I’m sure any parent can relate. You start to feel your throat itch. Your head is starting to throb and you feel like you could fall asleep at 6 pm. You think to yourself, “Oh no. Am I getting sick?” A parent’s nightmare. Why? Because it’s so freaking hard to take care of others when you feel bad yourself.
In my last post, I talked about ways you can relieve some of your postpartum anxiety. Although the journey has been difficult, I found ways that are very effective in helping me feel like my “normal” self.
That being said, when I get sick…it can throw me off a little. (I’m not a doctor or a psychiatrist so this is purely based on my own experiences.)
The new fall season is upon us and back to school brings home more germs. My family has already been through a few illnesses this school year (and it’s just the beginning of October!) I am currently battling what seems to be my second cold in a row and have been feeling my anxiety creep up on me a little. Why? Here’s all the reasons my anxiety increases when I’m sick:
Without fully understanding the medical reason, I have found that when I am feeling under the weather, my mental state is also not the best. My anxiety might increase a little, sometimes due to the illness itself, like if my throat hurts then I worry I might have strep throat, which makes me worry about having to take care of the kids and the house while I’m sick. Or just the logistics of getting the treatment I need can be stress-inducing. Like trying to figure out who can watch the kids when I go to the doctor or how I’m going to rest. (You know what they say, mothers can’t sick. And it’s kind of true!)
Exercise has been a huge factor in my recovery from anxiety. It boosts my endorphins and gives me more energy. It helps me feel confident and calm. When I can’t work out, this all declines. It is a gradual decline, but when you have 4 kids and you keep getting illness after illness and don’t work out for weeks, it can feel pretty severe.
Rest is essential for our mental health. And this is one I’m trying to get better at. Really. I’ve never been good at resting. I haven’t watched a full hour of television in months. When I finally have time to myself at night, when the kids go to sleep, I usually do some chores for an hour before going to bed. When I’m sick, I am no different. Also, even when I want to rest it’s very hard to do so unless Andy’s not working (he works late hours) or I have someone else that can watch the kids for me.
This, along with the fact that sick people need even more rest than non-sick people makes a recipe for anxiety disaster. Without enough sleep I quickly fall back into my anxious ways.
Typically if I’m sick, it means my kids are sick, or they just were sick, or they’re about to be sick. You can’t really get away from the germs when you’re living in a house with 6 people. So when I’m feeling my worst physically, my kids are also cranky, tired and usually going stir crazy because they’re missing school or it’s too cold to go outside. This definitely aggravates my anxiety. I have to remember that they are feeling bad too and I have to be patient. Easier said than done.
Relying on bad habits
This past week I decided to drink a little more caffeine than usual and sometimes later in the day just to get me through (I’m talking little, like maybe half a cup of iced coffee with milk, but still.) I’ve also been eating pretty badly because I don’t have a lot of energy left for cooking so I rely on packaged snacks, fast food, you name it. I take short cuts when I’m feeling sick, as many people do, but I feel the consequences very quickly. Caffeine just makes me more anxious and eating badly can make me feel sicker than I already feel.
My greatest fear
Last but not least, getting sick reminds me of a deep fear I have of not being able to take care of my children. I don’t mean I’m scared of getting a break (I daydream about having a whole day of alone time) but a deeper, ongoing anxiety about not being a fit mother.
This began when my anxiety was at its worst about a year ago. My anxiety made me literally tremble. I couldn’t eat or sleep. Sleep deprivation made my mind foggy. I had little motivation to even take care of my basic needs, like showering, but I did it anyway because I wanted to look ok on the outside. This then led me to think things like, “What if I just keep getting worse? What if I get so bad I have to go to a hospital? What if I’m taken away from my kids? What if I never feel normal again?”
What I didn’t know at the time was that anxiety can make people feel crazy sometimes but I wasn’t actually crazy. I was still doing a really good job as a mother and a wife but I wasn’t taking care of myself. I felt sick all the time. So now when I get sick with a cold or fever, I have flash backs to my anxiety-ridden self and fear the worst.
Luckily I am in a better place than I was a year ago, and my anxiety is manageable even when I’m sick. But it takes a lot of mindfulness for me to be nice to myself. I have to allow myself feel run down rather than beating myself up for not getting enough done, not doing enough with the kids, not cooking enough, etc. Just being mindful of the fact that my anxiety gets a little bit worse when I’m sick is helpful because I know that once I get better I will most likely feel better mentally too.
Do you find that your mental health feels the affects when you get sick? What do you do to cope with it?