When I became pregnant with my first baby 13 years ago I felt a new, empowered anxiety stand over me with her medusa snake hair spewing endless threats of what could become of my just forming baby. Nothing makes you more vulnerable than becoming a parent. I know I am not alone and recent articles on medications for anxiety and for sleep demonstrate that anxiety in our society is defining us as a generation. Anxiety still visits me but I have a few defenses that I have learned to keep her at a functional level most of the time. Here is what works for me. Do you find being a parent anxiety provoking? What works for you?
1. I let go of the perfect children illusion. My children are going to be challenging, bratty and sometimes difficult to love. It is most likely not because I am doing something wrong, not doing my best or a failure as a mother.
2. I try to remember that worry is a wasted emotion. With my medical background, any ailment that is not immediately diagnosed in my children can lead me to a very dark place of worry. I have to consciously distract myself, remind myself that worry has no benefit and only ruins the only experience we really have: what is happening right now.
3. I try to do something I love outside of being with my family. I didn’t do this when my kids were little because with three children under the age of six it seemed impossible that someone could actually take my place for a few hours a week and it seemed like an unnecessary expense since I was at home at the time. I reached a breaking point multiple times (usually when I was doing the most mundane of jobs like picking up the peas that my toddler just spit onto the floor) and just a little rejuvenation would have made the whole experience more pleasant. Figure out a way to make it work. It takes effort! My sister in law got up at the break of dawn to run because she loved it and recognized it as a stress reliever for her taxing job of taking care of four children. Drop the kids at the YMCA babysitting and work out, read a novel, do scrapbooking at night or make a deal with your husband for two hours alone on the weekend!
4. When I am not feeling overwhelmed, I think about what calms me. In the throes of anxiety, it is difficult to think that anything can help so having a plan helps. Embarrassing as it is, when I can’t feel appreciative and when everything seems difficult, I listen to really sappy (mostly country music) songs like The Best Day or Forever and Ever Amen and it can transport me to a better place. Another quirky favorite of mine: make a doable list and feel the satisfaction of getting it done (small dose of control for the freak in me). What works for you?
5. I let something go. Volunteering can become a full time job. I help out at my children’s three schools but I recognize that I don’t have to be the first to respond to every request. I also let go of the pressure to have constant play dates and sleepovers for my children. Quite frankly sleepovers are A LOT of work with their laundry and the crankiness the day after. And while play dates are fun, I feel the need to supervise even closer than when it is my own kids so that everyone is safe so too many can be exhausting.
6. I acknowledged my lunar synchrony. Did it really take me 15 years and an insightful husband to recognize that I am sad and overwhelmed at the same time each month? Accept it, keep the calendar low pressure and be kind to yourself on those days. Did you watch the Modern Family about Monsterating? You really should.
7. Exercise. It really makes a difference. It also takes a tremendous amount of effort, especially when your children are very young. I was incredibly inconsistent on this endeavor until my children were school age and I found a sport that I love. I wish I had found a way to exercise consistently earlier, I would have benefitted from the stress relief. Find something you enjoy-it is half the battle.
8. Get help. Anxiety can become incapacitating. If you feel like you just cannot pull yourself out of a cycle of worry then seek help from a professional.
Do you feel anxiety? What helps you?