I could have sworn it was a heart attack. My firstborn was 4 months old when I had my first panic attack and I was informed by the doctor at urgent care that I had post-partum depression/anxiety. “Um, what? No, no that can’t be right… at my 6 week follow up my OB asked me if I was sad or apathetic or not feeling connected. I’m past the ‘baby blues’ window and I’m not depressed!” It was quite the opposite. I was feeling super connected. So connected that I was always wondering if I would drop the baby or slip down the stairs or give her peanut butter too early or wether her bath water was the right temp (y’all I had TWO of those floating temp gauges), and I woke up to every peep on the monitor. I just chalked it up to new mom nerves. It turns out that while all new first time moms have many of those thoughts most don’t buy multiple water thermometers, or try to limit how many times they go up the stairs with the baby, or take the long way to not have to cross over a river.
I found out the following week at my first counseling session that I have had anxiety since I was a kid, I was just a high functioning anxiety sufferer. I was the kid who was afraid of everything. Roller coasters, boats, bugs, being somewhere where there isn’t a bathroom- the list goes on. No one would have ever known, though, because my desire to fit in always overpowered my anxiety.
There are several things that threw my anxiety into overdrive that ended up in that first panic attack . Hormones played (and still play!) a huge role, the weight of being responsible for this tiny life, sleep deprivation, the shift from going to working full-time to being a stay at home mom in a state where we had no family nearby or even other friends who were moms and stayed home. My oldest is now 6, and we have added 2 more kiddos to our clan and while my anxiety is still there- I have learned so much about myself, my anxiety and how it affects my parenting (and my relationships in general).
There’s a healthy level of anxiety – it’s what keeps us alive. It tells us not to touch the burning stove, or pet a growling dog. An unhealthy level is when you start thinking through the things that are usually unlikely to happen and letting them ruin your quality of life. The root of anxiety is fear. When you fear something your natural response is fight or flight. When you are a parent the flight isn’t often an option so the fight response kicks in and you find yourself arguing with a toddler. Sometimes it’s frustration. Like getting easily annoyed over things that are natural for developing little minds to do – like dumping out every. single. bin of toys. Over and over. I would also often try to “fight” by controlling the situation. If I’m afraid they’ll get hurt then I don’t allow them to jump on the trampoline. Fun killer mom, I know.
While I’m certainly nowhere near mastering the parenting thing, much less parenting with anxiety- I have found several things that have been super helpful and are hopefully making me a little less wet blanket and a tiny bit more adventurous…
Start with your Doctor
If you think you might have anxiety- talk with your doctor. Your doctor can also do bloodwork to see if there are underlying thyroid issues or vitamin deficiencies that often make anxiety worse. Your medical provider can also help with my next suggestion…
This was a game changer for me. I was embarrassed to go therapy at first because I thought it meant I’d failed or that I was broken. Turns out we are all broken and therapy gave me the tools to recognize, understand and address my anxiety in healthy ways. And for those who need it you can figure out a medication and dose with the appropriate doctor that works for you.
Listen to your body
Knowing my cycle helps me know when my anxiety levels may be heightened. I’m not a big nap taker but occasionally my body says to grab a 30 min, power nap. I’m also less anxious when I eat healthy meals.
This may not be your jam, but knowing that I’m never alone is huge. I know Who goes before me and Who is with me in all things. Praying Philippians 4:6 has calmed my nerves countless times!
Self care doesn’t have to mean weekly massages (although that sounds magical!), just find things that give you joy and try to take 30 minutes a few times a week to yourself to do those things. For me, it’s grabbing a kid-free lunch with a good friend, watching a show or 2 (like sitting and actually watching-no multitasking and folding laundry or picking up the living room!) or taking a yoga class.