Anxiety-Busting Plan for Sensory Moms

We humans don't do well with cognitive dissonance. We like to make sense of things, to put things into their appropriate "boxes," to find patterns and to solve problems. In fact, we're hard-wired to strive for internal consistency.

And that, in a nutshell, is why holidays tend to make us a little, well, nutty. Our brains simply can't handle the fact that while they certainly are fun, joyful and festive they're simultaneously exhausting, stressful and anxiety-producing!

Multiply this if you're a person who already runs anxious (like me!) and are parenting a child who already runs anxious (like mine!). Let's just say that if you're a Sensory Mom, the holidays are probably not your favorite time of year.

Well, that's about to change.

Out of a deep love of all things holiday and a determination to enjoy the season, damnit, I've come up with an anxiety-busting plan that, when followed, will have you rivaling Buddy from Elf with your holiday enthusiasm.

Step 1: Dial in Your Sleep Hygiene

Just one night of bad sleep can have a dramatic effect on your physical, mental and emotional well-being. So, when all hell is breaking loose in your nervous system, sleep is your first stop.

The following are simple tried and true sleep hacks that will have you sleeping like a baby and feeling less anxious in no time:

  • Avoid screens for at least an hour before bedtime (the number one thing you can do to improve sleep immediately!)
  • Have a regular bedtime
  • Wear blue-blocking glasses two hours before bed
  • Keep your room cool (ideally between 62-68 degrees Farenheit)
  • Meditate (even 5 minutes before bed will make a difference!)
  • Use blackout curtains
  • Remove electronics from your bedroom
  • Take a magnesium supplement before bed
  • Decrease caffeine intake
  • Have a caffeine curfew
  • Drink calming hot tea before bed (chamomile and valerian root are good ones to try)
  • Cut out alcohol (bummer, I know, but it significantly disrupts REM sleep)

If you're feeling overwhelmed by this list, no need to tackle all the hacks at once. Just choose a few that are doable- you'll definitely notice a difference.

Step 2: Channel Your Inner Rocky Balboa

Nothing revolutionary about step number two. We all know the benefits of regular exercise, but just in case you need a refresher- study after study has shown that it improves the body's ability to cope with stress and has an overall calming effect on the nervous system.

According to Dr. Peter Attia, founder of Attia Medical and host of The Drive podcast, exercising regularly is the single most important thing you can do to reduce anxiety and improve brain health.

If you're cringing at the idea of having to exercise regularly, I feel you. It can seem impossible to find time for it when you're a busy mom with kids who need you, a house that needs tending to, dinners and lunches to make, laundry to fold, homework to help with, Netflix shows to catch up on (ha!)... but, the motto for this step is "some is better than none."

Let that sink in for a minute: some is better than none.

A ten minute walk around the neighborhood is better than no walk around the neighborhood. Five minutes of stretching is better than no stretching. Two minutes of calf raises while you're brushing your teeth is better than no minutes of calf raises.

You don't have run a 10K or attend Barry's Boot Camp for it to count as exercise!

Here's one way to do it. Set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier than usual. Get up, brush your teeth, splash some water on your face then do three sets of the following:

15 squats
10 pushups
15 sit-ups

Doing a simple sequence like this in the morning will give your nervous system a little boost and will make you more resilient to stress through out the day.

If you want to take it up a notch, here are some more ideas:

  • Get a girlfriend to be your workout partner and schedule regular, weekly workout dates
  • Join Stroller Strides
  • Set your alarm for 1 hour earlier than usual and go for a walk or a jog before the kids wake up
  • Get in the habit of taking a walk after dinner- throw kids in the stroller or have partner watch them while you go out for a solo stroll
  • Get a Team Beachbody workout coach (I recommend Carly Fliegler)

Exercise is important for everyone, but if you struggle with anxiety, it's a non-negotiable.

Step 3: Do This Daily Visualization.

I learned this from the amazing Dr. Anthony Cahill and it has transformed my anxiety.

Close your eyes and think about what's causing you anxiety. Imagine the anxiety-inducing event/interaction as if it’s happening, relive the feelings and “find” them in your body -is your jaw clenched? Shoulders tight? Stomach in knots? Once you've located the feelings inside your body, picture them as a black cloud. On an inhale, say, “I see, acknowledge and release you,” and then picture the cloud moving up and out of your body as you exhale. Repeat the process as needed until your body feels calm and relaxed.

I do this visualization every night before I go to bed and sometimes during the day if my anxiety is particually high. I never cease to be surprised by its effectiveness.

Step 4: Schedule in Some Breaks

We mamas need a break! Especially during the holidays. Each week, look at your schedule and find at least one block of time during which you can recharge and/or do something solely for yourself.

Having something to look forward to and knowing that you have some dedicated downtime does wonders for lowering and managing anxiety. I don't care how busy you are, how many kids you have or what your constraints are, this step is a MUST!

That came out a little tough-loveish, but it's meant with good intentions. The thing is, I've heard excuse after excuse from moms I've worked with about how impossible it is to schedule downtime. And, without fail, when I challenge them to adopt a "where there's a will, there's a way" mentality, each and every one is able to figure something out.

Whether it's doing a babysitting swap with a girlfriend, enlisting the help of a trusted neighbor to watch the kids for an hour or simply scheduling it ahead with your partner, there surely is a way to make time for yourself. Not only do you desrve it, your well-being depends on it!

Here are some ideas:

  • Have your partner watch the kids on a weekend morning while you go for a walk with a girlfriend
  • Ask your partner to take over bedtime one night while you take a bath and then watch your favorite show
  • Blow off your errands and instead schedule a coffee date with a girlfriend while your kids are in school
  • Schedule a massage at one of those discounted massage chains (this is the one I love in North San Diego)
  • Meet a girlfriend for a walk while the kids are in school
  • Schedule some kid-free errand time (Ah, such a luxury to go grocery shopping sans kids! ha!)
  • Set aside time to do something creative (an amazing anxiety antidote)

Step 5: Name it to Tame it!

The final step in my anxiety-buster plan is journaling. Why? Because writing out your feelings, thoughts, worries and fears is yet another clinically-proven way to quiet your anxious mind.

There are many ways to journal:

  • Grab any 'ol pad of paper and pen and just free-write whatever's on your mind
  • Use a prompted journal
  • Use a gratitude journal
  • Write your fears in one column, worst case scenario in another and solutions in another
  • Create your own prompted journal and respond to the same questions each day
  • Do an art journal with pictures instead of words

I've experimented with several different journaling styles and have found that a daily prompted journal works best for me. But, there's no right or wrong way. You just want to make sure you're actually writing with pen and paper as opposed to using your computer or an app. The physical act of handwriting stimulates and engages your brain better than typing and allows you more access to inner emotions.

Last but not least, here are a few more of my go-to anxiety-relievers:

  • Increase your B-vitamins
  • Take an epsom salt bath with lavender essential oil
  • Drink lots of water (I like to put this electrolyte supplement in mine for better absorption)
  • Keep an essential oil roller with you and dab it on when you are feeling stressed
  • Diffuse essential oils- frankincense is a good one for anxiety
  • Therapy- if your anxiety is getting the best of you, it's a good idea to seek professional help

There you have it- 5 steps (and some bonus strategies) to keep your anxiety at bay this holiday season and any season for that matter.

Tackling anxiety is all about making small shifts. Choose one step to focus on first. Maybe it's going to bed earlier each night or maybe your sleep is already dialed in and you're going to focus on getting some exercise each day.

Whatever you choose to focus on, make it doable. Write it down and put it in your schedule. You've got this, mamas- here's to an anxiety-free, dare I say, relaxing holiday!

What are your anxiety-reducing strategies? Leave them in the comments below, the Sensory Mom Community and I would love to hear them.


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Hi! I'm Cameron, mom of two incredible, "differently-wired" boys who have sensory processing challenges, wife of a nerdy surfer, mindfulness practitioner and Parenting Coach with master's degrees in education and psychology.