I was preoccupied with getting everything ready and making sure we had everything, and that we had the towels and the sunscreen etc. that when Ethan started crying only 15 minutes after I finished getting him to settled to sleep, I just lost it. I burst out crying and when Jezz asked me what was wrong I didn’t know what to say. I felt tense and angry and rushed and I had no idea why. I was on holidays I shouldn’t be stressed out about forgetting something to walk 100 mtrs to the pool. But I did. I thought that people would think less of me if I wasn’t relaxed and in control of everything.
It took a fair pep talk from Jezz to reassure me that it didn’t matter, we were on holidays, it was time to relax and go slowly. We didn’t have to rush or be anywhere at a particular time and that I wasn’t the only one in charge of everything. While he did calm me down then, I only got worse as time went by.
That ‘thing with an uncertain outcome’ doesn’t even have to be anything huge. In the depths of my anxiety following Ethan’s birth, I was anxious about going to the shops with the kids by myself. Or even just driving to my parents’ house. (Ethan hated the car which made drives over 5 minutes excruciating!) Having never experienced anxiety before I had my second son, I had no idea that was what was happening to me.
As a Mum we expect ourselves to be prepared for everything; ready if the baby poos or if the toddler gets hungry or wets his jocks even though he is toilet trained. And it is just impossible! (Side note… I once had to stuff Owens wee soaked jocks in the side zip of my handbag on a ‘quick trip’ to the shops and do my errands with him commando!) We dread the thought of looking silly because we forgot the nappy wipes or we didn’t pack enough formula for a day out. We don’t want to look foolish when we don’t know how to calm our baby, or when we have to literally drag them off those rides at the shops to the car.
I spent my pre Mum days with a tidy house, an organised diary, a neat handbag and awesome fingernails, and then suddenly this tiny person comes along and with it comes a mess of laundry, toys, nappies, wipes, sticky fingerprints and snot. There is always snot. How is it that they spread their mess so quickly when they can’t even walk yet!
In my early Mum days I tried to stay on top of putting all the toys away during nap times and cleaning up the house so it was presentable for people coming over.
After I had Ethan, my anxiety peaked when the house was a mess, the washing wasn’t done and there were dishes all over the kitchen because I felt in control of NOTHING!
But these days do you think I’m wasting energy picking up puzzles, and bikes and clothes when in an hour they will both be up and dragging their toys around the house? NO BLOODY WAY! I’m saving that energy and drinking my coffee while it’s hot before the onslaught of the day.
It has taken a lot of gentle self-talk but I’ve learnt not to care that those toys have been there for a week or that we are behind in the washing or that when someone has come over, there are 3 half-done puzzles in the middle of the floor and they just sat down next to yesterday’s day care backpack that still hasn’t been unpacked.
The main thing that helped me overcome my anxiety was identifying what my anxiety felt like and what triggered it. For me, my anxiety felt like a big shadowy hand creeping up my back tightening itself around the back of my neck. I would notice myself physically tightening up and my behaviour would completely change! My mood would change, I would become irritable, anger would burst out of me without control. And it is different for everyone so it is really hard to identify.
Work out what it is that triggers your anxiety.
Ethan loves to play with my hair and when he is particularly cranky he pulls it really hard. It’s like his comfort blanket, we tried a number of different snuggies and teddies but he would always come back to my hair. And when I had a bad night sleep, all it took was one hard tug of my hair and I would lose my shit. Short of shaving my hair there is no way for me to avoid this. Still at 18 months old that is the quickest way to calm him down, grab him for a cuddle and give him a handful of hair! (Strange I know!)
So I’ve had to work at understanding just how calming it is for him so that I could work to reduce it as a trigger for me. I still get surges of anger when Ethan pulls my hair really hard but I have worked really hard at not letting it bother me.
Another trigger for me is lack of sleep and this must be a really common one for MOST if not all Mums! For the most part, we are all running on about 3 hours, insane Mum love and buckets of coffee. So this is really hard to work on. But I found that when I started getting up 10 minutes before the boys in the morning, then I was able to gather myself, go to the loo alone and have my coffee in peace and I was much less anxious throughout those days.
Some of the things I still do daily to help reduce my anxiety are:
- Get up before the kids, get dressed and have my cup of coffee ALONE!! Alone is a glorious place to be when you have kids all over you and even just 10 minutes in the morning works wonders for me. Re-discover your alarm and MAKE time for yourself.
- Go for a walk. Even if you have to chuck the kids in the pram with a sandwich and just take them around one block – DO IT! Getting out of the house really helps to reduce anxiety, especially when there is no pressure of being somewhere at a certain time, or expectations on the kids behaving!
- Count to 10. Almost seems like a cliché but it really does help to allow that peak of the anxiety pass so that you can take a step back, really have a look at the situation and be able to control your reactions better. (This one is super hard but super important when there are 2 kids screaming at you! Because screaming back never ever helps!)
- Read. I read a number of books that helped me… these books in particular really spoke to me and helped me climb out of the fog of anxiety.
Happy Mama, The guide to finding yourself again. By Amy Taylor-Kabbaz: This book spoke directly to my soul. It speaks about the fact that you do loose who you are a bit when you become a Mum. Mums tend to go directly to the bottom of the to-do list and this book helped me see that Mums need to be a priority as well. This book helped me talk to myself in the same way that I usually talk to my best friend.
You are enough. How to elevate your thoughts, align your energy and get out of the comparison trap. By Cassie Mendoza-Jones: I read this book because I was stuck in the trap of constantly comparing myself with others. It hit its peak when I criticized my own handwriting and compared it to my sisters. Really Kate? This book helped me get out of that trap and see that I am enough all on my own!
The Secret. By Rhonda Byrne: I listened to this audio book and it put a bright shining light on my mindset. Suddenly I became aware of how negative my mindset was and how it was impacting me day to day. A brilliant book.
- Find something that is just for you that lights you up. For me, obviously, it’s crochet. I could be having the worst day imaginable and if I get to sit down with a hook and some yarn, everything fades away. My mind slows down, the screaming doesn’t echo so loudly in my mind and the tantys don’t bother me as much.
- Make time for yourself regularly. As I said above, you have to make time for yourself. I know your kids are the centre of your world and they are all that matter, but what good are you if you don’t have time to recharge and be healthy and happy. Don’t your kids deserve a happy, relaxed, smiling Mum? Rather than the stressed, anxious, frowning one that you are when you are at the bottom of your to do list?
I spent 10 months in therapy working on this and it was the smartest thing I’ve ever done.
I had to make time to work on myself, to prioritise myself without guilt weighing me down like a sack of bricks. It isn’t easy, it doesn’t happen overnight, but it is so worth the effort to rid yourself of that nasty cloud of anxiety.
I would love to hear what your go-to anxiety relief tactics are?