This Makes Me Nervous: 4 Ways To Help Mom Anxiety

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READING TIME: 6 min.
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I was the hover mom. Actually, I was worse than a hover mom I was really more of a germaphobe, milestone maniac, with an added dose of prepare-for-every-possible-worst-case-scenario, hover mom.

My firstborn never touched a surface that hadn’t been pre-sanitized until he went to preschool.  His little tush and tiny fingers were always protected from the cesspool that is the grocery cart or the forever-food-stained restaurant high chair. He knew well before he turned two that mommy had to wipe down every swing on the playground before he could ride one.

Someone in the next town had swine flu?  No problem, we could stay indoors until Spring.  I always carried five extra diapers, three changes of clothes, 2 packages of wipes, and enough snacks to solve a small nation’s hunger crisis with me.  My child’s bare foot never touched a surface outside of our home (grass – ewwwww!).  Generally, I preferred laying a blanket down for him if we were at someone else’s house. (After all, how could I know what germs were on their carpet?)

Oh, and did I mention that I wouldn’t let anyone (I do mean anyone – ask my mother!) hold my first baby in our kitchen?  The floor was tile.  It was too dangerous.  What if they dropped him?

They say being anxious during those first months of motherhood is mostly chemical.  Your brain goes into overdrive to make sure your body will do what it has to in order to protect this new life you birthed.  I experienced all of these fears, worries (and more) with my first child and to varying degrees with the next few children.  And, though most of my mommy-anxiety dissipated as I gained confidence and experience as a mom,  for some, the fear just doesn’t go away.

I think we all struggle with mommy anxiety every now and then.  In truth, parenting your first child is one giant exercise in moving through unfamiliar stages of development.  Once you know what you are doing in one phase, the kiddo moves on to the next… which is full of new challenges!  Then everything feels completely foreign…again!  If living with constant change isn’t stressful, I don’t know what is.

Just when you figure out how to get them to nap, they suddenly don’t need naps anymore. Then, they are ready for a big kid bed and now you have to worry if they’ll wander around the house while you sleep.  Next, they get old enough for sleepovers and then you fear, “will they be ok, without me, all night long???”  Are they eating enough, sleeping enough, social enough, cautious enough, curious enough, learning enough, strong enough, quiet enough, loud enough, confident enough, polite enough, smart enough…?  The list of things we moms could worry about goes on and on, rattling through our brains right along side the list of things you need to pick up at Target.

So, what do you do if your anxiety keeps you from enjoying life with baby?  Or, if your child-worries are dominating your thought life — is there hope?  Are you normal?  Can you ever relax again?

I think the answers are yes, and yes and yes.

Here are a few strategies that I’ve found extremely helpful for combating those anxious thoughts that most moms feel.  (Side note: I’m not a trained psych-anything…and anxiety can be a serious issue… so please regard these as suggestions from a friend rather than a cure.)

  1. Say it Out Loud.  There is great power in talking to your husband, a friend, or even a professional counselor about your fears.  Sometimes just saying it out loud and letting someone into your thought world — sharing what was previously a secret– can be enough to give you some level of freedom from the fears. It will help you not feel alone. I found a great deal of strength in sharing my mommy fears, especially during my my first years as a mom, with other new moms and my husband.  Hearing that other new moms worried about the same thing (or, in some cases, things I didn’t!) helped me know I was normal and not alone.  Having my husband affirm that everything was okay from his perspective helped too. This is not to minimize more serious levels of anxiety in any way. In some cases a professional counselor, psychiatrist, or your medical doctor may have alternative recommendations that go beyond just conversation, to help you cope.  And, that’s ok. Bottom line: Get started by just talking to someone about it.
  2. Surrender.  I’ve blogged before about what I call surrendering to motherhood. Essentially, I believe that part of my anxiety as a new mom was related to my challenges in adjusting to my new role.   I mean let’s face it:  all of a sudden your job is to keep someone alive.  That’s new. That’s big! That can be overwhelming.  But, in that, we stifle our instincts somewhat.  We let our paranoia over doing things “right” drive us to a place where we obsess over things that really aren’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of life.  Sleeping in the car seat because that’s where the naps happen – no biggie. (They’ll sleep in the crib… eventually.)  If fries are the only thing he’ll eat off of his plate for months…know that some day before he turns seven he will tire of them and have a bite of chicken.
  3. Solve it.  I don’t want to oversimplify here. In some cases, anxiety is at a level where this may not be a viable option. But, in other cases, stopping and thinking through your day-to-day fears may help alleviate them. What would happen if I left the house unprepared and we had a diaper blowout? Or, if I forgot to sanitize hands before snack time does that mean certain, impending doom?  The truth is that we can never be 100% fully prepared for everything life throws our way.  Being intellectually honest with the fact that we aren’t really as in control as we think we are may also take some pressure off.
  4. Shift Focus.  Sometimes part of the cure for our anxiety comes from simply getting distracted.  You can read my “more kids are easier” theory here, but when it comes to anxiety let me assure you that this is true.  My 4th child has never seen a grocery cart cover (and may actually refuse to sit in something so cushiony after he’s grown accustomed to the metal frame).  And, (although I would have never believed it with my first), he actually seems to be doing just fine.  He also is outside, right now, without his shoes on…and without me watching his every move…  I’ve come to a new and comfortable place in my parenting that would have been harder to arrive at if there weren’t so many of them.  Yet, if having more children is not your preferred anxiety cure, then consider finding other diversions.  Focusing on your faith, hobbies, your husband (I don’t know a man on earth that would complain about getting more attention), or other projects you enjoy may be just what you need to keep yourself from obsessing over your child’s percentile on the growth chart or the fact that she hasn’t rolled over yet.

 

 

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