15 Calming Strategies for Anxious Moms
A year into motherhood, I half-heartedly joked with a girlfriend about starting a blog called overlyanxiousmom.com. Needless to say, I struggle with anxiety and have since I was a young girl (to learn more about my story click here).
Prior to becoming a mom, I'd worked hard to understand and learn strategies to manage my anxiety and I was finally in a place where it wasn't running the show.
Then, I had my first miscarriage and everything fell apart. Two surgeries, several rounds of fertility treatments, a failed IVF attempt which resulted in hospitalization, an ectopic pregnancy, an emergency C-section, a premature baby with developmental delays, and a shaky marriage later and Anxiety was back in full force.
It took three years to realize I needed to prioritize my emotional well-being and super-charge my self-care so I was running the show again, not Anxiety.
If, like me, you struggle with anxiety, and parenting has taken it to a Whole. New. Level., here are 15 Calming Strategies that will help ease your angst:
1. Vocalize your fears. Anxiety is not bad, it's actually our brain's way of protecting us from a potential threat. The problem is that due to things like an insecure attachment in childhood and past trauma, many of us have brains that are "overscanning" the environment and misinterpreting the information; our brains are perceiving "threats" when there aren't any.
One way to counteract this faulty neural wiring is to channel your energy into vocalzing your fears. When you feel your anxiety getting triggered, call up a trusty friend and let it rip! Talking about our fears activates the left hemisphere of our brain and has a calming effect on the right hemisphere, which is where our anxiety resides.
2. Disengage. Anxiety can result in several different responses to a situation, one of which is to "flee." Though running away from your problems doesn't sound like the best solution, fleeing a situation that's making you anxious is not always a bad thing!
In fact, stepping back and disengaging from a difficult situation that's stirring up anxiety - your child's challenging behavior, a negative interaction with your partner - can be helpful for everyone involved. Simply saying, "I need a moment to calm down," then removing yourself from the situation, can lessen your emotional charge and give your parasympathetic nervous system a chance to work its calming magic.
3. Get on the HIIT bandwagon. Research shows that when done consistently, high intensity interval training (HIIT) helps "rewire" your brain to recover more quickly when faced with stress. Doing short bursts of intense exercise followed by a rest period for a sustained period of time (usually 45 minutes) not only trains your muscles, it also trains your nervous system to shift quickly from stress mode to recovery mode. How's that for some extra motivation to get that workout in!
4. Apply the 5 minute rule. I learned this from Hal Elrod, author of The Miracle Morning, and it's genius. Any time you're faced with a stressful, upsetting, or overwhelming situation, give yourself five minutes to yell, scream, shake your fists at the heavens, feel sorry for yourself and dive head first into all your worst case scenarios. When your five minutes are up, if it's something you don't have control over and can't change, you let it go. Then, focus on what you can change and come up with a plan.
I use this all the time. For example, my older son, who up until a few weeks ago has loved school, is suddenly complaining that it's "too hard," and has been crying in the mornings, begging to stay home. Cue my anxiety! Yesterday morning, when his tears started pouring out, it immediately sprang into action- What's going on? Is his Dyspraxia causing learning issues? Is this worse than I thought? Sh%t!
Realizing I was quickly heading down the anxiety rabbit hole, I gave myself a few more minutes to really go there and then I took a deep breath and asked myself, what do I have control over? A minute later I was leaving a message for his occupational therapist about setting up a phone session to discuss an intervention plan. Done. Anxiety rabbit hole successfully averted!
5. Channel RuPaul. If you're not familiar with RuPaul, you clearly did not grow up in the 90's! He's a pop culture icon and perhaps the most famous drag queen to date. He is also incredibly wise and evolved.
When I heard him interviewed by Oprah on her Super Soul Sunday podcast, I was riveted. He said something profound that has become an anxiety-reducing mantra I use on a daily basis.
Oprah asked him if he ever felt self-doubt and if so, how did he handle it? Without skipping a beat, he said, "Of course I do, I'm human! But, as soon as it creeps in, I just say, 'thanks for sharing, but we're not doing that today.'"
Since then, whenever my anxiety gets loud, I let it take the stage (5 minute rule), and then I say, "thanks for sharing, but we're not doing that today." It shifts me back to the present moment and reminds me that, even though my anxiety is quite loud, I don't have to listen.
6. Walk it off. It's amazing what a nice, brisk walk can do for the nervous system! Next time you're feeling anxious, throw the kids in the stroller and head out for a walk around the neighborhood. The "heavy work" aspect of pushing the stroller is calming to the nervous system as well.
7. Scan the room. This is a great tactic when your anxiety starts manifesting physically. At the onset of symptoms - racing heart, tightness in the chest, jittery feeling - start looking around the room and labeling what you see. "There's the cabinet, there's a blue pillow, there's the coffee table with three books, the light above the nightstand is on, the frame on the wall is crooked..."
It may sound a bit odd, but just like vocalizing your fears, it helps activate the left hemisphere of your brain which tempers the overly stimulated amygdala. It also grounds you by bringing your attention back to the here and now.
8. Find the feeling. When anxious thoughts arise, instead of focusing on the thoughts, see if you can shift your attention to what's going on in your body. Where are you feeling the thoughts? Once you find it, close your eyes, breathe into it and say, "this is just a feeling and it will pass." Repeat until the anxiety begins to lessen.
9. Name it to tame it. If you don't have a friend handy, grab your trusty journal and do an anxiety freewrite. Without censoring or judging yourself, write out everything that's swarming around in your head. Though it sounds cliche, journaling has been scientifically-proven to reduce stress and anxiety.
10. Identify the facts. Anxiety loves to embellish and often ignores the facts. When you get bombarded with anxious thoughts, stop and ask, "What are the facts?" Bonus points for writing them in your journal after you've done your anxiety freewrite.
11. Count your sheep. Poor sleep is a common anxiety trigger. If you're experiencing heightened anxiety, focusing on getting quality sleep is a great first line of defense.
Things to try: cut out caffeine, alcohol and sugar (wah wah), wear blue-blocking glasses for at least an hour before bed, go to bed an hour earlier, meditate before you fall asleep, have a screen time cut-off, keep the room temperature around 67 degrees Fahrenheit, get blackout shades and lastly, book a hotel room for the night so your kids don't wake you up! Ha!
12. Keep your enemies closer. Since anxiety can be so disruptive, it's easy to develop an adversarial relationship with it. But, as the saying goes, you want to "keep your friends close and your enemies closer." Instead of trying to get rid of it, make anxiety your friend. Remind yourself that, while its effects aren't helpful, its motive- self-protection - is well-meaning.
When it flares up, acknowledge it and welcome it in. Tell it you know it's here to protect you, but you don't need its help today- Hey Anxiety, how's it goin? Nice to see you. Listen, I know you have my best interest at heart and you're trying to help, but I don't need you today. You're more than welcome to pop back in for a visit when, say, I'm hiking and there's a rattle snake on the trail. Thanks a bunch!
13. Laugh it off. There's a reason that laughter is said to be "the best medicine." A good laugh has been shown to reduce stress hormones, increase oxygen intake, encourage healing and improve your immune system.
Next time you're feeling anxious, cue up the Conan O'Brien podcast (it's hilarious!), turn on your favorite comedy (Schitt's Creek is my current fave!), call your funniest friend or up and tell your husband you're taking the day off, go back to your room, lock the door, get back in bed and laugh your way back to sleep * laughs maniacally *.
14. Release the black cloud. Find the anxiety in your body. Visualize it as a black cloud. As you inhale, picture it moving up your body and as you exhale, picture it moving out through your mouth. Once it is out, say, "I see, acknowledge and release you."
Ok, I know this may sound a bit "woo hoo," but, as a wise doctor recently reminded me, our bodies do what our minds tell them to. Trust me, it works!
15. Just breathe. Never underestimate the anxiety-reducing effects of some good 'ol fashioned breathing. Put your hands on your belly and take slow, deep, belly breaths. Focus on making the exhales longer than the inhales- try doing a four count in breath and an eight count out breath.
If you struggled with anxiety prior to becoming a mom, chances are, motherhood kicked it into high gear. Especially if you have a child whose development has been atypical.
Using these calming strategies will help retrain your brain so Anxiety can do its job when it's really needed (snake on the hiking trail) and take a backseat when it's not (any non-life-threatening situation). The more you put these into practice, the better Anxiety will become at accurately assessing for threats and the more you'll be able to enjoy parenting. And, the more calm and regulated you are, the more calm and regulated your kids will be. A real win-win.
Do you struggle with anxiety? How does it manifest? How does it affect your parenting? What helps you manage it? Leave your comments below, the Sensory Mom Community and I would love to hear from you.
If you need extra support, click here to schedule a free call.