One of my biggest struggles as a mother is managing my own anxiety. It’s like this huge, invisible monster that hangs out in our house, waiting for the crescendo of my children’s screams to hit just the right pitch before swooping in and swallowing me whole.
I’ve always been an anxious person — a nail-biter, mostly — who liked predictability and plans and order. Basically, I’m a control freak, but I wanted children, and I love being a mum; it’s just that the chaos of parenting doesn’t always mesh well with my uptight, type-A personality. These tiny people don’t do things when they’re supposed to! They don’t sleep! They don’t eat the food I put in front of them! They whine when they should be happy! Why are they always crying?!
I had PLANS for how this mum thing was going to go down. I had it ALL MAPPED OUT, you guys, and NONE OF IT IS GOING ACCORDINGLY. Motherhood is a gigantic clusterfuck and I am constantly one or five steps behind.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, we are certainly not alone. From puberty to age 50, women are nearly twice as likely than men to develop an anxiety disorder. Factor in motherhood, and that number increases even more. Currently it is estimated that 24% of women suffer from anxiety, which seems a little low since literally every female in my orbit struggles with it. But hey, I’m not a healthcare professional. I’m just a writer who happens to be anxiety-prone.
According to Postnatal Support International, approximately 10% of mothers experience what is known as postnatal anxiety disorder. Sometimes women, like me, don’t have an official problem with anxiety before bearing children, and then suddenly we lose our effing minds. People talk a lot about postnatal depression, but not quite as much about postnatal anxiety, which is what I had, undiagnosed, for years before seeking professional help. I felt batshit crazy.
The people in charge of doctor’s offices should consider passing out pamphlets that say “Do you feel batshit crazy? If so, you might have postnatal anxiety”. Because if I’d known the signs of PPA, I totally would have asked for medication sooner. Thankfully, I eventually sought help and now I’m a completely functional member of society with three thriving children, but every day is still a struggle.
Parenting with anxiety is extra-challenging because other people can’t see my stress level, which means they’re not aware of it unless I somehow make them aware — and because children don’t need to be burdened with the Load of Mom’s Anxiety, I’ve developed a list of tried-and-true tips to help mothers like myself get through the day without jumping out a window.
Put yourself first
I know, it sounds impossible and you probably just laughed out loud and you’ll probably close out the window and mutter “this bitch doesn’t know shit” without reading any farther, but please stick with me.
This is something I’m still struggling to learn, but if I don’t put my mental health first every single day, I’m not the best mum I can be and that is unfair to my family. They deserve me at my best, and I deserve me at my best, too. Figure out what keeps you healthy — for me, it’s therapy and 12-step meetings — and make those things your top, absolutely-must-do every single day. No excuses.
Medicate (or whatever)
Not everyone is comfortable with medicating their anxiety away, but I’ve chosen to simply lean into it. There’s a huge stigma attached to seeking professional help for anxiety disorders, but it’s literally the same thing as treating any other genetic disease. Just be glad it’s anxiety and not gout. And take your meds … as prescribed.
So, at first I was exercising because I’m vain and I thought it would help me lose 20 pounds, but then I realised that on the days I walked for 30 minutes or spent time outside in the sunshine, I had a much longer fuse. It’s a huge benefit not only for me, but for those who are around me. If you don’t feel like exercising for real, just go outside and kick the soccer ball with the kids for a few minutes. It helps. Promise.
I don’t really do this, but the experts say you should.
OMG, SLEEP. It fixes everything! I feel like when I’m well-rested, I can handle so much more stress than I can when I’m tired. And if anxiety is preventing you from sleeping, guess what? THERE’S A MEDICATION FOR THAT.
I probably should have listed this one first, but all mums need help of some kind. My therapist has helped me develop coping strategies and unlearn decades of destructive behaviours. I cannot stress enough how vital this is to my journey to wellness.
I carry my day planner with me everywhere I go. There’s something about the act of writing down a list that makes it stick with me, so every morning I review all the items that need to be checked off. Staying on task and in a routine gives me a sense of order and purpose, regardless of what is happening around me.
Anxiety makes me forget to breathe which is definitely not a good thing. Taking a deep breath gives me a moment to regroup and ground myself. Highly recommend.
Remember, we are living one day at a time, one moment at a time. No matter how you might feel in any given moment, that feeling will pass. Learning how to care for ourselves is the only way we can teach our children how to do the same.