Anxiety: A Personal Story (and SIX WAYS to find relief)
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As we’ve discussed already in this post, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In light of this, I felt it fitting to share my story. I try to keep this blog mostly upbeat and full of fun ideas, events, and adventures for you and your family to enjoy, but it is a personal blog and sometimes that means the posts get a little personal; this is one of those posts. I hope that in reading this, if you recognize a bit of yourself in the story you’ll know that you are not alone. And I have found a few things that have helped with my personal struggle with anxiety so I'd like to share those with you as well.
I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in high school. I was at a routine check-up and the nurse practitioner asked if I was having feelings of depression and I couldn’t even answer…I just cried. At the time, I was dating an older guy who was a total sweetheart and a really great person, but who also lived in what I think was a chronically depressed state. I, being the emotional sponge that I have always been, soaked up every bit of his depression and found all sorts of reasons to make it genuine to me. And I was anxious; anxious to leave high school behind and move on to college, to find a full-time job, to move out into the world on my own. So, that sweet nurse put me on meds to help and they did…until I got sloppy with remembering to take them and then all I felt was a constant dizziness that (to me) was worse than the depression. So, I weaned myself from them. The depression, I learned, was situational and I’ve rarely dealt with it since. The anxiety, however, was all my own.
Fast forward to after our first baby was born. I had dealt with a little bit of mild postpartum depression (PPD) in the first four months or so of her life due to her constant colic and the fact that I felt like there was nothing I could do to make her happy…and also due to lack of sleep. I didn’t recognize it as PPD until after it had lifted, and I started reading about other moms who had gone through the same. Then in December of that year, Sandy Hook happened. I cried over it every day for probably a month (though I didn’t let anyone know that, of course). I just couldn’t understand how anything so horrible could happen to innocent children and I was terrified for the life and future of my 10-month-old baby. That was the beginning of a long, long walk with anxiety like I’d never known before: anxiety-in-motherhood is intense.
I would have terrible visions of horrible things happening in public places. It made me sick to think of sending her to public school. I was constantly worried that she was going to choke on something and I wouldn’t be able to help her. Or that something would happen to me while we were home alone together and there wouldn’t be anyone there to watch over her (thanks to “Steel Magnolias” for that one). I couldn’t drive over a bridge without worrying that it would collapse. I worried about sinkholes in the road. I still worry about these things on occasion and honestly, I don’t even like to write about it because I’m afraid that someone reading this might begin to have fears they never had before…because they read it here first. I have anxiety about generating anxiety, y’all!
In today’s life, anxiety punches me in the face every school day at exactly 3:15pm. This is the time that we return home after I’ve picked everyone up from school. We walk in the door and school bags are thrown everywhere, socks and shoes are flung all around the house, and three tiny humans are raiding the refrigerator and pantry, leaving trails of trash in their wake. They’re tired and they’re fighting. Their little voices are so shrill and LOUD. Someone tries to turn on the tv and they fight over what show to watch. They fight over who sits where on the couches. The three-year-old tries to have a decent conversation with his big sister, “How was your day?” and her six-year-old self just isn’t having it. I’m trying to clean up the mess, calm the fighting, feed the baby his afternoon snack, do homework with the kindergartener, and get started on dinner. It’s impossible and it turns me into a crazy person. I get hot and clammy, shaky, my heart races, and I yell. I can actually feel myself going into self-preservation mode and every little thing becomes about me. "You're upsetting me.", "You're making me mad", "You're driving me crazy". I just want to plug my ears and disappear into the next room, but I can’t. I’m the mom!
I didn’t realize until reading another local mom’s blog a couple of months ago that what I was experiencing was an anxiety or panic attack. It was like a light bulb went off in my head and I just thought, “Well, hello, old friend.” It made so much sense that it was anxiety, considering I have dealt with it most of my life. Only before, I was dealing with more of a chronic anxiety over the hypothetical. This was an acute anxiety over the here-and-now. It was totally new to me, which is why I didn’t recognize it for what it was from the beginning. At that point, I realized I needed to do something to regain control. That “momming” isn’t supposed to be that way; it’s not supposed to be that hard. That something wasn’t working right, and it could be fixed!
So, what have I done to try to make things better?
First and foremost, I’ve turned off the tv. The news gets to me, at my core. I am completely jarred by what I see, and I immediately start to imagine what those people must have felt when such a horrible thing happened to them. It haunts me and takes a long time to pass. So, by not seeing it on the news, I still hear about it, but I can control how much I see/hear/read/know. I’m not one for living beneath a rock, but controlling exposure seems to help.
I’ve created a routine. When we’re getting out of the car in the afternoon, I remind the kids that it’s time to put their school bags on the counter (so I can go through them), shoes in their shoe drawers, and to go to the table for snack. Then they eat their snack at the table while watching a show (to fill their tummies, get a bit of “downtime”, and to ward off the fighting). After snack/tv time, we do homework. After homework, I start dinner prep while they have playtime. I also try to have all the clean-up from the morning done before I pick them up from school. This combined with our new afternoon routine, ensures that I’m not running around the house trying to clean while they’re simultaneously running around the house behind me like mini-tornadoes. It’s damage control.
I use essential oils. Every day before I go to pick them up from school, I put a bit of Vetiver and Jasmine on my wrists. Both of these oils have a calming, grounding effect on emotions, help ease anxiety, and can even stop anxiety attacks in their tracks. The jasmine also helps mask the strong aroma of the Vetiver, which some people may find off-putting. This blend has helped me so much that I would venture to say it is the most important in my entire essential oil arsenal. Its effects are immediate and powerful…I wish I would have known about it years ago!
I use GABA-Calm. I first heard about this supplement through a local pharmacy’s Instagram feed. It sounded like something that could be useful so on one particularly difficult day, I rolled through their drive through and picked up a bottle. I’ve been using it every day, taking it right before school pick-up and I do think it is helping. According to WebMD,
“GABA is a neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain. Low levels of GABA may be linked to anxiety or mood disorders, epilepsy, and chronic pain. Researchers suspect that GABA may boost mood or have a calming, relaxing effect on the nervous system”.
Sounds promising, right? What I’ve experienced is that it seems to give just that split second of extra time needed to THINK before reacting to the craziness. My usual response is to react immediately, which often involves a lot of yelling, which gets everyone even more riled up. With taking GABA-Calm, I’m able to recognize what is happening and take a deep breath before responding. I always recommend shopping locally if you can, but if you need to purchase online you can find it here.
I breath. Believe it or not, this helps. Just training myself to take a deep breath or two before reacting keeps the entire situation under control.
I take a break...and soak up some Vitamin D. This is going to sound crazy, but I’ve recently diagnosed myself as “Topo Loco”…meaning, I’m addicted to Topo Chico! I’ve found that grabbing a cold bottle and soaking up some sunshine on the back deck helps to regain some sanity and gives the energy I need to press on with our evening. I usually do this between homework and dinner prep time, while the kids are playing. Vitamin D is also known to decrease anxiety and depression.
This is all still a work-in-progress; I feel like I’m always re-evaluating what’s working and what isn’t and making adjustments (all while being totally envious of those who never even have to think about this sort of stuff at all). I still have great, good, and bad days…sometimes it seems like all the mindfulness and supplements in the world just aren’t going to help. Other days it seems so easy that I wonder if it’s all really even necessary. I hope that if you’ve made it this far in the post, that you’ve found something in it that’s helpful. And that you know that it’s okay to take it one day at a time and to re-work what isn’t working. Our environment and situations change, we change, our bodies change…it’s perfectly okay (and necessary) to change our response as well.
Have you struggled with anxiety in your own life? What coping mechanisms have you found that work for you? Please share in the comments!
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