Today, I’d like to expand on the first of the Seven Ways to Deal with Anxiety in Motherhood.
Before that, I’d like to clarify again, that I’m no expert and write merely from my own personal experience perspective. In using the word, anxiety, I’m talking about both the normal and not-so-normal feelings we deal with as mothers that make us panic or feel overwhelmed by certain situations or motherhood in general. That’s normal and most mothers – and everyone – deals with these emotions on a daily basis. However, there are certain types of anxiety that can become severe enough that it starts interfering with your ability to function normally or live peacefully with those around you – namely your children or spouse and family or the people you work with. There are many medical anxiety disorders that require professional medical intervention but, since I’m not a medical professional, I can’t really share anything about anxiety from that perspective but I highly recommend others seek this help when/if it is necessary.
For myself, from an unprofessional self-diagnosed perspective, I’d say I’ve dealt with the normal anxieties of mothering but I’ve also struggled with what I describe as chronic debilitating anxiety that grips me and paralyzes me from loving my children and husband and others as well as I could without that debilitating hindrance. I used to think I suffered from postpartum depression but the more I learn about the differences between anxiety and depression, I’d say it’s more like postpartum depression and a postpartum anxiety that never quite left me even though my youngest is almost 4 this year.
There have been days in my life as a mother when I felt “stress-paralyzed” (from the Moms’ Night Out movie) (yeah, that’s a real thing), I felt stuck in my own head filled with negative and anxious thoughts about everything. I was afraid of doing everything wrong and second-guessed every decision I’ve made with parenting. I have had times where I have felt like the worst mother – that everything I did was a complete failure. Of course, these feelings easily feed into the the “Mom Guilt” that is so prevalent among mothers today.
When I’m tangled in the clutches of this debilitating anxiety my stress levels to go completely off the charts and hinder me from functioning well or handling even the smallest demands or pressures. Making lunches, putting kids to bed at the right time so they get enough sleep, homework, siblings squabbling and whining, all of that “normal” stuff that comes with mothering – push me over the edge and send me into a spiral of despair.
I’m thankful that even despite wrestling with these anxious thoughts and feelings, I have never ever ever felt like hurting myself or my children. All I wanted was to escape my mind and find a way to be happy again and enjoy being a mother and being with my family instead of wanting to run away from it all.
Today, I’m sharing ways that have helped me, even if I still continue struggling. First and foremost, I cling to Jesus for everything. I recognize that I can do nothing good without Him and I desperately need God in my life. So, when I’m feeling anxious the first thing I do is cry out for help to the only One who can truly help me – Jesus. Which brings me to the first Way to Deal with Anxiety in Motherhood:
Perhaps when you think of “prayer breathing”, you imagine me sitting in a cross-legged yoga position, eyes lightly closed, breathing in slowly and exhaling all my anxiety away peacefully. Well…not quite.
Usually, when my anxiety levels creep up into the danger zone, the type of breathing you might see more closely resembles that of a fire-breathing dragon than a serene yoga mom. My eyes enlarge, my face reddens, my veins constrict, and a burning sensation surges through my heart and rib cage area. (Thank you Cortisol and Adrenaline!)
Now, when this happens, my mind is about to go into full-on panic and survival mode. They say that when a person feels anxious, it’s the same chemical reaction a body goes through when it’s being chased by a angry bear. Imagine living in a body that feel like it’s being chased by a bear all day long, day after day.
How I handle the next few seconds is crucial or all my anxious frustrating emotions will boil up and explode out my mouth. And if that happens – watch out, you do not want to be near me. When I can catch it before that happens, this is what I do:
- Take a few sharp breaths in through my nose, hold the breath and let the oxygen cool down the hot mess boiling inside me, then blow it all out through my mouth. If you look closely, you’ll see some real steam and maybe even a few flecks of fire. I keep doing this breathing exercise until my breathing regulates, my eyes return to normal size, my veins shrink back and the burning in my chest subsides.
- Then, now that I’m calmer, I continue breathing in and out slowly, adding in short “prayer breaths”. Breathe in…slowly release and say, “Jesus…I trust in You. Breathe in….breath out….” Jesus, I need you! Breathe in…slowly out…”Jesus, I love you.”
- A friend shared with me the other day that she offers up a succession of quick Hail Mary’s, or even just – “Mary, I need you!” when she’s feeling overwhelmed by a situation and this helps calm her down.
- Aside from those in-the-moment bursts of prayer and breathing exercises, what’s really helped me the most is starting and ending my day with prayer every day. When I wake up in the morning, I crawl out of bed, land on your knees, bow my head down – but try not to fall back to sleep! – and take a deep breath in…and out…and pray, “Thank you, Jesus, for this day. I give this day to You. Be with me. I trust you, Jesus. I need you.
One of the most challenging aspects of mothering is learning how to let go. When kids don’t do what we ask or the dream life we imagined mothering would be feels like a failure, all we feel like doing is throwing our hands up and saying, I give up! Which is exactly what we have to do – give it all up to God and trust Him in everything. It’s hard to let go of control but I assure you from personal experience that the harder you hold on to control the harder parenting is. God did not intend for you to do this on your own. He wants you to ask Him for help. So ask!
My friend and fellow contributor at CatholicMom.com, Emily Jaminet, shared a wonderful piece, When We Fall and Fail As Mothers … Seeking Out Spiritual Strength where she makes the excellent point of how important prayer is especially when we fail.
When we stumble and fail in life, especially in regard to the vocation of wife and mother, we must refuse to fall into despair and instead cling all the more firmly to Christ. The pure action of turning to Christ during difficulty is a sign of faith and as a result, we receive even more graces.
Tomorrow, I’ll delve deeper into the Second Way to Deal with Anxiety in Motherhood: Gratitude.
Has prayer helped you deal with anxiety in motherhood? I’d love to hear what helps you!