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Recently I've had a few of my wonderful Mum friends say to me that anxiety is their default setting and it's no bloody wonder a large majority of Mums (and Dads) suffer from anxiety.
The first time I felt something wasn’t right with me, we were on holiday in Merimbula when Ethan was 4 weeks old. We were getting ready for the day, getting dressed, packing the kids up (I think we were just going to the pool) and Ethan wouldn’t stay asleep so that I could get dressed and I felt my body tense up and I burst into tears. I had no idea why I was crying. I wasn’t unhappy, sure I was tired, but that’s normal with a 4 week old and getting up 3 times in the night.
I was preoccupied with getting everything ready and making sure we had everything, and that we had the towels and the sunscreen etc. that when Ethan started crying only 15 minutes after I finished getting him to settled to sleep, I just lost it. I burst out crying and when Jezz asked me what was wrong I didn’t know what to say. I felt tense and angry and rushed and I had no idea why. I was on holidays I shouldn’t be stressed out about forgetting something to walk 100 mtrs to the pool. But I did. I thought that people would think less of me if I wasn’t relaxed and in control of everything.
It took a fair pep talk from Jezz to reassure me that it didn’t matter, we were on holidays, it was time to relax and go slowly. We didn’t have to rush or be anywhere at a particular time and that I wasn’t the only one in charge of everything. While he did calm me down then, I only got worse as time went by.
Anxiety is defined as: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.
That ‘thing with an uncertain outcome’ doesn’t even have to be anything huge. In the depths of my anxiety following Ethan’s birth, I was anxious about going to the shops with the kids by myself. Or even just driving to my parents’ house. (Ethan hated the car which made drives over 5 minutes excruciating!) Having never experienced anxiety before I had my second son, I had no idea that was what was happening to me.
As a Mum we expect ourselves to be prepared for everything; ready if the baby poos or if the toddler gets hungry or wets his jocks even though he is toilet trained. And it is just impossible! (Side note... I once had to stuff Owens wee soaked jocks in the side zip of my handbag on a 'quick trip' to the shops and do my errands with him commando!) We dread the thought of looking silly because we forgot the nappy wipes or we didn't pack enough formula for a day out. We don't want to look foolish when we don't know how to calm our baby, or when we have to literally drag them off those rides at the shops to the car.
There is always something else to be thought of. Someone else to feed, someone else to take care of, something else to be organised, another dinner to be cooked, another load of washing to be cleaned. But you know what: YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT ALL. I honestly believe it takes a village to raise kids. And if you don’t have a village and are struggling, try and find one. Yes, you are the only Mother your kid’s will ever have and you are the best Mum for them. But you need help. You deserve to have an hour off to walk around alone, to sleep, to ignore the chores, to watch a totally trashy movie filled with swearing or do something just for you like get your nails done!
I spent my pre Mum days with a tidy house, an organised diary, a neat handbag and awesome fingernails, and then suddenly this tiny person comes along and with it comes a mess of laundry, toys, nappies, wipes, sticky fingerprints and snot. There is always snot. How is it that they spread their mess so quickly when they can't even walk yet!
In my early Mum days I tried to stay on top of putting all the toys away during nap times and cleaning up the house so it was presentable for people coming over.
After I had Ethan, my anxiety peaked when the house was a mess, the washing wasn’t done and there were dishes all over the kitchen because I felt in control of NOTHING!
But these days do you think I'm wasting energy picking up puzzles, and bikes and clothes when in an hour they will both be up and dragging their toys around the house? NO BLOODY WAY! I'm saving that energy and drinking my coffee while it's hot before the onslaught of the day.
It has taken a lot of gentle self-talk but I've learnt not to care that those toys have been there for a week or that we are behind in the washing or that when someone has come over, there are 3 half-done puzzles in the middle of the floor and they just sat down next to yesterday’s day care backpack that still hasn’t been unpacked.
The main thing that helped me overcome my anxiety was identifying what my anxiety felt like and what triggered it. For me, my anxiety felt like a big shadowy hand creeping up my back tightening itself around the back of my neck. I would notice myself physically tightening up and my behaviour would completely change! My mood would change, I would become irritable, anger would burst out of me without control. And it is different for everyone so it is really hard to identify.
Work out what it is that triggers your anxiety.
Ethan loves to play with my hair and when he is particularly cranky he pulls it really hard. It’s like his comfort blanket, we tried a number of different snuggies and teddies but he would always come back to my hair. And when I had a bad night sleep, all it took was one hard tug of my hair and I would lose my shit. Short of shaving my hair there is no way for me to avoid this. Still at 18 months old that is the quickest way to calm him down, grab him for a cuddle and give him a handful of hair! (Strange I know!)
So I’ve had to work at understanding just how calming it is for him so that I could work to reduce it as a trigger for me. I still get surges of anger when Ethan pulls my hair really hard but I have worked really hard at not letting it bother me.
Some of the things I still do daily to help reduce my anxiety are:
You are enough. How to elevate your thoughts, align your energy and get out of the comparison trap. By Cassie Mendoza-Jones: I read this book because I was stuck in the trap of constantly comparing myself with others. It hit its peak when I criticized my own handwriting and compared it to my sisters. Really Kate? This book helped me get out of that trap and see that I am enough all on my own!
The Secret. By Rhonda Byrne: I listened to this audio book and it put a bright shining light on my mindset. Suddenly I became aware of how negative my mindset was and how it was impacting me day to day. A brilliant book.
(These are affiliate links and if you purchase these items through these links I receive a commission from Amazon.)
I spent 10 months in therapy working on this and it was the smartest thing I’ve ever done.
I had to make time to work on myself, to prioritise myself without guilt weighing me down like a sack of bricks. It isn’t easy, it doesn’t happen overnight, but it is so worth the effort to rid yourself of that nasty cloud of anxiety.
I would love to hear what your go-to anxiety relief tactics are?