or anxious, you’re usually breathing shallowly (as in, into your chest). That makes matters worse by maintaining this physiological state of danger. We want to tell your brain that you’re in fact totally safe.
Breathing in a deep and calming way is a means of signalling to your brain that you’re safe and in turn, your nervous system will calm down.
When deep breathing, one way to improve your technique is to place one hand on your chest, with the other one on your belly. As you breathe in, you should notice that only the hand on your belly moves up and down. If the hand on your chest is moving, you need to breathe in even deeper, allowing your belly to expand fully before letting it all go and noticing your belly coming back in.
5. Trace your fingers as you breathe
When focusing on deep breathing, some can find it helpful to have an aid or visual. If you’re someone who needs a bit more structure to a practice than simply deep breathing, using the outline of your fingers as a guide can be a useful tool. (This also helps you to engage your sense of touch so in a way, you’re combining two anti-anxiety practices.)
Here’s how to do this:
Start on the outside of your left pinky. As you breathe in, trace up along the side of your finger. When you breathe out, trace downwards on the other side. Do this for both sides of each finger of your hand breathing in and tracing up, breathing out and tracing down.
Your job is to bring mindful awareness to the sensations you’re experiencing, focusing on each finger, and noticing your breath.
6. Mini progressive muscle relaxation
This is a popular strategy used to divert focus from anxious, stressed, or worried thinking. The only problem with this technique is that it can be time consuming to focus on every single muscle group in your body.
A mini version can be just as effective when you’re trying to calm anxious feelings in the moment.
For this simpler version, pick one group of muscles (like your hands, arms or legs, for example). What you want to do is go back and forth between tensing and releasing for five seconds at a time.
So if you’re focusing on your hands, make a first and squeeze for five seconds and then release and totally relax for the next five.
The point of this exercise is to pay really close attention to what it feels like when you’re stressed or physically tense, versus how it feels to be completely relaxed. This helps you get into your body and be more mindful of when you’re physically carrying tension in anxious moments (i.e. with a clenched jaw, tight tummy, or hunched shoulders).
Anxiety is a very real and can be a challenging problem to be dealing with. The good news is that with time and practice you too can manage your anxiety.
While the rates of mood disorders in pregnancy and in postpartum are exactly the same, we remain tight-lipped about mental health challenges in pregnancy. Prenatal anxiety is just as common as postpartum depression.
Though mainstream conversation wouldn’t have you believe it, anxiety in pregnancy is just as common as postpartum depression. In discussions about the transition to motherhood, we hear the term “postpartum depression” quite commonly. Mental health struggles during pregnancy however is a neglected topic. It’s no wonder that no one seems to know about the mental health matters that so many women suffer from in the months and weeks after conceiving. While the rates of these mood disorders in pregnancy and in postpartum are exactly the same, we remain tight-lipped about the former.
And I want to change that.
It shouldn’t be news that women experience anxiety and depression in pregnancy. Women carrying a baby have been struggling with their mental health since… always.
Just because we don’t talk about it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. But because we don’t talk about it, many women feel isolated in their experiences. So. If you’re pregnant and feeling worried, down, anxious or just having a hard time managing your mood, the first piece of good news is that you’re not alone. The second piece of good news is that all of your symptoms are treatable. And I mean all of them.
Society may have you thinking that pregnancy is simply a blissful period of basking in the prenatal glow. I’m here to debunk this myth. Truthfully, pregnancy can be a challenging time. I mean, why wouldn’t it be? Your body is going through immense change and your entire life is about to shift!
If you’re having a hard time recognizing your own anxiety, you’re in the right place.
Below are the four most obvious signs that you’re struggling and might need some extra support.
1. You feel nervous, agitated, or uneasy.
You can probably think of a time recently when you felt nervous about something (that awkward conversation with your mother in law, the one-on-one call with your boss). Physical feelings of jitteriness, discomfort and unease are sensations you can usually feel in your body.
You know that uncomfortable stomach-dropping, heart-pounding feeling that you have before a major pitch or presentation?
Sometimes we struggle with those anxious sensations for seemingly no reason in our day-to-day life. If you’re feeling like that consistently throughout the day, that’s a problem and a huge sign that anxiety is playing too large a role right now. There are many simple ways to manage that! Listen to your body—it’s saying something.
2. You’re having stomach issues and difficulty breathing, or sleeping.
Anxiety often shows up in your body in more than a butterflies-in-your-tummy kind of way. Oftentimes, people even mistake physical symptoms of anxiety for something else. (In my experience in early motherhood, I didn’t recognize my anxiety and thought I had problems with my lungs!)
Constantly having pain or a queasy feeling in your stomach or having diarrhea are physical signs of anxiety. Many also express difficulty sleeping which can take a toll when nights of poor sleep quality accumulate. A common physical symptom of anxiety (and one that women especially talk about ) is shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and just feeling like you can’t get enough air.
Have you experienced one or more of these symptoms since becoming pregnant? Your body is always giving clues when things are out of balance—paying attention to these clues is a pretty good step to get your health (physical and mental) back to where you want it.
3. Scary or disturbing thoughts.
In the time since you found out you were pregnant, you may have started to experience unsettling thoughts. Unwanted images or scary scenarios that pop into your mind out of the blue are called intrusive thoughts. They’re SO common especially during pregnancy and early motherhood.
We’ve all had that experience of driving down the road and suddenly envisioning ourselves veering into oncoming traffic or driving off a bridge. It’s a scary scenario we’ve imagined, it flashes into our mind out of nowhere and it’s quite disturbing. That’s an intrusive thought.
The phenomenon that causes that dark traffic accident thought is the same one at play during pregnancy. In pregnancy, intrusive thoughts might involve you getting hurt and losing your baby or having a complication during labour. This is really common but we can add it to the list of perinatal mental health concerns that society ignores.
Because intrusive thoughts aren’t commonly discussed, most women don’t know that this sign of anxiety actually has a name. Nor do they realize that it happens to the majority of pregnant women—not just them. (If only we had realized how normal this is, we would have spared ourselves so much guilt and shame…)
How to know if these thoughts are dangerous:
If you’re experiencing intrusive thoughts which revolve around harm coming to you or your baby, consider if these thoughts are in alignment with what you want. If you’d NEVER be OK with that scenario coming true, then they’re likely a sign of anxiety. If the thought is in alignment with what you want, then you do need to reach out for help (call 911). Most of the time, intrusive thoughts are merely a sign of anxiety—which is why we find them disturbing.
There’s no shame in that.
4. Worrying about the future.
If you’re spending a lot of your time running possible scenarios through your mind or stressing about the “what ifs,” that’s a sign that you may be suffering from anxiety in pregnancy. Your inner dialogue might run a string of worries like “What if my boss doesn’t give me enough time off?”, “What if my husband is a bad dad?” or “What if something bad happens when I go into labour?”
There’s a difference between anticipating what’s ahead and getting stuck fretting about what could happen way down the road. If the hypotheticals of the future have you unable to properly live in the present, that’s a sign of anxiety. If you’re feeling stuck in this anxious thought cycle, know that you absolutely can move past this state of worry.
Even though some anxiety during pregnancy is completely normal, it’s not spoken about often enough in our society. When we don’t acknowledge these painful experiences, women feel isolated in their struggles. Feeling as though you’re the only one with these experiences creates a sense of shame. That just makes it even more difficult for women to reach out and get support.
If any of the above signs of anxiety during pregnancy describe what you’re going through, just remember that you’re not alone, and each of these symptoms is completely treatable.
You deserve support. You can feel at ease in your own mind with the proper tools, information and skills.
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.
Critical thoughts are so harmful because they’re habitual, not because they’re true. Positive affirmations work because they help rewrite a story you’ve been telling yourself for years.
In the topsy-turvy life-upside-down era that is the coronavirus pandemic, mindset shifts and positive thinking are—and I cannot stress this enough—essential tools for your mental health and wellbeing.
This is exactly why I’m pointing out the power of positive affirmations.
You’ve probably at least heard of positive affirmations, right?
These are the motivational quotes sprinkled through your Instagram feed as you mindlessly scroll to zone out after a rough day. These are the helpful picker-uppers written in cursive that you pin to whatever Pinterest account eases your pandemic blues. (If you don’t have one yet, check out mine!) They’re the mantras you see online, the positive phrases written on cards you can buy in bookshops, the one-sentence positivity burst your best friend just posted in her story.
Once you look for them, positive affirmations are kind of everywhere. And for good reason: they actually work. Scientific studies back them. I back them because I see evidence of them working. I use them in my own life and encourage them in my practice as well. Why? I’m going to dive right into their power and break it all down. Hopefully, I even convert you into an avid positive affirmation user!
Your thoughts impact your mood. Affirmations are a way to plant positive thoughts.
As a mental health therapist, a huge part of my job is to help women lift their mood, bring joy back into their lives, manage overwhelm and control anxiety. Motherhood feels hard because motherhood IS hard. Motherhood is especially hard during the early days (it’s a MAJOR life change! Why wouldn’t it be?) and even more so during a global pandemic! So many women come to me asking “How do I feel better?” “How do I feel happier?” “How do I enjoy myself?”
Certainly there are times in life that call for a big change. That could be a job change, an overhaul of lifestyle habits, a change in city or in a relationship that needs to shift. That’s one thing.
Sometimes though, the day-to-day needs a little tweak or edit so that you can feel joy again or so that you can feel that your days include YOU, the things that make you happy and the things that you are personally interested in.
“The way that your thoughts work and how they impact you is at the core of why we use affirmations.”
When examining the day-to-day stress, anxiety or just overall dissatisfaction, your thoughts are the perfect starting point. The way that your thoughts work and how they impact you is at the core of why we use affirmations. This is because your thoughts directly impact your mood, your emotions, your feelings and also your physical self. Sometimes as a result, those thoughts can have a major influence on your day.
Not quite convinced?
OK. Try this: imagine a food or drink that you really love. As you’re picturing that margarita pizza or strawberry cheesecake or whatever it may be, pay attention to how you feel physically. Does anything change? Maybe your mouth starts watering! That right there is an example that illustrates how a thought can have power over you in a physical sense.
The same things happen with emotions. Our thoughts come first (a memory, our reaction to a movie we’re watching or even a song we’re listening to) and then an emotional response comes right afterwards.
See where I’m going with this? A positive affirmation or mantra can be that “thought” triggering the good mood and positive associations that follow.
Once we understand the thought to emotional response connection, we can start to influence our feelings.
Once it clicks that your thoughts often dictate whether you feel happy or sad, you can also understand that you have the power to influence this whole connection. That’s an incredibly good piece of news.
How do you want to feel? A really common element of thought work that many women in particular find useful is self compassion.
Are you someone who is really hard on yourself? How many times a day are you coming down on yourself or beating yourself up? That pattern is something you can shift. If you want to feel lighter, and happier and at ease in your life, you can shift your thinking.
Sounds easier said than done, right? I have a metaphor to help with that.
Enter the forest metaphor.
To understand how we can create new thoughts that resonate, picture for a moment what it’s like to walk through a forest on a well-groomed trail. It’s easy to walk on, it’s a well trodden pathway, it’s a walkway that has been taken time and time again.
Thoughts that we gravitate towards or that feel almost automatic are like that well-groomed, highly travelled trail. When you think something over and over again, it’s just like wearing a path through a thick forest. Eventually, it becomes that well-groomed trail that is so easy to walk on especially compared to the surrounding untouched landscape. Now, if you went hiking in that particular forest, you’re going to take the path of least resistance. Think about it: why would you even attempt to hack your way through the bush when you have a much simpler option right in front of you?
Even if we have recurring thoughts that have absolutely no use or positive purpose, we can think them so frequently that they carve that path—a wellllll beaten one! Your brain then becomes like you hiking through that forest: it takes the path of least resistance and automatically goes down that road.
This is exactly why establishing new thoughts takes so much work. These new thoughts are competing with that established, well-groomed trail. Think about that forest: carving a new path through all that bush takes so much work and effort in the same way that establishing new thinking patterns does.
Knowing all of this, why don’t you examine some of your own negative thought patterns. What is a critical thought that you often gravitate towards that doesn’t serve you? It could be something like “I’m a bad mom.” “I’m always so overwhelmed.” “I’m a bad partner.” or “I’m so boring, nobody likes me.” It’s so common that people carry these kinds of thoughts for years and years.
Critical thoughts are hard to let go of because they’re habitual, not because they’re true.
If you want to create a new thought, give your brain something to go on. When you catch yourself drifting to that original critical thought, give it an alternative or a replacement to think of instead. For example, those could be “I’m a great mom and I’m doing my best.” “I provide my kids with everything that they need.”
When the replacement thought doesn’t feel true…
Oftentimes, the new thought or affirmation won’t feel true at first. That’s OK and that’s totally understandable. You’re in the early stages of rewriting a story that you’ve told yourself for years so it makes sense that you won’t always believe the counter-statement right away. It might even feel phoney. That doesn’t matter. That’s not the point.
The purpose is that you are laying the foundation for your brain to take a new pathway. You’re starting to carve out that new trail to replace the old one! So, when you use an affirmation, it might work right off the bat, it might not. What the affirmation is doing though, is it’s giving your brain a new direction. It’s giving your mind another possibility.
Some of the affirmations that I created specifically for mothers can be found here. The reason why I created these cards is because I believe in their power and because I wanted to support mothers to have self-compassion. It IS acceptable to carve out time for self care and give yourself your own love and attention.
How to use Affirmation Cards:
There are no rules with affirmation cards, just try out different ways to use them and see what fits best for you. Here are some things I do:
1. Intentionally pull one card each day.
I like to keep a pile on my desk and each morning, I flip them over so I can’t see, and then I choose one card to give me a morning message. You might choose one card for the week and focus on that message.
2. Tuck them in your purse, desk, post them on your fridge.
It’s fun to find them when you’re not expecting it. Maybe you have a favourite card that seems to deliver the exact message you want to hear – in that case, I leave that card out in plain sight!
3. Have them available to you on a regular basis.
When we use these on a daily basis, they have a positive impact on our thought habits, our self confidence, our belief systems and our mood.
I also believe that when self care and working on ourselves starts to feel like a huge thing to add to an already overburdened schedule, we become overwhelmed.
So start small.
Affirmations are so simple, they’re effective and they will help you achieve your overall goal of feeling happier and more at ease in your day-to-day life.
I’d love to hear what you notice when you start using affirmations! Feel free to share, get in touch, or leave a comment letting me know your experiences.