Feelings of anxiety, negative thoughts — it can be overwhelming at best and debilitating at worst. Anyone else become even more anxious in motherhood? The endless number of choices and decisions to make that are usually followed by the question: “Am I choosing the right one?”. While feelings of anxiety are normal, it’s a struggle. Recognizing it and implementing coping strategies can help us to navigate through these feelings. Below five therapists share their go-to coping mechanisms for helping to manage anxiety.
Editor’s note: Postpartum anxiety (PPA) is part of a complex umbrella of anxiety disorders that includes postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (worrying, and often intrusive, troublesome thoughts and behaviors) and postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (anxiety tied to a difficult labor; i.e., you relive a painful birth). If you are struggling, please reach out to your nearest mental health provider. You can find one here.
Anxiety Coping Skills And mechanisms
“Focus on getting present in whatever way resonates the most”
My go-to tools focus around getting present in whatever way resonates the most. For example, grounding exercises (e.g. 5 senses exercise), walking in nature and absorbing the surroundings, breathework, yoga, recognizing the anxiety by naming it, and meditation. I think the person has to explore every and all coping skills to find what works best for them. – Dr. Kelly Vincent, Clinical Psychologist
“I learned how to ‘call myself out’ — focusing on what I knew, the moment, the facts”
After a few years of being unable to fully respond the way I wanted to, I started trusting the signs my body released. I almost always have a somatic sign (physical/relating to the body) that indicates when I’m at my max. In the past I can admit, I ignored the cues. My two children are 6 years apart, so when they were younger I offloaded in the gym. As they grew, if the stressors surrounded the household I would find a way for all of us to reset — we would go on walks or I’d find some creative way to get them to express their needs. During pockets of their life, I was finishing my undergraduate degree and a grad program, on top of working full-time. It took commitment and daily intentions to compartmentalize the stressors so that work stress or school stress did not come home with me. Communication and building my tribe were essential. I would take the long way home to decompress and clear my energy before seeing their faces. I also found a community of students with shared experiences, such as parents or women of color, to remind myself that my struggles were real and I was not dreaming! Whenever I found myself going “down the predictions tube” (which still happens… but it’s my way of creating even more anxiousness during anxious situations) I learned how to “call myself out” — focusing on what I knew, the moment, the facts. I’d spend days in a prediction tube, which would cause me to become sick at times… the thought of making myself sick or making situations worse brought me back to reality much faster and still does. I’d write affirmations on my bathroom mirror, get the kids involved by asking them to hide them around the house, finding these affirmations filled my heart, I’d forget all about the anxiousness I created. – Kay Priester, Clinical Psychotherapist
“Getting your thoughts out of your head can be a great strategy to reset your mental state”
Consider a brain dump — when anxiety arises, getting your thoughts out of your head can be a great strategy to reset your mental state. Keep a notebook or journal handy and write down the thoughts and ideas that come up. Doing so will make it easier to organize and prioritize what’s on your mind. Another strategy is to identify your triggers — there may be certain situations, places, or people that make you feel incredibly uncomfortable. Take the time to reflect on what you are doing and who you’re interacting with when any uneasiness arises. Once you’ve identified these triggers, you can develop a plan to intentionally address them. – Rhonda Richards-Smith, Psychotherapist
“Prayer helps me to reset and calm down”
I also will engage in deep breathing exercises when my anxiety really gets going. And lastly, I love any and everything having to do with lavender. So I put some on my wrist and inhale and exhale a few times, I diffuse it, I spray it on my pillows. It helps a lot. – Maureen Williams, Clinical Social Worker
“I try to find time and space for myself — even if it’s just a few minutes”
As far as a mental reset, I try to find time and space for myself — even if it’s just a few minutes, can help me reset. Practicing meditation, deep breathing or a progressive body relaxation can help calm my anxious thoughts and the physical symptoms that anxiety triggers. My number one stress relief and way to reset has always been a combination of exercise and spending time in nature. Fresh air and movement can do wonders for mitigating anxious thoughts and resetting your mind frame and offering perspective. – Abbie Hausermann, Clinical Social Worker
Breathing Techniques and 5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique for Anxiety
Whichever is most comfortable for you, either a sitting or lying-down position:
- Close your eyes and pay attention to the way you normally breathe for several breaths.
- Then, slowly count 1-2-3-4 as you inhale through your nose.
- Exhale for the same four-second count.
- As you inhale and exhale, notice the feelings of fullness as you inhale and emptiness as you exhale.
You can do this sitting, standing up, lying down:
- Relax your belly.
- Place one hand just beneath your ribs.
- Breathe in slowly and deeply through the nose, noticing your hand rise.
- Breathe out through the mouth, noticing your hand fall.
5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique for Anxiety
Before beginning this exercise, notice your breathing. Take long, deep breaths to help bring you to a place of calm. Once you find your breath:
LOOK. Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you and say them out loud. Ex. I see the toy lying on the floor, I see a chair, I see a spot on the wall — anything in your surroundings.
FEEL. Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you and say them out loud. I feel the cool floor on my bare feet, I feel the smooth skin of my arm, I feel the soft curls of my hair, etc.
LISTEN. Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This is any external sound — focus on any noise you can hear outside of your body and say them out loud.
SMELL. Acknowledge TWO things you can smell and say them out loud. Maybe you’re in your house and you smell your favorite lotion or smell soap in your bathroom or go outside and take notice of the scents of nature.
TASTE. Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. What kind of taste do you notice inside your mouth? If you can’t taste anything, then say your favorite thing to taste out loud.
Ravelle Worthington is a wife, momma of three, and the founder of Mommy Brain. Follow her on Instagram here.
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