I’ve always had various coping mechanisms for my anxiety, but since becoming a mom some of them aren’t particularly feasible anymore. For instance, I can’t randomly go take a hot shower when I’m in the middle of Walmart with my 2-year-old. Hell, I can’t randomly go take a hot shower when I’m in the middle of my living room with my 2-year-old – I mean, technically I could, but I feel like leaving my mischievous toddler entirely unsupervised in the middle of my living room would be catastrophic on so many levels I shudder just to imagine it. So since entering mama-hood I’ve had to develop a few new techniques and habits (let’s call them the paranoid rules of an anxious mama) to both help me cope as well as prevent potential anxiety and panic attacks.
Always have a plan.
I find that my anxiety will act up when I don’t have a clear course of action – especially with a toddler who will most likely drive me up the wall if we’re sitting at home doing nothing after school for 6 hours before bedtime. I get antsy, he gets antsy, and one of us most definitely ends up throwing a hissy fit – sometimes it’s even him. So, to nip the situation in the bud and prevent any potential anxiety fall-out, I try to structure my days, that includes my time with the kiddo.
Now I say always have a plan, but what I really mean is have a super loose outline – because let’s face it, with babies any plan you make is likely to not end up going the way you planned it. So to prevent myself from freaking the f*$& out because my entire schedule has gone to shit as a result of my toddler deciding that today of all days pants and diapers are the devil (yes, been there done that, can’t take a butt naked toddler to the park – apparently this breaks some law or something), I simply create a very general plan of what we’ll be doing together that day, and I always have a backup – because, Toddler.
For instance – if it’s a rainy day, I plan for an indoor playground, I know it’ll keep him busy for HOURS, he’ll get all his energy out, and once we get home dinner will go smoothly. If he randomly decides that today he’s scared of slides and ball pits or is absolutely too cool to be seen with his mother, then I always have my magic stash at home. It’s not what you’re thinking, my magic stash is a huge container of arts and crafts activities – I’ll bust that thing out like it’s nobody’s business and we’ll color and glue and just make a general mess for hours. I also always have a box of rotating books, I’m lucky and my kid is a total book worm like I am. By having lots of rotating books or even new books from the dollar store stacked where he can’t see them, he’s always surprised when a new one comes out and we can read those to pass the time.
It’s also important to note that as my child gets older, I’m encouraging more and more independent play, and man am I loving it. He doesn’t need me to be there holding his hand every second of the day, and I don’t want him to. I’m not saying I leave my 2-year-old alone on the playground, but we’re both learning that it’s okay if he goes on the little kids slide without me climbing every single step behind him. I figure the more independence I foster now, the more capable he’ll be when he’s older. Plus, it gives me a second to catch my breath.
I remind myself that my loose outline of a plan DOES NOT mean I have to have a jam-packed afternoon, with activities filling every second. It just means I’m finding a nice balance between sitting at home doing nothing and having what feels like a fun-filled and eventful afternoon with my kid.
Learn to refocus your attention. Just like directing your screaming toddler’s attention to the bright lights outside the window works wonders to help snap them out of a bad dream or bad mood, the same idea can be applied to your own anxiety. Now I’m not suggesting that staring at street lights is going to help you calm down, I’m merely recommending mental redirection.
If you notice yourself getting anxious – for me I notice it happening when I start to feel my throat closing, or if I’m suddenly feeling down and I’m not sure why – redirect your attention. Try to focus on an activity rather than on your tumultuous thoughts. I’ll read a book to my kid, or I’ll start a new activity together, like baking banana bread (because it’s easy and messy and has chocolate chips in it). Anything that will require you to put more focus and attention on that particular task than on your own anxiety.
Now this technique really works for me when I’m just starting to feel anxious – it’s not exactly effective if I’m in like full panic mode. If I’ve reached def-con 5 and need to calm myself down, my best course of action is a cold towel on my neck and some breathing exercises – but even while I’m cooling down my body temp (I tend to have hot flashes when I’m panicking) and doing my deep breathing, I like to start on a distraction as soon as I’m able. Sometimes this will involve using the television as a tool. Yes I know, judge me, I still say all hail the idiot box when you need it.
With the TV on I know my kid will be right beside me entertained, and I know that I can become engrossed in whatever we’re watching and stop focusing on whatever thoughts are really driving the panic. The key here for me is to calm down as best as I can until there is someone else around to watch my kid – once I’m no longer alone I can go take that shower or lie down in bed. What’s most important is keeping you calm so that you can take care of your little one, how you do that doesn’t matter as long as the safety of your child isn’t in question.
For myself, nine times out of ten I’ve managed to distract myself out of whatever spiral I’ve started on and can continue to go about my day without needing my partner to tag in. Sometimes that’s not the case and I definitely need the help, but that’s okay too, I’m only human.
This one isn’t so much a rule but a tool – I find that lozenges really help. I always have sugar free, menthol free lozenges in my purse (Ok fine I have them all over the house, in most of my pant pockets, and in my nightstand). Whenever I feel my throat closing up, I pop in a lozenge and suck on it. That sucker opens up my throat and does wonders. Maybe its psychological, maybe I’m just orally fixated, frankly I don’t give a damn – it works. My recommendation is finding something that works for you, whether it be lozenges, a stress ball, elastic bands you can snap around your wrist, or even a weighted neck wrap (weighted objects have been proven to help relieve anxiety, I have a weighted blanket for night time sleep).
Having said that, if you can’t find something behavioral that works for you, I personally do not think that there is anything wrong with getting medicinal help. I’ve successfully been on anxiety medication since my university days. I was on it through my pregnancy, through breastfeeding, and continue to take it now. I did all my homework, as did my doctors, and was on medication that was safe for the development of my child in utero, and that would not affect him through my breast milk. Just as the doctors assured me that a healthy mom is the best kind of mom for baby, so I’m assuring you – if you’re panicking through your pregnancy and through raising your child, you’re not doing yourself or your little one any favours by struggling. If you cannot find a way to make it work without medicine, then make it work with medicine.
That being said, my medication hasn’t always been helping keep me leveled out, so I recently decided that I would change it up a bit and go the natural route by adjusting my diet and turning to all-natural medications like CBD Oil – so far so good. I’m still on my regular anxiety meds, this just helps level me out, and eventually I hope to taper off of the medication and stick to the natural stuff, but baby steps!
For all the mama’s out there shaking their heads at me, do your research first – I am not getting high, there is no THC in CBD only oil, CBD does not make you high. CBD only oil is also just a personal preference and what was prescribed to me, not a judgement call on mama’s who do need some THC in their medication – ultimately, you’d have to speak to a healthcare professional to figure out what works best for you.
Don’t be so hard on yourself, and remember ‘me time’. It’s hard being a mom, remember to take time for yourself. I also find that hobbies are a huge help with regards to my anxiety. Now obviously hobbies are something that’s harder to do when you’re busy with your kid, so I try to do them once my kids tucked into bed and sound asleep.
I find that learning a new skill or starting and finishing a new project give me a sense of satisfaction and self-pride that is typically lacking when it comes to my everyday life. I spend so much time either anxious, or experiencing mom guilt, or worrying about what’s for dinner, whether all my work is done, that I never really get that relaxed sense of pride throughout the course of the day. It starts to feel like I’m just going through the motions.
So, my solution to this feeling of being stuck in the motions is crafting – I start a crochet project (thank you YouTube), or I teach myself to embroider, or that time I bought myself the color by number for adults off the internet – that was HOURS of calming entertainment for me. This is my form of self-help, my me time, this is me rewarding myself at the end of a tough day, this is me not being hard on myself. Find a hobby that works for you, the satisfaction at successfully finishing something that isn’t cooking, cleaning, or mothering, is very satisfying. It gives me the good kind of grandma adrenaline high that only successful crafting can (where’s the nerdy glasses emoji on this thing?).
Remember – you got this. You’re not alone, we all experience anxiety, some of us more than others, but we all experience it. Just find a way to cope, and then find a way to make you happy too.
Janna Kilimnik, a Canadian blogger, is a mother to 1 bouncing baby brat. Her love for her son is equal to, if not surpassed by, her love of ice cream and literature. Blogging about all things to do with parenting, and parenting with an anxiety disorder, she lives for moments of silent creativity. Except she's now a parent, so silence no longer exists in her world. Find her on Twitter @JannaKilimnik & Instagram @janna.kilimnik.