After my son was born I developed a pretty intense case of postpartum anxiety. As a Type A person who wants everything to be under my control it’s easy to see how this anxiety flared up. Kids and babies especially do not care about your schedule, lack of sleep or your need to have everything under control and tidy. Society also doesn’t care about how you are getting along as a mom as long as you don’t do this, this, or that… But you must be doing that, this, and this too. It is EXHAUSTING!
Looking back and my childhood I can’t really see many times I experienced anxiety. Of course, even if I did, we didn’t really have a name for it back then. I do remember being a worrier as a child. My mom would say that I was always worried about something. I can remember twice (I have a horrible memory so perhaps it was more than twice.) that I had some kind of anxiety.
As a person who didn’t really have anxiety (or maybe just didn’t have a name for it) growing up it made me the least empathetic person I knew when people would say they had anxiety or they were suffering from a panic attack. My thoughts were very nice: “Why don’t they just get over it.” “Think about something else.” “Be a problem solver don’t let the problem ruin you.” Etc.
But then I developed postpartum anxiety… And I found myself not being able to control my thoughts or emotions at all. My sweet husband, who has also never suffered from anxiety, would say things like, “just change your thoughts. Why can’t you just remember that you’re a good mom?” etc. And honestly, I just couldn’t. When I am in the midst of anxiety there is no amount of good thoughts that will take away the bad thoughts repeating on a loop in my head. “You are a bad mom, you made a mistake doing this, what were you thinking?”
I shared with a few friends at the book club that I had been having some pretty intense postpartum anxiety. But I just laughed it off, “oh yeah I have anxiety about M’s naps so we don’t go anywhere. He has a schedule and we don’t really deviate from it… I am so Type A. hahaha.” Of course one of my friends wouldn’t just let me laugh it off and she asked a hard question, “What are you going to do about your anxiety?” To which I quickly responded, “Oh nothing, just let it rule my life because it isn’t that bad, and we still get to do fun things, we are just very structured and scheduled about it.”
But the more and more I thought about it the more I started to notice that my anxiety was affecting my life. I wanted to be at home ALL the time. I didn’t like when people would ask me to do things that were outside of my comfort zone. My husband was begging to do anything on the weekends. I was the reason we weren’t out enjoying our lives. Being at home had become my safety blanket, the place where I was in the most control of our lives. After a few more months and a few hard conversations between my husband and me, I decided I needed to make a change.
I knew a few things I didn’t want to do for my anxiety and the number one was I do not want to take medication. (Let me insert here, that if you do have anxiety or depression and you need to be on medication, girl you be on medication! I just didn’t want to be on medication, it is a choice I made for my life. But please, you do you!) After I made a list of the things I didn’t want to do, which in all honesty was a very short list, it was easier to find the things I was willing to do.
My Daily Anxiety Relief Ritual:
Workout: I know, everyone says workout. But let me just say there is a reason why working out is recommended for all people but especially those with depression and anxiety… It makes you feel GOOD! All those endorphins flowing through you… It is so hard to feel anxious when you’re feeling good! Plus you get the side benefits of being able to see how your body changes and gets stronger. Some people even say that working out for them is like meditating.
For me, I am a runner I love running. I found running later in life when I went to college and I started running because I gained the “Freshman 15″. While I was trying to burn off that extra 15 pounds I discovered I actually enjoyed running and I was good at it. When I run it is just me, my shoes, and the asphalt/trail, (well now it also includes my son and the stroller). I can listen to music and just zone out, I can use this time to listen to personal development podcasts, or I can just be out in nature with a blank mind, or a full mind working things out. Just doing something to move my body and get those endorphins flowing through me, helps!
Meditate: Now I am not going to lie, I never thought I would meditate. I always thought it was wonky and hippy. Not to mention my brain is always going a million miles a minute (which hello is part of the problem!). But I decided you know what, I am going to give this meditation thing a try. A lot of people who suffer from anxiety find it helpful. In fact, meditating is said to be helpful when dealing with anxiety and depression because it forces you to live in the moment. I am not sure who said this but they said: “people who suffer from depression live in the past and people who suffer from anxiety live in the future.” (Is your mind blown?) So meditating and practicing mindfulness helps you live more of your life in the moment, which then helps you with your depression and anxiety.
I downloaded the Headspace App, they give you 10 days for free, and I just started doing it. I made it part of my routine, I put M down for his nap and I would take the next 10 minutes to just do a simple guided meditation and I started to really enjoy it. And you know what, I do notice a difference between days I meditate and days I don’t. Before I move on to the next part of my anxiety relief ritual I want to bust 2 myths I hear about meditation all the time.
a. You don’t have to shut your brain off. When I would tell people that I started meditating they would instantly tell me “Wow, that’s cool. I could never meditate because my brain never shuts off and is always wondering.” Hello, me too! But I do it anyway. If I have learned anything from Headspace it is that your mind has to be trained to be in the moment. You don’t just start out day one with an empty mind, especially in this day and age where everything is coming at you all at once. You have to work at it. And let me tell you, I have been meditating for almost 2 months now and some days I cannot get my brain to shut up! But I go through the exercise anyway, and then I come back to it tomorrow and hope that it is a better day.
b. Meditating takes a lot of time: Nope! With Headspace, you can start out with as little as 5 minutes and go up to 15 minutes. I only meditate for 10 minutes a day. I definitely have 10 minutes in my day to work on being more mindful and present. (Some days I have to force myself to get out of Instagram, but I still have 10 minutes a day.)
Gratitude Journal: So, after I spend 10 minutes meditating I work on my gratitude journal. This takes no more than 5 minutes. I just list 3 things I am grateful for that day. For example, I am thankful for personal development podcasts, I am thankful for how involved my husband is in parenting our son, and I am thankful for sunny fall days. I know it sounds wonky, but it really helps! It is just a good reminder that I do have amazing things in my life and not all the things I say to myself in my anxiety mind state are true.
Present not Perfect Journal: I also write in this journal after my meditation and gratitude journal. I know there are people out there who can sit down to a blank page in a journal and just write what is going on in their life, how they feel about it, and what they are going to do differently next time. I am not one of those people. If you give me a blank journal page I will go crazy with all kinds of thoughts and what should I even write, do I want to ruin this journal with these stupid thoughts in my head…AHHH! No, that just gives me anxiety. So I have this Present not Perfect journal full of prompts, I just scan through the pages, find one that speaks to me and fill it out.
Goals: This is a newer practice for me in my anxiety relief ritual. Do you know who Rachel Hollis is? She has 2 amazing podcasts (Rise and Rise Together), she wrote a great book (Girl Wash Your Face), and is a phenomenal public speaker. Well, anyway, she was on one of my favorite podcasts (Awesome with Alison) and she shared her morning routine. Every morning Rachel will write in her journal 10 – 15 goals she has for her life right now. But the way she writes them is different than you might be used to. She writes her goals as if they’ve already happened. “I workout 3 – 4 times a week” instead of “I am going to get healthier.” Or “I keep a clean house and stay up on chores.” Instead of “I will keep my house clean every day” Do you see the difference?
Rachel said she writes her goals this way because it tricks the brain into feeling like they are already accomplished, which frees the brain to help you continue to make these goals a reality of your daily life. So the brain just thinks, “Ok, how can I keep this up? How can we keep the house clean.” The brain won’t have to build up momentum or motivation to get past the “will” part. Rachel shared that she writes her goals the same way every day until one of the goals is accomplished then she replaces it with another goal. So every day Rachel writes the same goals the same way until the goal is accomplished.
My routine goes like this meditate for 10 minutes, gratitude journal for 5 minutes, the present journal for 5-10 minutes, then goals for 5 – 10 minutes. I currently write 15 goals and here are a few examples of my goals:
- I do not have anxiety.
- My husband and I have a weekly date night.
- I have a clean house and stay up on chores.
- I workout 3 – 4 times per week.
- I have a successful blog.
I write these same goals every day in my goals journal (I have a new journal obsession). Then after I’ve written my goals I ask myself the same question that Rachel asks herself: “What can I do today to get me closer to accomplishing these goals?” So, under my goals, I write my to-do list, and it could include anything from finishing the laundry, to finish a blog post. But it gets me into the mindset of actively reaching my goals instead of passively letting my goals happen (which I find never works).
I have been dealing with my postpartum anxiety for 15 months, which is kind of a long time. But since I started this anxiety relief ritual I am feeling more in control of my life, more present in the moment, and more confident both as a mom and a wife. Don’t get me wrong some days are easier than others, but I think taking these 25 to 35 minutes a day to focus on myself and focusing on the good things in my life has helped me to cut my anxious thoughts/feelings in half. IN HALF! It really feels amazing to not let the anxiety rule my life. In fact, we are currently taking swim lessons with M, something I never would have been able to fit into my crazy anxiety filled schedule before. I can see progress, and little wins because this anxiety relief ritual has really helped. If you’ve suffered from any kind of anxiety (postpartum or otherwise) what have you found helpful to manage it and get you feeling better?