I've been a mother for three years now, and have experienced countless ups, downs, and in betweens since I took on this role. Shortly after becoming a mother, I became a mother with anxiety, and quite unexpectedly. Anxiety was an unfamiliar feeling for me, but once it began to consume me and ate away at my sunny disposition every single day, I realized that I was going to have to make some adjustments in my life for the sake of my family (and my sanity). I came up with some rules for parenting when you have anxiety that have made a huge difference in my life, and even though I feel like I probably still have a long way to go in overcoming my anxiety, I no longer feel like it's impossible.
Like many women, I suffered from postpartum depression (PPD). Once I got treatment for PPD, I was able to find my way out of the woods. Once I got there, though, I realized that I didn't emerge completely unscathed. Unnecessary and seemingly insignificant worries followed me, as did a heightened sense of awareness that the ground could crumble beneath me at any moment.
The anxiety my postpartum depression left me with felt crippling on some days. As someone who has always handled her responsibilities and the many curve balls that life has thrown my way with a certain amount of poise, this new feeling of helplessness and nervousness befuddled me. I had always felt in control of my life, but after I had my first son, that sense of control had escaped me and I felt like I could hardly take care of myself, much less the helpless little human that I was responsible for.
Once I finally realized that I was suffering from anxiety, I was able to make some observations about my behavior, paying close attention to when my anxiety would hit me the hardest and taking notes pertaining to exactly how being derailed from my comfort zone made me feel. Yes, I'm a control freak, but thanks to that proactive approach, I've been able to keep my anxiety at bay (most of the time). So if you are also a parent who suffers from anxiety, try following the 12 following rules.
Don't Try To Be A Super Hero
When I was pregnant with my first son, I was confident in my abilities to "do it all." I'm an extremely competitive person (regretfully), so the desire to "win" a fictitious race most new mothers feel they've been arbitrarily thrown into, fueled my fire when it came to being the type of mother I wanted to be. I wanted to cook an organic meal every single night and teach my kid how to read by his second birthday and still kick ass at work. I wanted to be everything to everyone, every single day, but once my anxiety hit me I barely had the motivation to brush my teeth, much less make vegan gravy.
When I stopped trying to be a super mom, I was able to focus what little motivation I did have, and some days it was very, very minimal, on the things that were most important (i.e. keeping the kids alive). Throwing in my picture perfect towel proved to be a monumental relief for me.
Give Yourself A Break
When I stopped trying to be the perfect mother, I was able to take a step back and just breathe. If you've got anxiety, you know how suffocating it can feel at times, especially if you suffer from anxiety attacks. Allowing yourself a break every now and then is so, so important in preventing yourself from becoming so overwhelmed that you lose it.
Plan Ahead Of Time
As a life long procrastinator, I've lived a lot of my life in a state of "crunch time." I'm not sure whether I enjoy the drama of racing to a finish line or whether I had anxiety all along that might have kept me in a constant state of stress that prohibited my ability to be completely proactive, but either way, it's not something I'm proud of. After I had my son, I realized that so many of the times when I became overwhelmed could be traced back to poor planning on my part. It didn't matter whether it was forgetting to wash my work scrubs or pack my son's lunch or pay the phone bill on time; it seemed that the things occupying my racing mind at night were always things that I had put off until it was almost too late.
Now, I pack my kids' lunches before we're already late for school and I get the laundry out of the dryer before it's become so wrinkled that it needs washed again, and I have an entire calendar filled with everything from the days when I need to grocery shop, to the deadlines I have at work. It's been a huge help.
Allow Yourself Some Space
If I don't get some space to myself every day, even for just a few minutes, I begin to feel overwhelmed. Taking the time to just be alone, without being touched or needed, or told to make chicken nuggets or pour another glass of milk, is a routine part of my day now.
I admittedly began to resent my family's needs before I started stepping away, and that's not a side of me that I want my boys to see, so I decided that their chicken nuggets and milk can wait just a few minutes, because them seeing their mom have an epic meltdown next to the toaster oven will likely cause a lot more damage than a temporarily delayed dinner.
Don't Weigh Yourself Down With Too Many Commitments
Ask anyone that I've ever worked with or for, and they will all likely tell you that I have a major problem with making far too many commitments.
Again, I have supermom syndrome, and I want to kick life in the ass so that I can turn around and give the finger to a society that tells me I can't because I'm a woman. However, attempting to work overtime while also being a full-time mother to my boys and wife to my husband and caretaker to my family, I've fallen short of not just "doing it all" but doing anything at all because all of the responsibility made me so anxious that I freeze. I have since, and am still in the process of, lessening my commitments to that of a more realistic level. It might mean that I make a little less money every month, but it also means that I keep my shit together for myself and my family. You can't put a price on sanity, folks.
Recruit Some Help
I hate asking for help. It makes me feel like I'm incapable or weak or irresponsible or a thousand other different labels that are completely inaccurate and unfair. When I realized that I was falling farther and farther behind on my work and my responsibilities at home, I caved in and asked for help. It wasn't easy, but it's made a difference.
Try Not To Beat Yourself Up When Everything Isn't "Perfect"
I have a major problem with freaking out when things don't turn out exactly the way I want them to. It doesn't matter whether it's with work or my family or a friend; if something goes awry in my plans, I cringe. Here's one of the many problems with this scenario: there is no such thing as "perfect." Shit happens, and when it does, freaking out instead of cleaning it up doesn't do anyone any bit of good.
I know that telling a person with anxiety to "go with the flow" is basically the definition of an oxymoron but, seriously, we've got to learn to go with the flow sometimes. I am in no way saying that I'm the epitome of a mellow mother, but when we don't get out of the door on time because my kid had an explosive poop, I do my best to laugh instead of cry. I don't always succeed, but I always try.
Find Your Triggers...
For me, our house looking like a bomb filled with tiny cars and socks has subsequently exploded inside it, triggers my anxiety. People showing up unexpectedly, lots of constant and loud noises (i.e. every child's toy ever), and large crowds of people also trigger it.
When it became painfully obvious that my anxiety was interfering with my life, I took some advice I read from the blog Momastery. In a post that I will never forget, the writer talked about her own anxiety and depression, and how she would never tell her doctor exactly how she was feeling because she almost always felt OK at that particular moment. So, she started writing down exactly how she felt when she was anxious or depressed, and what was going on at that particular time that might have made her feel that way. She also wrote down how she felt on her good days, about the things that happened that day that brought her joy or just made her smile; people, places, smells, etc. I took her advice and applied it to my own life. As a result, I uncovered some triggers that I didn't even realize were affecting me so deeply. Seriously, try it.
...And Try To Avoid Your Triggers
Once we realized that having loud toys constantly going off in our house (literally, all day, every day), my husband removed the batteries from the most obnoxious ones. I also do my best to grocery shop without the kids, or at an hour and day when the store is the least busy, because it's rare that I have the option to go to the store alone. Planning ahead (see rule #3) also helps, as does being able to gauge my mood at the time.
Again, don't try to be a supermom. If you don't have time to cook something for your kid's school party, don't (store bought cupcakes will suffice). If you don't have time to take on an extra load at work, don't. It's that simple. If you are even questioning whether or not you've got the mental or physical capacity to take on anything extra, just don't. Be realistic with your expectations.
If you're feeling overwhelmed, don't try to hide it. Don't try to be a "hero." Just tell someone close to you how you're feeling. I've learned that I can only control so much of my anxiety, and these rules have definitely helped me, but there are times when I really can't control my nerves. Accepting that it's not my fault helps when I'm trying to explain to other people why I don't feel like myself, or why I can't always take on extra loads in my life. Don't be ashamed of how you're feeling, be honest about it. Hiding it will only make it worse.
Take Time To Take Care Of Yourself
Self love and self care is one of the most important things that every parent needs, yet so many of us neglect to take the time to take care of ourselves. I started going to the gym and running after I saw my doctor about my anxiety. She put me on a light dose of anxiety medication and recommended that I start doing some things for myself. After a couple of weeks of going to the gym three or four days a week, even for just an hour, I started feeling in control of my life again. That alone time that I spent doing something for myself made such a difference in my life. Thankfully, the gym I go to offers childcare, so I didn't have to stress about who was going to take care of my boys while I worked out. I was able to just relax, to get out of my own head, and to drown out all the extra noise that was distracting me.
All of these rules have helped me to better focus my energy on the things that are most important in my life; like my family, my job, my friends. The biggest change that I've felt though, is the feeling of just being able. If you've got anxiety, you understand that some days you feel helpless, incapable of even the simplest thing, and that just feeling able is life-changing.