The first thing to know is that anxiety is normal. Whether you’re a mom-to-be, new mom, working mom, or parent, everyone experiences anxiety at times, and it is actually a beneficial thing. Anxiety is an adaptive survival response. Without anxiety, we would not be able to keep ourselves safe from danger – like getting out of the way of a speeding car or defending ourselves from an animal attack.
Anxiety is a well-disguised clarifying force, and this is one of its gifts. It asks us to put ourselves lovingly at the center of our lives. If we turn toward anxiety with a sense of open curiosity we can discover what is not working in our life.
Interviewing Your Anxious Thoughts
- What does this anxiety need to teach me?
- Where is this thought coming from?
- Am I worried about something from the past happening again?
- What am I really concerned about underneath everything else?
- What’s on the other side of fear?
In moments when we feel like we can’t hold our full plate anymore and we are desperate to offload tasks, we don’t often think to just set the plate down, do we? One of the gifts of anxiety is that it causes us to become intimate with fear. The more we get to know the many flavors of fear, the more discernment we’re able to have.
Is there a difference between worry and anxiety?
Worry is an element of anxiety.
Anxiety is an emotional state of worry or fear felt in the body. Our nervous system – the command center for the body – detects stress as danger and activates a series of commands to get you to safety. Your body perceives the stress of being late to a birthday party in the same way that it perceives standing in front of a snarling bear. Your heart beats fast to pump blood to your muscles, your skin gets hot, your muscles tense, your brain activity shifts to power only survival-oriented thoughts (making clear thinking difficult), your body stops digesting which may result in nausea, your eyes dilate, your body feels uncomfortably full of electric energy, your focus narrows, and many other physiological changes take place to prepare you for the danger. Your body is giving you everything you need to take immediate action.
Anxiety itself is not dangerous, but it is uncomfortable.Before we dive too deep into how we can understand how to manage anxiety, we must first identify how it presents in our bodies and minds. There are a variety of ways anxiety can express itself and everyone is unique, so let’s start with writing down your answer to this next question.
- Social activities
- Hanging with friends and family
- Opportunities at work
In certain cases this is a good thing – if someone was abusive toward us, we have every right to avoid them. In most cases however, avoidance prevents us from living a full life. We may not go after jobs we want or travel to places we wish to enjoy. This is a normal result of anxiety, but we have to show our nervous system that it is nevertheless safe for us to do new things. Just because something induces anxiety (like a job interview or a trip to another country), it does not mean that something terrible will happen.
Anxiety in Motherhood
When we become mothers, we undergo the most enormous shift of our lives. Our hormones shift, our lives become radically different overnight, and so much is happening in a short period of time that it is difficult for our nervous system to keep up. If we had an adoption, surrogacy, medically assisted, or birth experience that felt confusing, unsafe, scary, or violating, those record skips must be attended to with compassionate love and care.
Impacts of Anxiety
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty with emotional regulation
Did you know? 25-34% of women consider her birth to have been traumatic.
It is no wonder that we are seeing record numbers of mothers with anxiety. Couple this with the lack of support, nourishment, and rest needed during the postpartum period, and it is not a surprise that we are feeling anxious often. Thankfully, there are an infinite number of ways to process these upsetting life experiences.
Tips for moms with anxiety
It can feel challenging to give our minds a break because they are just way too good at creating thoughts.
Through meditation, we learn that we can choose what thoughts to pay attention to. While some thoughts are intrusive or startling, we get to decide which ones we believe and which ones we love then send on their way. Our worried thoughts are just thoughts. They are not necessarily facts and we do not have to believe them. The vast majority of the things we worry about never come true. Instead of believing everything we think, we can learn to catch anxious thoughts and understand them for what they are.
3 Ways to Work with Anxious Thoughts many ways
When I say this thought out loud, does it sound silly or feel real? Maybe both. How likely is this concern to happen? What is more likely to happen than the thing I am worried about? If this worst case scenario came true, would I be okay? How would I handle it?
Where is this thought coming from? Am I worried about something from the past happening again? What am I really concerned about underneath everything else? Are you more worried about the situation or about how you might feel in that situation? Are you worried about feeling embarrassed? Disappointed? Sad? Left out? Misunderstood? Something else?
Identify the part of you that is afraid or worried. Can you send love and empathy to that part of yourself? For example, if you are worried about speaking in front of a group and in your worries you are remembering a time when you froze in front of class as a kid, can you love that embarrassed child? Imagine walking into your childhood bedroom, seeing yourself at that age sitting on your bed, and going to sit next to them. Pick them up, put them in your lap, and tell them everything you needed to hear at that age. In addition to loving the part of you that is worried, another way to approach anxious thoughts with love is to trust yourself. Trust that you can respond to whatever situation arises with ease, grace, and creativity. It can be hard to trust when the root of your anxiety may have been a situation that broke your trust in life, but you can learn to trust again by taking little steps.
Anxiety Affirmation Mantra for Moms
“May peace be with me today and every day…may I surrender my worries to the wind… may I allow my heart to be open and my mind to be clear… may I cherish my moments in love… and may I live in deep gratitude for the blessing that is my life….”