Anxiety has always been a part of my life. When I was younger, I thought that having true anxiety was completely crippling. I thought that anyone who was diagnosed with anxiety would be noticeably incapable of functioning in society. I have always been successful at work and fairly good at socializing. Naturally, I assumed that anxiety was not a way to describe what I was dealing with.
That feeling that was constantly with me, even when I was nailing my big presentation at work or holding a seemingly normal conversation with a friend. The thoughts that I had to desperately try to ignore to make sure that no one noticed how insanely distracted I was while they were talking to me. The minor panic attacks I had when I finally got a moment to myself to let down my guard and face the feelings I’d been battling all day. I thought it must just be something everyone feels, and they are all hiding it like I am.
After a long time of dealing with these feelings, I finally realized that it was, in fact, anxiety. Defining and accepting my anxiety was a huge step in addressing it when it escalated. I started to feel like I had a better handle on things. Then I had my son. Not only did I suddenly have way more to worry about but the decision to become a stay at home mom removed by best anxiety distraction: work.
One year later, I am finally finding my way. What seemed like a set back in managing my anxiety has proven to be just the opposite. With my crutches removed, I have finally been able to start the healing process, rather than just distracting myself with work every day. Along the way, I discovered a few helpful tips that I want to share with any other moms struggling to manage anxiety.
8 Ways to Manage Anxiety for Moms
1. Alone Time
As a mother and a wife, it’s rare to find myself alone at all. Being an only child, this was an adjustment I struggled with even just after getting married, let alone having a kid.
When I first became a stay at home mom, I would make a list of tasks for the day (I still do this!). At first, I tried to accomplish everything during my son’s naps. My intention was to focus on him as much as possible when he was awake. The only problem was that I was also removing any chance I had to focus on myself. I spent his nap times doing house chores, the rest of the day focused on him, and the evening (after my son’s bedtime) focused on my husband.
After getting pretty burnt out and losing sight of who I was a bit, I realized that, even though it might take twice as long, doing the house chores while my son was awake would allow me to use his nap time for “me time”. As soon as I started doing this, I noticed a big drop in my anxiety levels. It may feel selfish to set aside this time for yourself, but a happy mom is the best thing a kid can have. Not to mention, it has been great for my son to improve his ability to play independently. Perhaps having mommy right by his side at all times isn’t necessary or even productive, even though it stings a little to admit it.
Related Post: Mom Time: 5 Reasons Why You Deserve a Break
2. Don’t be a Hermit
Okay, I’m not going to pretend that I have this one down. I am totally a hermit, especially when my anxiety levels are high. You might think that this goes against my previous tip, but believe it or not, we all need alone time and social activity.
The Build Up
For those who have social anxiety, the biggest problem often does not lie in the actual social activity, but in the build up. I will spend an entire day (or more) stressed out about an upcoming social engagement, only to discover that once I get there and start socializing, I am just fine. The more I acknowledge that I will most likely feel better once I get there, the less the buildup up bothers me. Obviously, those who have more severe social anxiety may have a very different experience. But for many, reminding yourself that it won’t be as bad as you’re making it out to be can put you somewhat at ease.
Make it a Habit
Another thing to consider is that the more often you engage in social activity, the less anxiety you will have about it. Alternatively, the less you socialize, the more social activities will increase your anxiety. As a stay at home mom it is extremely easy to fall into a routine where you don’t interact with anyone for long periods of time. Try to find a way to incorporate social activity on a regular basis and you may very well find that you are less anxious about the prospect of socializing over time.
Taking care of yourself physically and mentally can go a long way in reducing your everyday anxiety levels. When we take care of our mind and body, we just feel better.
Sleep is arguably the most important self-care task to focus on. Staying up all night stressing out about the next day will only make you more anxious. Sleep deprivation prevents your brain from getting the nightly reset it needs. This can affect hormone levels and your ability to handle anxiety and every day stressors. Getting a full night’s sleep can help you to wake up well-rested and clear-headed.
Aside from getting adequate sleep, it is also necessary to meet your other basic needs. Make sure you eat at least three healthy and nourishing meals a day. Take a shower and get ready every morning, even if you have nowhere to go. If you need a mental break midday, take one. It’s amazing how many basic needs get pushed aside when you become a mother, I can’t tell you how many times I forget to go to the bathroom because I am busy doing something for my son only to realize an hour later that I am about to pee my pants!
Finally, don’t forget to exercise! Exercising releases endorphins which make you feel happy. If I am feeling particularly anxious and I make myself get up and exercise, I often feel much less anxious afterwards. If you like running, I have found that this is the best exercise for reducing anxiety. I think the combination of being outdoors and getting out of my current environment really influences my mood. Obviously this can be challenging if you don’t have anyone to watch the kids, but if you get a chance, I highly recommend trying it out!
Yoga is also a great option for lowering anxiety levels. I like to include a brief period of meditation before and/or after each session. While practicing yoga regularly has absolutely had an impact on my overall anxiety levels, I definitely recommend a more intense cardio or weight training session for more immediate results. Somehow the intense activity snaps me out of my funk faster. If I am too wound up and I try to do yoga, I can’t calm down enough to focus on the exercise. When you are trying to do something more intense, it can take you to a new place mentally.
Related Post: Beginning my Weight Loss Journey
4. Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself
Before I had my son, I was incredibly devoted to my career. If it weren’t for my husband stepping in, I probably would have worked around the clock. I loved what I did and I was good at it. When I decided to become a stay at home mom, I felt like I needed to be a rock star at my new job of full-time momming, just like I was in my career.
The only problem is that being a good mom is hard to define. Work is easy. If you accomplish something that benefits the company, you get praise, recognition or a promotion. Being a good mom often times means making it seem as though nothing happened. If your child is well-behaved, no one sees you talk them down from a tantrum . If your house is clean, no one sees hard it was for you to get it back in order after your toddler destroyed it. Praise is rare, and promotion is just not applicable (until you become a grandma one day, I suppose.).
I don’t think I have met a mom, whether they stay at home, work at home, or work at work, who isn’t hard on themselves. We are constantly telling ourselves that we should have accomplished more today. Or we feel guilty about accomplishing too much and not spending enough time with our little ones. Sometimes, you just have to step back and look at the big picture. Is your child alive, healthy, and overall happy? Did your family eat today? Do you have a safe home? It’s not always about getting everything right all the time, but rather, getting the important things right. Forgetting to fold the laundry one day certainly isn’t going to have an effect on your child’s long-term health and happiness.
5. Plan and Prepare
Depending on your personality, this may or may not be helpful to you, but for me it is essential. I am a planner – so much so that my planning often gets in the way of me getting things done. But that’s a topic for another post.
Planning can be excellent for anxiety if you do it correctly. For example, when my in-laws came to visit a few months ago, I knew I would have some anxiety surrounding the meals. I wanted to be the perfect host and for it to seem effortless. To combat this anxiety before it even began, I bought back ups for every meal and prepped everything I possibly could in advance. Having most of the work completed made it easy for me to whip up dinner quickly and easily. I also made sure to get up early each day when they were visiting so that I had a few minutes to get a handle on my day.
Planning can also be helpful for your day-to-day tasks. If you take some time to map out what you need to accomplish each day first thing in the morning, then you don’t have to spend the entire day trying to figure out what comes next. It also limits you to focusing on one days worth of tasks. If you already know that you plan to save reorganizing the closets for tomorrow, then you don’t need to worry about it today.
When Planning Fails
This is where I tend to have a hard time. I can plan like it’s nobody’s business but some things are just out of my control. Inevitably, things will not always go according to plan. That is when you have to somehow learn to just give up on whatever you had mapped out. You have to abandon the work you put in to make everything perfect and accept where you are now.
This section is almost hard for me to even write, as it may very well be my greatest challenge in life. But over the last year, I have been working on this a lot. Having a baby basically equals chaos so I’ve had to adjust quite a bit.
Typically, I will fight to maintain order up until a certain level of chaos is reached, at which point I will finally accept that my plan simply isn’t going to work out. What I have been focusing on this past year is reducing the amount of time I spend trying to force my initial plan. Whenever a situation comes up where my plan isn’t panning out, I try to acknowledge it early on and ask myself how detrimental it really is if things go differently. Rarely is following my predetermined plan going to have an actual impact on anything other than my immediate peace of mind.
Related Post: 10 ways to be an organized stay at home mom
6. Find a Hobby
When I first became a stay at home mom a made up my mind that my entire focus would be on my home and my family. While that sounds great in theory, it didn’t take long before I started feeling a little crazy. It’s important to find a hobby. It can be anything, really. If your hobby is reading, take some time to read a bit each night after the kids go to bed, or better yet, when you have some alone time, go to a coffee shop to get out the house and focus on your hobby.
For me, blogging has been extremely beneficial in managing my anxiety. It is a distraction just as work once was but, unlike work, there is not obligation to anyone other than myself. That, to me, is what makes it a hobby instead of a job, even if it does bring in an income. Investing time in my blog has reminded me of who I am aside from a mother and a wife. Additionally, if you are a creative person, it is important to maintain a hobby that exercises your skill. A creative person with no creative outlet is a recipe for anxiety.
Related Post: How to Start a Mom Blog: A beginner’s Perspective
7. Re-evaluate Your Routine
From time to time, stop and think about how you spend your days. Are there tasks that aren’t benefiting you or your family? Is there a way to lighten the load? As your children grow, things change a lot. Maybe the routine you established when you’re little one wasn’t mobile yet isn’t feasible once they are toddling around the house.
I initially gave myself a schedule that kept the house tidy all day. Recently, I decided to focus less on constant maintenance and more on prioritizing the most important tasks. I used to do laundry three times a week, but when I cut it down to once a week, I was amazed to find that we survived! Now I have two days where I don’t have to worry about lugging laundry down to the basement and desperately trying to fold it while my son throws a fit about being in his play pan. Instead, I can try to tackle a bigger project on those days, or dedicate more time to my blog if my son is content with some independent play.
Like I said before, changing things up doesn’t always come easy to me. Forcing myself to reevaluate and set a new routine has been tough, but ultimately worthwhile. Sometimes, the routine you think is keeping you sane is actually making your day-to-day life more stressful than it needs to be. Take the leap and make the necessary changes.
8. Stop Thinking About What Other People Think
This is damn near impossible for most people, but even making small strides in this area can provide a huge sense of relief. For some reason, this suddenly came naturally to me when I was pregnant. I didn’t care what anyone thought, at all. Had I not been pregnant, I probably would have offended many people. (When you have a big pregnant belly, most things are forgiven).
After my son was born, I went to the extreme opposite. I didn’t want anyone to be around for my experiences as a first time mom because I didn’t want them to judge me. Even more, I didn’t want their opinions. Over the last year, I have been working to gain confidence in parenting. I decided that I was going to make the best decisions I can with the information I have and, even if someone does judge me, it won’t be because I did something horribly wrong. It will just be because they do things differently.
Most of the time when someone is judgemental, it’s not even about you! It most likely ties back to one of their insecurities, or a need to feel superior. On the flip side, when you think someone is being judgemental, it could very well be your own insecurity talking. Perhaps your friend is trying to share something with you that helped them when they were a new mom, simply out of the kindness of their heart, and you assume that they think you are doing it wrong. I try to remind myself of this when I feel like I am under watch by someone with “experience”.
Do YOU struggle with anxiety? Have you tried any of these tips? Let me know in the comments below what works best for you. Maybe some other moms reading can benefit from your experience as well!
Subscribe to Sane Momma