People don’t believe me when I tell them that I suffer with severe anxiety, apparently I don’t seem the ‘type’. But suffer is probably the best term for it.
As I write this, it feels like there is a tight band around my head, the more I think about it the tighter it becomes. My heart is pounding in my chest and I’m fighting to catch my breath. My hands are shaking and difficult to control. I feel like I have become detached from myself. I’m panicking because I am in charge of three children. I am their adult. They are going to ask me to do something else in a minute and I wonder if I can cope.
I know this is anxiety, I recognise its grip and the way it creeps over my entire body. I recognise the irrational panicked thoughts in my head and the strong desire to phone my husband and demand that he comes home immediately because I don’t feel ‘well’.
However, because I know that this is anxiety, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to let it do its own crazy thing and accept it. I also know that it will pass.
The first time I experienced a full on panic attack I had no idea what had hit me. My ears were ringing, I felt faint, I couldn’t breathe and I genuinely thought I was going to die.
If it hadn’t been for Louise, I would never have known what was happening to me. Louise had also been experiencing panic attacks at that time and she had told me her symptoms, so I had a little mental check list in my head. Each time a new symptom occurred I found it on my list and realised that this was indeed a panic attack. The fact that I was driving the car with nowhere to pull over was a slight inconvenience, but at least I knew that I would survive and I could stop the car as soon as it was safe. Thank goodness for honest friends eh!
Anxiety is an utter bastard to live with and is particularly harsh on mothers. We already have all that normal mum anxiety about our children, so why not vamp it up a bit with some full on “What is happening to ME?” anxiety as well! As usual, hormones play a huge part in anxiety, that’s why we see it more in people who are hormonal such as teenagers and new mums.
Anxiety is a normal human response and it has a function, it keeps us safe and it’s also very motivating. Everybody experiences anxiety at some point in their life, for example at exam time, at a job interview or if there has been a life changing event such as a death, a divorce or a house move. These are often temporary feelings.
Temporary anxiety eventually eases with help and support, or at the end of that maths exam. This is quite different from being an anxious person. I have always been anxious, even as a child. I am a real worrier about social situations, about talking to people on the phone, about upsetting others and always about what I write on this blog.
I also have OCD – not like “oh, I’m so OCD”, but like actual real, checking things every night before I go to bed, following routines, making sure everyone is safe, OCD. It’s a right pain in the arse, but it does make me exceptionally good at risk assessments! It also often makes me late for things…which makes me anxious – You see my trouble!
As my children have got a bit older my OCD and anxiety are usually quite well behaved. I think I’m too exhausted to care whether the house burns down or the car rolls away. But today it’s got a hold of me, so I thought that whilst I’m actually in one of these anxious times I would share it with you and offer you some helpful tips on dealing with anxiety as a mum.
- Simplify your days: Anxiety is all consuming, overwhelming and exhausting, do not try to fit in all those things you were ‘supposed’ to do today. Bring it right back to the basics, nobody will mind. Let the children watch TV and play at home. Feed them sandwiches or toast. It’s ok. You do not have to be Supermum. Today, for example, I was going to take the children shopping on my own – not a hope of that happening. Online shopping will do, Mr Tesco can choose their Easter eggs and bring them tomorrow.
- Put yourself first: In a similar vein to the first tip, be selfish, say no to things you know will cause you stress. Focus on you and your wants and needs.
- Ask for help with day to day jobs. Maybe a friend or neighbour could get that loaf of bread for you today?
- Talk about how you are feeling: I guarantee you, you are not the only one feeling like this. It’s great if other people can understand how you are feeling. I know that I can phone Louise or my mum and say I’m struggling today, and plans will be changed with no questions asked. They know that I would do the same for them.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol: Painful, but very effective. Two cups of tea a day is about the caffeine limit for me when I’m anxious. It really does help. Decaff, fruit/herbal teas and water are the way to go.
- Breathe: There are lots of breathing techniques online that you can try like breathing in through your nose for a count of three, holding it for a count of one, and breathing out through your mouth for the count of three.
- Relax: You won’t realise it, but your body will be tense. Focus on each body part and release the tension.
- Keep your humour: Laughing is one of the best medicines!
- Exercise gently and eat well: These are things we would do to recover from any other illness and yet we often don’t associate them with our mental health.
- Go outside in nature: I have done this today and it has made me feel much better. If you live in a city or town and have no outside space, bring nature indoors with plants and flowers. Or look for the little bits of nature around you, it’s always there in the sky, on the paths and walls and in the trees.
- Mindfulness: This is extremely effective at helping people who suffer with anxiety, because it brings your focus to the here and now. You don’t think about tomorrow, or the pile of washing you haven’t done, you are completely in the moment. Take it from someone who was a complete sceptic, mindfulness can change your life.
- CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and identifying triggers: CBT has been very useful to me as it has given me lots of very practical tips on managing my anxiety and identifying my responses to triggers. The best tip for me was to have an elastic band around my wrist when I am driving. If I feel panicked I can ping that band hard on my wrist, and that little bit of pain interferes with the panic signal from my brain and gives me long enough to pull over safely and compose myself. It really works.
- Don’t watch the news: This is my last tip. The Donald Trump’s of this world are not conducive to a feeling of calm and inner peace. Turn the news off and focus on you.
I’m not ashamed of having anxiety and OCD, they are a part of who I am. I generally keep them in check and I know what to do when they are misbehaving like naughty toddlers.
I hope that this has been helpful to some of you. If you are feeling anxious today remember that it is normal, you are not crazy, it will pass. Breathe, relax and ask for a bit of help. Motherhood is tough, but so are mums. You are doing just fine.
For information and support on postnatal anxiety here is a link to a really interesting website: https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/our-services/anxiety-information/anxiety-disorders/post-natal-anxiety/