Generating More “Good Days” by Identifying Anxiety Triggers

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If you’re a stay-at-home-parent then you know that some days feel amazing and some days feel like absolute shit. Obviously life is like that before we have kids too because circumstances are always in flux but I think that with every child you add to your family you also add a new depth to the lows and high to the highs. Those wonderful “good days” when you and your kids are all in sync and going with the flow and not under the influence of hormones, teething, sleep deprivation or a general latent crankiness become almost magical. Unfortunately the “bad days” when you all wake up short on patience and joy and everyone blows out their diapers and cries and you finally get 30 seconds to yourself only to realize you’re out of coffee… those mornings can turn into some real rock bottom days if you can’t figure out how to do a hard reset. Is this resonating? If not I’m gonna seem like a total Jackass Mom, but I’m gonna risk your judgement and continue.

At some point I realized something that shook me to my core: it usually wasn’t my kids determining whether a day was “good” or “bad,” IT WAS ME (insert sheepish look and apologies to my children). Specifically, the days were determined by my mental state which usually hinged on one single thing: whether I was feeling anxious that day or not. I know, I know, anxiety is such a buzzword right now and I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about it but it can be a big deal. Anxiety manifests in our lives in a ton of ways that can affect home, work, health, parenting, pretty much anything including… your ability to handle your day! Apparently.

First let me just mention how much power can come from getting to know yourself better. Learning about ourselves throughout our childhood and adolescence, our twenties and thirties, can unlock a lot of problem-solving potential in later life! Knowing why and how we do things the way we do them – at work, school, home, or when we’re dating – is crucial knowledge. We can use that knowledge to (hopefully) avoid making the same dumb mistakes over and over again or keep those mistakes from becoming harmful habits that continue to cripple us throughout adulthood. Self knowledge is an ongoing, lifelong journey but I think certain experiences like hardship can push us to discover our own minds faster than normal. I can’t be sure about everyone else but I don’t learn much from those perfect, joyful days where everything goes according to plan. I try to stay present and soak it all in but there aren’t many teaching moments in the good times. But during hardship phases, when my mettle is truly tested, I can often learn a lot about my own mental workings as long as I create the space to allow that to happen. Nothing has taught me more in such a short time than my hardest phases of motherhood.

After my first pregnancy I ended up with a severely colicky newborn with an unknown future due to a medical diagnosis we hadn’t been expecting. The crippling anxiety that hit me my first year as a mother made the anxiety I had been dealing with throughout university look, well, cute. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t go out, I couldn’t make time or room in my life for my friends, I couldn’t do anything so I completely shut down. For about ten months I just stayed home with my new baby bouncing on a yoga ball and crying. It wasn’t until after I had my second baby that I realized postpartum anxiety is normal for me but not nearly to that extent.

During that first year of motherhood I was in a survival state that didn’t leave a lot of time for philosophical deep-dives into my sense of self. But I guess I scraped together enough self-actualization to recognize that certain things triggered the onset of those first anxious feelings that had the potential to spiral into a full-blown, heart-racing, I-can’t-do-this Anxiety Attack. After the surprising realization that it was my own issues that charted the course for the day and not the kids and their crankiness, I started to pay more attention to how I felt on good or bad days (aka manageable or unmanageable days) to see if I could garner more control over the outcome of my days at home. Here are the things that I figured out I personally need to avoid to ensure that I have more “good” emotional days! I’d love to hear what your “bad day” triggers are, if you know them.

Hunger: the kids’ hunger, my own hunger, anyone’s hunger anywhere is a trigger for my feelings of inadequacy because apparently I’m a Feeder. Lack of food in the fridge makes me feel like I’m failing as a parent and human and when I don’t have something on hand to feed the kids (they get hangry every hour on the hour) everyone loses their shit collectively and the day goes downhill from there.

The Solution: on days when I need to majorly lessen the chance of a mama meltdown (like when Tom is out of town) I make sure that the fridge is stocked, fresh snacks are at hand, and meals are prepped and ready to be reheated quickly. If there’s nothing around we do an emergency stroller walk to the grocery store and buy every croissant available and a massive amount of fruit for the walk home.

Unrealistic Expectations: this is a huge one for me. I went into motherhood with a rigid expectation for what I should do each day and that expectation was: everything. I was making myself massive to-do lists and then berating myself if there was one thing that didn’t get done because the baby refused to nap that day. Allowing my day to be more flexible has served me better than most lessons I’ve learned over the course of the last three years. My “must do” list has become a “suggestions” list and if I ignore the whole thing to brave a solo beach day or go get coffee with a friend I don’t sweat it.

The Solution: learning to let the small stuff go has been an important and necessary step for me and my relationship with my anxiety. I have the perspective now to care less about the little things. My kids are still pretty young but I’m also making attempts to get more stuff done while they’re awake instead of during their naptimes. I’ve been incorporating my to-do list into their day and making it as fun for them as I can. Usually I can unload the dishwasher, bake or prep meals, load the laundry machine and get the laundry hung on the line, tidy up, and exercise by pretending it’s a fun thing Hen and I can do together. Kids love to help and she likes it a lot more than I do!

Lack of Routine: since my kids aren’t school age yet it’s easy to feel like we have no structure and are just floating through the day doing whatever. Both me and my kids respond better to a bit of a routine but as per above, we keep it pretty flexible. The outline of our day evolves naturally but gets more lax in the summertime.

The Solution: duh. Create a bit of a routine, even if it’s just a loose one: park in the mornings, books before naptime, a little screentime while you cook dinner just to keep the kids out of your hair. I’m going to try for a tighter routine in September and I have some pretty cool tools at hand that I’m excited to try out.

Staying Inside: even though getting out of the house is daunting some days (and becomes more daunting the more children you have!) every mom I know swears by it in order to gain some perspective and distract everyone long enough for a bit of a reset. If you have older kids you can get a pretty fun day trip in once in a while, but if you have younger ones like me you might have to keep outings pretty short and sweet. Currently our son sleeps 10-12, our daughter naps 12-2, and our son takes a second nap from 2-3, so I’m housebound for most of the day.

The Solution: I prep the stroller in advance for a quick morning outing and stay close to home by just doing a coffeeshop run, a visit to the nearby garden store, a hangout at the park around the corner, or just a long walk through some neighbourhood trails. We definitely don’t get out every single day but sometimes just hanging out in the front yard is enough!

Identity Outside of Motherhood: I’m still working on this one because it’s really hard. It took me multiple years of being a mother to admit that I not only want but need time away from my kids. There’s still a pervasive idea for many moms that our kids should be enough for us but why? If we’re multi-faceted women before we have kids why wouldn’t we expect to be multi-faceted women after we have kids? I think we need to play other roles besides just the mama one, and have other interests as well. It’s a necessity for sanity, I’m sure of it.

The Solution: I make time to do the things I like to do without my kids around, even if it’s just once in a while. Tom and I are pretty hardcore homebodies so we don’t need time out of the house super often. Just watching movies together, doing renovation projects, and the occasional date night are enough for us. He also has work and I chip away at my freelance writing projects when I’m able to. When I crave adult conversation I call a friend and we FaceTime or go for beers!

Not Exercising: I don’t care who you are, exercise helps clear your head and offers perspective. Sometimes just going for a walk (preferably in the forest) is enough but when I’m really working through some stuff I generally have to get some longer runs or harder workouts in to feel like I’m releasing some of the nervous energy I feel when I’m anxious about something.

The Solution: I haven’t felt very motivated this summer so Hennie and I have just been doing yoga together before bed and sometimes in the mornings as well. It’s a great way to get her to stretch and a great way for us to bond. I want our kids to grow up seeing us being active and prioritizing ourselves so they know that it’s important.

I’m always interested to learn more tools for handling anxiety; what are some of the things that threaten to send you into a Bad Day Tailspin? What do you do to combat them? Let’s learn together!

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