The Mama Anxiety Toolkit
Anxiety has plagued my life for quite some time now. I have always been very aware of my battles with depression, since around Grade 4, but anxiety never really reared its ugly head until around my second year of university, or six-ish years ago. Around that time, I had my first panic attack. I don't know what sparked it, but I woke up from my sleep to seeing white, my heart pounding through my chest, breathing becoming difficult, lips feeling tingly, hands and feet getting cold. Then the dreaded spiral thoughts entered my head.
Am I having a heart attack?
There is something terribly wrong.
Holy fuck. I think I'm dying.
No, I actually think I'm dying.
I ran upstairs to get help and an ambulance was called. That was the first panic-iduced ambulance call of three that month.
It became very obvious that I needed to do something about this feeling. To start, I went and saw a naturopath which was incredibly helpful in me understanding how my body worked in connection with stress and anxiety and how some of the things that I was taking, like birth control, could have a serious detriment on my mental health.
Over the last six years, I have created a regiment for myself that works for me and I have a "toolkit" of strategies that I go to whenever I am feeling heightened anxiety, or just for daily regulation so I don't reach that heightened state. I did these things pre-pregnancy, during pregnancy, and in my post-partum. Obviously, since becoming a mama, this anxiety has taken on new meaning. New unknowns in the world of motherhood means new triggers for anxiety, new worries, new stresses, and less time to manage them all.
Here is my toolkit. Some of these things I do daily, some of these things I do when I have time to myself, and some of these things I do when I have no time and am running around after an 11 month old. Sometimes these things work immediately, sometimes these things take routine and consistency to work, and sometimes it just depends on the day. I am not saying that these will work for everyone, and I strongly advise seeking help from a medical professional, especially if you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others. It is my hope though, that this will at least offer you some strategies for quick reference in a time of need. And to be frank, sometimes the hardest part is just that - giving something a try. Copy and paste it into your phone. Print it off and put it on your fridge. Let me help you help yourself. Or make your own list of the things that you know help you!
Mama Anxiety Toolkit
Take my vitamins every morning - Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Omega 3, Magnesium)
Take CBD oil when I get up in the morning and before I go to bed at night - OR whatever medication you need to take to feel better - zero guilt, zero judgement
Sleep - nap when Neera naps, go to bed early (no longer than two hours after Neera does), if my partner is home - tell him I am going to have a power nap
Eat a healthy meal or snack - honestly, I feel so much better after having something as simple as an apple
Drink water - hydrate that temple
Spending time outside - even if it is cold, go for a walk around the block - the fresh air and sunshine are so good for you and do so many positive things for your mental health
Yoga - sometimes this means getting my butt to a yoga class, sometimes it just means doing a forward fold on the floor for a minute while my daughter jumps on me (note: best yoga poses for anxiety are any that you close into yourself, covering your chest - best yoga poses for depression are doing the opposite and opening your chest up, like a back bend or camel pose)
Meditating - sometimes this means getting set up with crystals and candles and music, and sometimes it just means consciously breathing (being aware of my breath) while I do something that I routinely do like changing a diaper or doing the dishes - taking the extra few seconds to let that life-giving breath fill me up and be gentle with me can be a lifesaver
Breathing - this goes with the above point - you can stop to be aware of your breath any time and any place
Phone a friend or call my mom - I have a list of trusted people I know I can call who understand my anxiety and will help talk me down if I need them to
Venting to my partner - if I just need someone to listen to how I am feeling, I will preface the conversation saying that to my partner and he just acts as my verbal punching bag for a moment
Power cleaning - sometimes a tidy space makes my head feel more tidy too
Letting go of the need to clean - sometimes believing that I have extra things to do that I don't actually NEED to do causes unneeded stress; just let it go and do something that will make you feel good
Saying no - sometimes other people like to create more things for you to do than necessary and you DON'T have to do those things - you are not obligated to do anything that does not serve you, so walk the fuck away whenever you need to
Write - pick up your journal or a scrap piece of paper and just write it out - free write, uncensored - let your brain hit the page
Make a list - sometimes our anxiety stems from our inability to see what the big picture actually is - make a list of whatever it is that is stressing you out (things you want to get done, the reasons you are(n't) making a certain choice, what you are grateful for) and see what kind of clarity it offers you
Read - sit down and pick up a book you can get lost in for a while - this could be reading your child a book
Take a bath - get clean, sweat it out, have a cry and a glass of wine (or bottle), put on a mud mask, shut the lights off, listen to a podcast, and just relax - let the water wash it away
Go for a drive - crank the tunes or sit in silence and just observe what you see when you drive - get lost in the mundane routine that is putting your foot on the gas, then the brake, then the gas, click the signal, then the wipers, then the signal
Take a walk/run - get outside and move your body - sure to get the endorphins rolling and your foggy mind cleared, at least a little
Spend time by the river - water is SO cleansing, so go find it - watch the current, breath the air, hear nature whispering to you that it will be okay and that you're alive and that is pretty miraculous in itself
Get out of the house - go do something that isn't in the space that your anxiety is sitting - take it to the grocery store or for coffee or for a walk or to the gym or to a friend's house or to Flynn's Forest so your kiddo can run around
Stay home in your comfy clothes - sometimes sitting with your anxiety is the best thing that you can do - hunker down in your comfy clothes with some shitty junk food and just let yourself feel everything that your body is trying to tell you - acknowledging your anxiety is EMPOWERING
Get dressed and put on make up - sometimes putting on clothes and bit of mascara is all I need to feel put together enough to take on the day and tell my anxiety to take a backseat
Personal hygiene - sometimes moms don't get to shower for days at a time because kids... so take a hot shower and wash your hair and imagine your stress washing off your skin and going down the drain while you do it - yes this sounds hokey as shit, but just try it
Self pleasure - sometimes a hit of endorphins easily comes through a little self pleasure... masturbate - amiright?!
Listen to music - put on some sad, sappy shit and cry to it or put on some fun, singalong and dance-it-out music and shake your tail feather with your kiddo - freely moving your body also allows your mind to freely move as well - this is the kind of thought we want when the rigidness of stress has overcome our body and mind
Listen to a podcast - something that takes your mind elsewhere - if you want a good, feminist, and funny podcast, I highly recommend Guys We Fucked, but there are SO many options out there for all interests
Unplug - this one is SOOOOOOOOO important and probably one of the most effective for me - put your phone away, have a "bedtime" for your phone, buy an alarm clock so you don't take your phone into the bedroom with you at nighttime, download an app that locks you out of your phone for a period of time, do SOMETHING to help you let go of your phone - there is SO much research now that illustrates how much more likely you are to suffer from mental illness like depression or anxiety depending on the amount of time you spend on social media, so take a break from it and free your mind
Ask for help - often super hard to do, especially for mamas, but just do it - for your sanity - I can almost guarantee that if you ask a friend to come and support you during a heightened time of anxiety, they will come and support you, and if not, I WILL - look me up <3
Make some art - this is one can be a two for one special because it is super helpful in regulating anxiety and also an easy way to spend some quality time with your kiddo - get out the paint or the colouring books or something to draw with or play dough and just let your feelings fall into whatever it is you are creating - let it be mindless and breath.