- Figure out where you feel your anxiety. Anxiety is a physical energy that manifest in some part of your body. This usually happens before you even realize logically that you are anxious. Some people feel it in their gut (IBS is linked with this – nauseous, running to the bathroom for other issues, butterflies or tightness.) Others feel it in their hands or feet, clenched jaw, sore neck or tightness in their chest. Anxiety can make you wonder if you actually have a stomach virus or if you are ‘just nervous’.
- Be mindful. After you figure out where you feel it – be mindful of how often you are feeling it. Are there specific times of day or around certain people? Start to look for patterns. Start to realize how often or how rarely you do feel it.
- Breathe. When you feel your anxious energy, breathe through it. Slow down and breathe. Four counts in, five counts hold, six counts out. Repeat a few times.
- Recognize the avoidant behaviors. Now that we have been able to breathe through the anxiety. What are your avoidant behaviors? Are you an over-thinker? Do you think about all possible scenarios to attempt to control that anxious or uncomfortable feeling? Do you obsessively clean your house or car to avoid feeling overwhelmed? Do you put blame on others and spiral quickly into rage when feeling out of control? We can talk for days about how these are protective coping skills that you have probably developed at a very young age. They are things that you have developed to help you survive.
- Question if the avoidant behaviors are working anymore. This is usually when I start to see people in my office. They are feeling trapped by their coping skills. Cleaning the house on Saturdays turned into rearranging the house on Saturdays and cleaning the house daily. Which turned into not being able to sleep until the house is spotless and everything is in its order. Hypervigilance or over-thinking is the same way. You are no longer able to think through all the scenarios to come to a best conclusion – which now ends with some horrific thing happening so you can at least come to some peace with that… but not really. And there are just TOO many things to control them all. You are perpetually overwhelmed and anxious.
- Break the cycle of avoidant behaviors. Work to honor you anxiety and be in it the uncomfortable feelings. Work on grounding the emotions. Focus on the present and be in the moment. Give yourself time to feel. We also call this ‘Sitting in it’. Don’t immediately start doing something else to avoid feeling the anxiety. We tend to believe that if we don’t find something to distract our mind we will be unable to control it. Fun Science Fact: if you do have an emotional, raw moment – that moment can only last 60-90 seconds because that is all the human body can allow. If you stop working to avoid the feelings and just ‘sit in it’ or work through it – the raw emotion won’t last too long. I like to think of this as those moments when you are in a spinning class and everything hurts and you are going to break – but you keep going and a few minutes later you know longer feel like you are going to physically or emotionally crash (unless of course you really hurt yourself – but that is self-awareness and whole other topic)…
- Figure out your perceived truth that lead to the overwhelming anxiety. What is the core shame that you are striving to avoid feeling? Anxiety is natural and everyone feels some level of it. Some people have wiring that makes them predisposed to feeling overwhelmed and anxious faster than others.
- Work to accept your anxiety as a part of you. If you have been anxious since you were two – guess what, I will never say you won’t be anxious ever again. We want to work on lessening the intensity, frequency, and duration of anxiety attacks. But to do that, you need to acknowledge that you are a person with anxiety and that is OK. We call this Acceptance Cognitive Therapy. Let’s figure out the patterns and the negative thoughts associated with the anxiety. Let’s work to extinguish the anxiety attacks that come from potentially having an anxiety attack.
- Lastly, figure out the self-care that works for you. Yoga, Meditation, Message, Running, Jujitsu, Reading, Writing, Painting, Being with Friends, Being alone, Bubble Bath, TV, Therapy… Yes we need to work on being mindful and present in the moment with anxiety, but also focus on the other things you enjoy to lessen the times your feel anxious. And, please, don’t compare yourself to others when it comes to self-care – do YOUR THING.
I feel like I am often on repeat when talking about the cycle of anxiety – so I figured, why not share my white board with everyone else to benefit as well. Here are a few [snapshot] steps to managing and accepting your anxiety.
There is this concept around new motherhood and preparing for life after birth. Mothers should make a list of the people in their lives that they can call upon when they are in need. When they are at the bottom and feel as though they can barely surve. This list should include your FOOD OF LIFE people and WATER OF LIFE people.
The FOOD OF LIFE people are the doers - they are the people you call when you need something tangible: dinner, house cleaned, dogs walked, baby held so mom ca get a shower or nap. They show up and do what is asked of them - no questions asked and no need for conversation.
The WATER OF LIFE people are the people that can sit in your pain with you. They let you cry. They let you freak out. They let you get it out. They are the people you can sit with for an hour and leave feeling like you can go climb a mountain when an hour before you just wanted to lay in bed and cry. They are the people that don't bat an eye at the tears, they are the people that can just be with you in your shitty place for a minute and you know it will be alright.
About a month before I was hospitalized with Ollie I had made my list. My list included about four food people and two water people.
And then it happened and I needed my people. I needed ALL the people. And you know what, they showed up! People that I just consider acquaintances, they showed up. People that I would call friends but only see once a year, they showed up. Those people on my list, they showed up - almost daily. People that I have never met but are a part of my mom 'tribe', they showed up.
When I was unable to carry my own daughter, ALL the people showed up and carried me and my family.
Thank you for taking my daughter to work with you. Thank you for being with my daughter even though you have never been alone with a child. Thank you for manning wake ups. Thank you for doing daycare drop off and pickups. Thank you for all the food. Thank you for sitting with me at the hospital. Thank you for gathering our tribe. Thank you for the flowers. Thank you for the distractions. Thank you for the kind notes. Thank you for helping work transition smoothly. Thank you for ALL the presents for me and daughter. Thank you for the constant check ins. Thank you for sitting with me as a I sobbed. Thank you for dying my hair purple. Thank you for all the food. Thank you for babysitting me at my home. Thank you for listening. Thank you for taking time out of your busy life to think of us. Thank you for all the prayers and positive vibes. Thank you for helping us survive. Thank you for visiting us at the NICU. Thank you for the amazing pictures. Thank you for not batting an eye at my need to pump during our visit. Thank you for helping us financially. Thank you FOR ALL THE FOOD!
Friends - THANK YOU FOR HELPING US SURVIVE.
I am so grateful. Everyone has a really busy life that makes it difficult to even see each other on a regular basis, but when I needed you there wasn't even any hesitation. You were just there. Thank you.
We are finally coming to the other side of this traumatic event and we are all thriving. I hope one day we will be able to give back, but I don't hope any of you have to experience this.
Also, we still have serving wares... please remind me if we are holding yours :/
I keep rethinking what it is that I want to say about yesterdays tragedy in Orlando.
Do we talk about the fact that this sits close to home for a lot of us, just as the Charleston church shooting sat close to home for our black peers? It was an attack on a specific group within our society. To my LGBTQ friends - I am sorry if you don't feel safe. I am sorry if you feel you can't be yourself in our society. I am just sorry that we are still living in a world of hate, rather than a world of love.
Do we talk about the fact that media wouldn't have made a huge story if someone's grandfather went and danced the night away at Pulse - having just years prior made derogatory comments? Maybe some of us would have loved and shared that story, but it wouldn't have hit nearly as many homes. Do we talk about the fact that social media is a powerful tool and too often it spreads violence and hate more than love and kindness? Though it is awesome that Chewbacca Mom went viral. Or do we talk about how logging into social media can violate us without our permission (and we then expel energy from our lives to feel whatever emotions posts make us feel)?
Do we talk about the fact that ONE entitled asshat decided it was his right to end 50 lives? ONE person ended 50 lives, physically impact thousands by the loss of an important person, and put fear in MILLIONS. One person can impact so many lives, if only for a moment.
Do we talk about the need for better mental health care?
Do we talk about guns? They make some people feel safe and others feel fear. I don't know if there is a middle ground, but I know we will never get there if we can't acknowledge that both sides are acting out of fear.
Do we talk about how violence begets violence and love begets love?
Do we talk about this ONE person's family? Lets blame the mom - or maybe the dad (yeah right) - or maybe video games, bullying, lack of church, too much church, society in general?
Do we act on anger or sadness or fear? What about compassion - what about empathy? This ONE person was so distressed or troubled in his world that he felt he needed to end someones life as well as his own. Was he suicidal? Yes. Homicidal? Yes. Was he just an entitled asshat? Maybe. But when could he have gotten help to go down a different path?
Do we talk about how we as a society are raising entitled asshats and if we figure out how to end that, we might be able to end domestic mass shootings? Don't they all stem from someone disagreeing with other people and then feel they have the RIGHT to end their life.
I don't have any answers. I vote for LOVE and KINDNESS. <3
This week, the perinatal mental health world put to rest a victim and a strong advocate. She embodied strength and courage and perseverance. Her story of survival hit me like a rock when I first read it (triggering, say what!?). This week, I reread it and the following needed to be shouted for all the world.
"If you or someone you know is having suicidal or homicidal thoughts, please talk to someone! To the mother that is currently experiencing these types of thoughts, I say, “Do not let the shame of these thoughts stop you from reaching out for help. Shame will tell you not to talk to anyone. Shame will lie to you and tell you that you are a bad mother. But it is not true! You are not a bad mother. You are ill. You need help. There is hope and healing if you would only reach out.” - Naomi K.
Perinatal Mental health issues are not something mothers can just get over. It is not something mothers are creating for themselves. It is not something happening to mother's because they are weak.
Typically, when we hear a mother has 'postpartum' we immediately assume she is depressed and suicidal
**but how could a mother take her own life when a baby needs her *shame/guilt* or we assume she has psychosis and she wants to harm her baby **but how could a mother ever want to harm her beautiful baby *shame/guilt**
It does get better, with help.
With that, let's get technical. The word 'perinatal' means around birth. When referring to Perinatal Mental Health we are referring to mental health issues that surround birth (from conception to one year postpartum).
This includes the following:
Antepartum depression and anxiety
Postpartum depression and anxiety
Postpartum anxiety/panic disorder
Postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder
Bipolar Mood Disorders
Postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder
I can go into more detail on what each is, including symptoms but I don't think that is the point of this post. You can find a TON of knowledge on the subject through Postpartum Support International and Mental Health America recently published an article full of great information.
So, what is my intention with this post? To create awareness. To breed kindness. To support our mothers. To let struggling mothers know that is does get better with help and they are not weak.
Perinatal Mental health issues tend to be related to an imbalance of hormones. If someone feels like they are not themselves, it is because they are not. Women who tend to have a bigger swing of moods during their cycles, tend to be at greater risk. It is not something that allows a mother to just pick herself up and get back at it... and then add the lack of sleep (boom) it is a bad cocktail.
It does get better, with help.
Please do not let the shame of feeling defeated keep you from reaching out. Please talk to someone about the feelings. The longer you remind silent, the longer it will manifest and all we want is for you to be yourself again.
What does help look like?
Partners, Parents, Friends.
If you are currently feeling hopeless please call for help:
Call the PSI Warmline at 1-800-944-4773(4PPD)
For Crisis, call National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
In Pittsburgh, call the re:solve crisis network: 1-888-7-YOU CAN (1-888-796-8226)
Call your OB/ Midwife / Pediatrician/ PCP.
Call a local therapist that specializes in perinatal mental health
Call your PSI volunteer coordinator to find help.
“I am your horror story.”
Over the last several months I have talked with several people that can label themselves as “someone else’s horror story”. When someone else even thinks about empathizing with them, they say ‘I couldn’t even imagine’ or ‘I wouldn’t be able to keep moving forward’. Your child has a disease that is not curable, your little baby has cancer in their belly, you found out you or your partner needs to have major (life threatening) surgery, your house caught fire and you lost everything, your baby died. All really traumatic events. All things that other people have nightmares about. But what do you do with that?
“I am your horror story”
In talking with people going through these terrible situations, I feel there is some therapeutic value to pointing that out. You are having this terrible thing happen to you. Other people can’t empathize with you because they can’t put themselves in your shoes. You are dealing with this. You are surviving. Hell, you are getting out of bed everyday – most likely just because you have to – but you are.
You are a survivor. At the moment it doesn’t feel like it. At the moment you can’t even remember what day it is or how long the laundry had been sitting in the washer. But you are doing it. Everyday.
“You are their horror story”
So now what. Do you talk to people about this situation or avoid it at all costs because you don’t want the look of fear? Do you avoid because you don’t want to have that awkward pause where the person is thinking of the worst response ever to your life?
My personal thought, is you tell them. And watch them squirm – and then inform them that the only appropriate response is “that sucks, I don’t even know what to say”.
You want to feel normal. You want to feel like everything will be ok. And eventually, it will. That’s how our brains work with trauma (if we work through it, rather than ignore it). Eventually, this situation will seem like a lifetime ago. Eventually, you will find a new normal and keep plugging along. Eventually, when the pain hurts so much you can barely breathe, you will think “Wow, I haven’t felt that in a while”.
No matter where you are in your grief process, know that it does get better. And know there is a tribe of others just like you – you are not alone.
“We are their horror story”
Take care of yourself – and each other.
Recently, I have found myself asking this question often to struggling moms:
"what does it mean to you to be a good mother?"
The answer usually involves tears and the basic list. Keeping the children alive, keeping them fed, keeping them somewhat clean, following general standards of not disrupting everyone around them (which is a whole other issue) - and keeping them happy. This one always throws me - how can you, as a mother, expect to be in control of the happiness of your child?
Can someone make you happy? Not can somewhat make you laugh or can someone brighten your day by making a good meal or buying you flowers - but really - can someone be solely responsible for your happiness?? My guess is you would answer no. You are in charge of your own happiness. You are in charge of waking up in the morning and rolling out of bed and choosing to do something that day that will brighten your own day. You are in charge of getting the help you need if you suffer with depression or anxiety. You are in charge of taking your medication on a daily basis. You are in charge of getting out the door for the run or making time for yourself to sit on the couch and distress after a long day. You are in charge of setting certain chores aside and making time for yourself. You are in charge of figuring out what YOU need to be happy.
"what does it mean to be a good mother?"
We rationally know that another person cannot make us happy - so what can we do to HELP (keyword) our children learn how to make themselves happy?
We can teach them how to fall asleep on their own. We can teach them how to feed themselves. We can teach them that it is OK - and normal - to make mistakes. We can teach them what it means to feel safe and where they are safe. We can teach them to honor themselves. We can teach them not to fall into stereotypes and that is perfectly OK to cry. We can teach them how to express their feelings and emotions. We can teach them how to ask for help. We can teach them how to be an individual. We NEED to teach them how to accept themselves - FLAWS and ALL.
So, what does it mean to me to be a good mother? It means I will provide my child with the daily necessities. It means I will love her - even when she wants to wear the pink princess dress and mom really wants her to rock the batman costume. It means I will show her safety and help her to feel safe in new situations. It means I will show her how to express her own emotions and communicate. It means I will show her my flaws – I will get angry and frustrated and cry and ALWAYS say I am sorry. I will try harder to model good behavior. It means I will accept myself, flaws and all. And I will hope that she will accept and love herself, flaws and all. It means I will teach her how to make herself happy – or even better, content. And if she struggles with this, it means that I will continue to be there for her and love her – flaws and all.
Let's lower our unrealistic expectations mommas. Let's enjoy our kids. Let's love them. (And then let's ask for help when we are frustrated with this whole motherhood thing)
Take care of yourself and each other.