Life changes significantly once we become parents. Before kids, most of us only had ourselves to look after. But once that squealing child is born or taken into our care, everything is different. We don’t live for ourselves anymore and our hearts are extremely vulnerable because they are.
Along with loving someone so much comes the worry and concern about their health, welfare and their future. And it’s reasonable to be anxious, especially as a parent, but sometimes there comes a point where the anxiety grows to become more harmful- for some even debilitating than helpful. This is when it becomes a disorder.
In conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month this October, makchic explores how can we deal with anxiety, especially when it is disrupting our day to day lives.
Recognising the symptoms
To start, let’s learn to recognise symptoms of anxiety. Symptoms can vary depending on the individual but most would experience several physical and mental or emotional symptoms.
This includes increased heart rate, racing mind, trembling or shivers, loss of appetite, digestive problems, difficulty sleeping, breathlessness, exhaustion and feeling unwell.
Mental and emotional symptoms
Having intrusive or scary thoughts, feeling unsafe (for yourself and/or baby ), difficulty concentrating, feeling panicked, avoiding people, being easily irritated, crying and feeling overwhelmed.
If we find ourselves experiencing a combination of these symptoms for more than a week or two, it’s time to get help.
How to ask for help and what is available?
One thing many people I’ve spoken to have said is that they wished they had sought help sooner. I, for one, feel the same about my own experience. Often, it is shame that stops us. We need to know that getting help doesn’t make us weak. It makes us wise. We cannot pour from empty cups and we cannot give what we do not have. So, to be better parents, we have to look after ourselves and get the help we need.
Seek professional help
You could start by informing your family doctor and asking for advice. If things escalate and you just need someone to talk to, you could utilise a hotline like Befrienders. A great step would be to book a session with a counselor. There are many private providers such as Kin and Kids and Rekindle. The Psychology Counseling Unit is a good public option if you don’t have a specific person in mind. Another option may be to look at your local religious organisations as some often provide community counseling services at affordable rates.
Develop a support system
Set up a support system for yourself. There should be at least 3 to 5 people you can contact anytime you are struggling. Let them know what you are going through and ask if they would be willing to help. Think of one or two strategies they could use to help you feel better. For example, I would tell my husband to simply remind me that everything was ok and that I was safe. I would tell him to remind me of the good in life and to reassure me verbally. Giving him those strategies, helped him support me in low moments.
Strategies for managing anxiety
1. Prioritise physical and mental needs
As parents, we tend to forget to care for our own physical and mental needs. While it’s tempting to overlook, it is a vital part of having good mental health. So ask yourself if you’ve been getting enough sleep and eating good wholesome meals. Have you had time to do something you enjoy and stimulate the part of the brain that you miss using? If you haven’t, what are some things you can do to help ensure those needs are being met? Start with just one or two things like getting some exercise or getting a family member to help with the kids so you can have a night of uninterrupted sleep. Remember, you’re no less of a parent for getting help. It takes a village to raise a child.
2. Mindfulness and being present
Mindfulness is something we hear about all the time, and for a good reason. It uses a range of strategies to build our self-awareness and reduce anxiety. Being mindful emphasises being present and understanding why we feel what we feel and how to respond. Many offer simple breathing techniques which some may find helpful. A useful web resource is mindful.org. You can also download a phone app called calm or search for relevant videos on YouTube. Explore some of the strategies and find which ones work best for you.
3. Mantras to live by
One thing I personally found effective was to have a few truths or mantras to focus on. In the thick of anxiety, it included lines like ‘I am safe and I am loved,’ and ‘my anxiety doesn’t define me.’ Other times ‘this too, shall pass’ and ‘my best is enough’ or ‘I am not alone in this.’ Perhaps for some of us who are spiritual, we could try meditating on lines from a book which offer comfort and strength. Having these reminders could help you focus on what is true instead of what we feel.
4. Express and connect
It’s cathartic to express our feelings whether in words or different forms of art. For me, I chose to journal my thoughts (both anxious or not) and to track how I was feeling. I would also connect with friends, many of whom had experienced something similar and exchange notes. It’s funny, but often simply speaking about my condition reduced the power it seemed to have over me. Plus, connecting with others reminded me that I was not alone and if others had overcome it, I probably could too.
It also helped to read stories on people living with anxiety from other parts of the world. A website to bookmark is themighty. It offers helpful articles and anecdotes on all things anxiety and other mental conditions. You could also contribute articles, poems, opinions and be a part of the community there.