Being a mom with anxiety does not make you a bad mom!
I’d like to start by saying, I am not a mother, I don’t know, or presume to know, how tough it is to bear and raise children. I respect and greatly admire mothers.
Mothering is the most important job on the planet and only a mother can ever truly know what that is like, but, as a man, I can’t truly understand what it means to be a mother.
I do, however, know what it’s like to have anxiety. In my years of working with individuals with anxiety, I know that sometimes, it can hit mothers the hardest.
There are many women who have shared their stories with me.
The fear of looking into their children’s beautiful eyes and wondering if they will ever be capable of being the mother they truly want to be for them.
The fear of not being able to do the simplest of things that other mothers can do, such as attend a school play, a recital or a sporting event.
Although I can’t understand this as a mom would, I do however completely identify with the anxiety issue and the horrible limitations that it can impose on you.
Let me share my story with you: when I was 18 years old, I had my first panic attack.
I was attending church on a Sunday afternoon in Dublin, newly finished with my school exams.
It was, without a doubt, the worst thing I had ever experienced: my chest constricted, it felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I was also having strange bodily sensations like pins and needles were going up and down my chest and arms.
In short, it was awful. After I spent over a year afraid to leave the physical comfort of my home (for fear that I would have another anxiety attack), I finally, one day, realized I was approaching my anxiety all wrong.
By allowing it to run my life, I was feeding into the fear my anxiety created.
What I discovered is that Instead, I needed to call its bluff.
So I asked my anxiety for the worst it could do.
To me, my anxiety felt bad enough that I thought it could seriously harm me, so I figured it either would or I’d realize it couldn’t.
So I took a leap of faith and I asked my anxiety for the absolute worst it could do.
Bring it on, do your worse! To my amazement, the more I demanded, the less I could feel it, almost instantly, I felt an overwhelming sensation of relief.
My anxiety actually dissipated as soon as I realized that it couldn’t do much worse than simply, well, make me anxious. I finally realized that I was not in real danger.
Once I got over my fear, I started to get over my anxiety.
As mothers, you spend your days caring for others: your children often take center stage and you can forget to take good care of yourself.
The woman becomes a mom and the lines are all blurred.
You do your best to keep it all together, you read books, magazine, blogs, you talk to other moms, and you want to be the perfect mom because that is what society dictates you need to be.
You can’t identify with these perfect moms so you start doubting yourself and your capabilities as a mom.
Doubt turns into stress, and stress turns into anxiety.
Add a few everyday problems to the mix and anxiety can turn into a full blown disorder or even worse, depression.
Something you feel too ashamed to mention to anyone, so you suffer in silence.
But living in avoidance of reality and your limitation isn’t the answer.
Instead of allowing your fear of anxiety to make decisions for you, it’s time to call anxiety’s bluff.
So, what does that mean?
Imagine one of your favorite moments of being a mom: maybe you’re at home, and your kids are playing outside together; maybe you’re out, watching your oldest star in a school play; maybe you’re on a road trip, happily listening to the tunes of your middle child singing along with the radio.
Suddenly, you tense up, start to feel really nervous, one after the other you feel the sensations; cold sweats, weak legs, pounding heart, dizziness, shortness of breath and you wonder what is wrong with you and if you’re going to be able to make it through.
Your reaction, instant panic and fear.
I’d like to propose a different option: instead of fearing the anxiety when you feel it coming, embrace it. Yes, I did say embrace it, no I am not out of my mind.
While I know that this may sound impossible right now, hear me out: what gives anxiety its power, is your fear. So by removing the fear, you remove its power.
The next time you are in a situation where you are starting to feel anxious, take a moment to accept your anxiety and allow it to be present.
Then, reframe the situation: instead of telling yourself you are fearful of your anxiety, tell yourself you are excited by it!
“Okay, anxiety, I recognize that you’re here. I accept it, and I’m excited that you’ve decided to join me!”
Be excited, feel excited, and really throw yourself into it, truly believe that this is exciting!
This process, although it may sound counterintuitive, will help you realize anxiety is not a monster.
It’s simply a natural tactic your body has designed to help you stay safe. Start treating your anxiety like what it is – Your best friend, someone whose job is to help you avoid bad situations and keep you safe.
You simply need to re-train this best friend to distinguish the difference between real and imagined threats, so that it can do its job properly.
Once you experience the realization that the worst your anxiety can do is create anxious thoughts, that it will not harm you physically, you will start feeling safe again.
Taking away the most important thing it can, the fear out of normal everyday situations.
Then, you can truly begin to heal. As you keep practicing this technique, with time, you will start feeling whole again, you will be able to do all the things you really wanted to do as a mom.
You will be able to enjoy beautiful moments and make amazing memories that you will cherish as a family always.
You will finally feel at peace and be happy!