Real talk – Being a mom is incredibly rewarding, but it’s also incredibly challenging. The physical challenge (carrying toddlers is no joke), the emotional challenge (big kids, big feelings!), and the mental challenge (WAY too much to fit in parentheses)…
So let’s lay it all out there – the reasons behind our heightended anxiety and solutions to improve our mental health.
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The Mental Health of Mothers
The events of the last few years have exacerbated the challenge and created a mental health crisis for women everywhere, and mothers are even more affected.
We are faced with continued concerns about the pandemic and navigating the challenges of health, safety, and childcare. Then we added on the national formula and tampon shortage that keep us from providing basic needs for our babies and ourselves. AND reproductive health rights are being stripped away during an ongoing crisis of maternal mortality for Black women in America. It’s a lot and our mental health is taking a toll.
That’s not to mention the current climate in which social media is always there too to take up space in our brains. Influencers presenting their all-too-perfect lives as something we should be able to attain, filters impacting our confidence, and a barrage of ads selling every “slim down” item there is.
With all that you have going on, it may be difficult to think about your mental health, but you know it’s important. Taking care of yourself will make you more capable of being there for your family AND give yourself the gift of a happier, healthier YOU. That matters, a lot! So how do we get there?
8 Ways to Address Anxiety in Motherhood
1. Seek Professional Help
First and foremost, know that you do not need to tackle this alone.
If your kid’s ear hurts, you take them to the Pedetrician. If you tear your ACL, you’re off to see a surgeon. Toothache? Off to the dentist. And if you are suffering with your mental health, don’t hesitate to seek out the same type of professional help.
Talk to your doctor about finding a mental health professional that is right for you.
2. Lean on Your Village
Any mom can tell you it takes a whole village of support to raise children, which is one reason so many mothers reported increased levels of anxiety and depression with the onset of lockdown. For an extended period of time, the only method of communication was phone or video calls, with very little in-person support. Parents struggled without a break.
Now that the world has opened up moderately, it’s important to get back in the habit of reaching out for help. Ask a friend or family member to watch your kids for a bit so you can get out for some personal care, take a nap, hike, or go out on a date. Join a mom’s group for support from women in your community. Finding what brings you joy and ensuring that you are taking breaks will help improve your mental health.
3. Discover Your Triggers
With all the possibilities, it may be challenging to pinpoint what’s causing your anxiety. However, taking a closer look at some plausible triggers will help you avoid or combat them in the future.
Try keeping an anxiety journal and documenting what happens before each episode of increased stress. You might be able to find a pattern of certain foods, situations, or locations that repeatedly trigger you.
4. Focus on What You Can Control
There’s so much beyond our control. There’s the pandemic, a lack of quality, affordable child care, and shortages of feminine products and formula. Plus, don’t forget the traditional anxieties like mom guilt and the difficulty of maintaining work performance while taking care of kids.
When you pause and take an honest look, many of these factors are out of your control. So, instead of focusing on things you can’t change, practice mindfulness to enjoy being in the current moment.
Some prompts to help you take the reigns: What can you do right now to help you feel like yourself? What will help you be the best version of yourself as a mom? What support do you need to be the best version of you as a friend? Fill your cup first and then spend time with those you love.
5. Look for Ways to Get More Sleep
Sleep is one of the best ways to combat feelings of stress and anxiety. However, those same conditions can make it incredibly hard to fall and stay asleep, and motherhood brings along its own challenges to getting rest.
Sneak in some rest when you can. Sleep when the baby sleeps is the age-old advice here and not always realistic. However, getting in a nap on occasion, especially with toddlers who have a more consistent nap schedule, can be helpful. You can also try meditation apps that help you get to sleep, enabling night shift on your phone to reduce blue light exposure before bed, or setting an alarm to remind you to go to sleep instead of staying up to *finish ONE more thing real quick.*
A perfect night sleep as a parent isn’t going to happen very often, but this brings us back to our point about controlling what you can. Little changes can make a difference in your mental health.
6. Sweat It Out
Research shows getting enough exercise can significantly affect your chances of avoiding anxiety and mom burnout. A recent study surveyed pregnant women and moms in the perinatal phase, asking about their fitness habits and mental health before and during the pandemic. They found women who worked out moderately for at least 150 minutes a week had statistically lower scores for anxiety and depression than moms who didn’t.
You can reap the same benefits. Go for a walk with the kids. Take turns with your partner managing the morning routine so you can get a chunk of time back for exercise. Invest in inexpensive weights and do free online workouts.
No need to become a triathlete to reap the benefits here – find what works for you and your schedule, and importantly, what you’ll be motivated to continue.
7. Take Off Your Cape
Motherhood has changed drastically over the last several decades. In so many cases, mom are expected to take care of the home, be the default caregiver, and bring home a paycheck. However, no new supports are in place to help with the additional burdens. Between the childcare crisis and societal pressure to constantly entertain our children with sensory activities, art projects, and the like, being a good mother can feel downright impossible.
Here’s the antidote: when you feel overwhelmed, unhook your superhero cape and let it go.
Your kids won’t suffer if they occasionally eat cereal for supper. They’ll be fine if you skip the flashcards and send them outside to play in the mud. You don’t have to be “Super Mom” to be a good one nor do you have to do it all alone.
Check out Fair Play for a resource on splitting up the household and childcare management with your partner.
8. Ditch Social Media
Scrolling through social media might be the only few minutes you seem to get to yourself each day, but it’s probably causing you more harm than it’s worth.
Gauge your feelings next time you spend mindless time on your favorite apps. If certain accounts make you feel jealousy, longing, anxiety, helplessness, or worthlessness, it’s time to unfollow. You might even benefit from taking a prolonged break from social media altogether.
Never take your mental health lightly — sacrificing it for your children, partner, social commitments or work will ultimately hurt you and everyone you care about. You can’t pour from an empty cup and there are professionals out there to support you.