My mission when I started this blog was to be honest and open about my struggle with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety after having my fourth child. I think that it so important for mothers to be vocal about their experiences, not only to heal themselves, but help other mothers who may be struggling with the same thing. That being said, I have recently noticed some of my anxiety coming back and I thought it might be helpful to explain how I’m dealing with it. I am not a professional, and everyone is different. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, or think you might be, PLEASE reach out to a professional for help. Here’s a few ways I deal with anxiety relapses and hopefully they can help you too.
Recognize the signs
This may seem really obvious, especially to outsiders looking in. You may be experiencing the exact same symptoms you experienced the first time you had anxiety. But anxiety and depression are very manipulative. They make you think you’re crazy, or something is terribly wrong with you, or you’re not worth the effort to feel good just because.
Just recently, I started having symptoms very similar to my first bout of anxiety. It began when I actually got sick with bronchitis. I actually had gone to the doctor for something completely unrelated (UTI, ugh) and when she listened to my chest she said I was wheezing. This was news to me! I had been very stuffy in the mornings but that was it. I was given a COVID test (which came back negative about a day later) but that day of worrying got my head spinning. Not only did I have to cancel some plans to avoid going out in public, but I thought, What if I do have COVID? What if I get my family sick? What if I’m not ok? This is a really common worry for me when I am feeling anxious.
After the test came back negative, I felt relieved but not entirely. Trying to do virtual school with two children while watching two younger ones has been close to impossible. Add the never-ending responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, and general homemaking chores and I was feeling completely overwhelmed. Then Andy had a stressful situation after a gig one night, when he blew out three tires on the side of the parkway and had to get towed. In the same night he also lost his keys to his other car (sitting at home) at his gig. He spent a day and a half searching for the keys and could not find them. This was incredibly stressful for me because not only was I worried about him when he was stranded at 2 AM on the side of the road, but I was worried about finding his keys (which are the only pair he has for that car.) Add to that, on the same weekend, Violet’s birthday, which I was trying to keep as happy and fun as possible, during a pandemic, with no friends invited, a family-only party kept outside in 50 degree weather.
All this being said, this was not all obviously triggering to me at first. When you’re in the middle of it, it can seem unrelated. But my brain started telling me something was not ok. I started feeling overwhelmed quickly. My thoughts were racing. My heart rate was increasing. I felt overall not good. The silver lining was this time I had experience. I had felt this way before. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, scared, angry, sad, etc. think back to when you had anxiety or depression in the past. Did it feel like this? Are you experiencing some or all of the same symptoms?
Make a list
This leads me to my next piece of advice. I love lists. They helped me a ton when I first had anxiety. Write down all of your symptoms. Sometimes just writing them down can help you realize things that are bothering you that you didn’t even realize before. When I wrote mine down recently, one symptom was racing thoughts. And I thought, wow, I didn’t even think about it being a symptom of anxiety until right now. I just felt a little crazy, with no explanation. Writing it down can help you put a name to feelings that are new or scary. And once you see them on paper (or on your phone, wherever!) they can make a lot more sense. After writing down your symptoms, write down potential triggers. Anything you can think of that’s been stressing you out, or making you feel uneasy. Mine said: Home school, COVID test, illness, Andy’s keys, Violet’s party. When I read it back I thought, yeah, I’ve been under a lot of stress lately. It would make sense for me to feel overwhelmed right now. Sometimes just recognizing what has been going on in your life can really help you see what’s been bothering you.
When do I feel better?
Another thing I wrote down, after my list of symptoms and triggers, was when I felt a relief from my symptoms. I made note that I felt better after I had gone on a walk. Chest tightness seemed to disappear, my head felt clearer, and I wasn’t so on edge. Not only did this prove to me that I was not going crazy, since I had times of feeling better, but it helped me recognize a way to feel better in the first place. You might write down “watching a movie” or “drinking a coffee in the car while the baby naps.” However small the action may be, take notice of when you feel good. This will help you take better care of yourself. Mothers can get so wrapped up in what everyone else needs that they forget how to take care of themselves. It is VITAL to do small things for ourselves EVERY DAY to stay sane.
Put Yourself First
This is probably the hardest thing for mothers to do. One of the first signs that I am too stressed is when I start ignoring my own needs completely. Before I went to the doctor for the UTI, I was putting it off for days. I was just so busy with the kids’ school, and their own doctor and dentist appointments, and I didn’t want to bug other people to watch them so I could go to the doctor myself. I endured pain for days just to avoid messing up the family routine. I also had been feeling more winded than usual, with some chest pain, but I was so busy that I literally ignored it. I thought I was just tired and sore from walking the boys in the stroller a lot and pushed it to the back of my mind. This is not a good sign. DON’T IGNORE PAIN. DO NOT PUT OFF GOING TO THE DOCTOR TO BENEFIT EVERYONE ELSE. This is the fast track to anxiety. Not only did it keep me from getting better physically, but the physical symptoms got worse, which then made my mental health suffer because I was worried about it.
Putting yourself first may feel really drastic when in reality it is not. Asking your mother in law or a babysitter to watch the kids for an hour while you go to the doctor is not a big deal. Even if you have to miss something (GASP!) like a routine checkup for your child. That can wait. Pain and illness is more urgent than a routine dental exam. Maybe you haven’t been physically sick but you just feel completely drained. You haven’t had time to yourself in days. You’re snapping at the kids at the drop of a hat. You need to take action to get relief. I am not saying it is easy, believe me, I know.
Sometimes you might have to get creative. Last week, while Andy was at a gig all night, I decided to take the kids to the movies. I knew I would be alone with them all day and I needed something to keep them happy but I was so exhausted. I looked up movie times (I honestly had no idea if the movie theater was even open right now), having no idea if anything was even playing, and saw they were showing old kids movies for $3. Perfect. I knew there was a chance Teddy might run around the theater for an hour and a half but I figured I’d try it. Luckily, he slept the entire time and I got to sit and zone out on my phone while the kids happily watched Monsters Inc. It would’ve been so easy for me to think that I was failing as a mother for needing a movie to keep my kids entertained while I played on my phone. Isn’t everyone always saying we should be getting off our phones? Don’t we all need less screen time? Well, turns out that screen time was a huge success for everyone involved. I felt relief from the chaos of taking care fo four people all day and they were entertained and happy. Win-win.
Don’t feel guilty for doing so.
Put yourself first, whether that means more screen time for the kids, for you, going to the doctor, going shopping, getting a sitter, going for a walk, seeing a friend, you name it. And don’t feel bad about it. Not only do you deserve it but you NEED it. You can only be selfless for so long before you burn out. We are all human and need time to rest. You are not a failure as a mother for needing help. You are not a failure as a mother for taking “short cuts” to get a break. And you are not a failure as a mother if you struggle with anxiety or depression. You WILL feel like yourself again but you have to take the steps to do so. It may take therapy or medication. It may take asking for help every single day for the next three months. Whatever you need to do, do it and don’t apologize.