The Internet is packed with articles teaching readers how to “tame the anxiety monster” or “slay the anxiety dragon”. I personally think of anxiety as an annoying honey bee that won’t leave you alone. It buzzes in your ear, it follows you around and just when you have something really sweet going on in your life, it wants to latch on to you. Bees come in swarms and so do worries. They tend to build on each other and multiply. Very rarely do honey bees actually sting. And very rarely do the things that you are feeling anxious about actually come to fruition. But just the threat of being stung is enough to make you feel edgy and nervous.
I see a lot of anxiety issues in my counseling practice. Expectant moms (and dads!) often worry about whether the pregnancy and birth will go smoothly, and then whether they will be a good parent. Here’s what I explain: When you are expecting or caring for a baby, it is somewhat natural to notice an increase in anxiety. Think about it… you and your partner are creating, and then raising, a little person. That is a BIG responsibility and it is normal to feel a little nervous about it. In some ways the added anxiety is your brain’s way of gearing up for all of the responsibilities of being a parent. Your hormones are on high alert, your sleep is most likely disturbed, and your fight or flight response is in full effect. All possible threats and worse case scenarios seem like very real possibilities. Mama Bear is wide awake and ready to swat any bees that get too close to her cubs. The trick is to keep the anxiety in check and drown out the buzzing so that you can remain calm and focused on the many tasks ahead of you:
Here are five ways to shoo away that buzzing bee of anxiety:
1. Bring yourself back to the here and now: If you take note of what you are feeling anxious about, it is usually in connection to events that haven’t occurred yet. Your imagination is doing a number on you by creating multiple “what if” scenarios. By bringing your focus back to what is happening in the present moment, you can often quiet the nervous chatter. One way to do this is by practicing mindfulness, a simple technique that helps you slow your breathing, take in all sensory data, notice your thoughts without judgement and then bring your attention back to the present. Want more info on mindfulness? Go to this link: helpguide.org.
2. Focus on what you can control: Most of us spend a lot of time fretting over things that are out of our control. It’s exhausting, because we literally can’t do anything about these situations. Letting go of the things you are powerless over and making a list of the things you are doing well or purposefully (which is typically a heck of a lot!) can help you to feel more empowered and less vulnerable.
3. Feel prepared: Information is power. I recommend that you go to the childbirth classes, read the parenting books, and soak in all of the info. The more prepared you feel, the more equipped you will be to deal with whatever comes your way. There’s one caveat: avoid the sections of the books or websites in which they list everything that can possibly go wrong. As I mentioned in the first tip, it is better to focus on what is happening now than to worry about what could be.
4. Take note of what works for you: There are times when individuals feel generalized anxiety, that they just can’t pin on any one thing. That is when self-care activities are especially handy. Not every technique works for every person. Experiment and find out what has the most soothing effect on you. Some options are:
- deep breathing
- exercise (walking or yoga are favorites)
- warm baths
- talking to a friend
- prayer or meditation
- practicing mindfulness
- listening to a guided relaxation recording (I included a favorite below.)
- natural anxiety-reducing supplements (which you should always clear with your health care provider)
- and in some cases, good ol’ distraction
5. Know when to seek help: Extreme anxiety is nothing to laugh at. Sometimes it can grow to the point where you are having a hard time eating, sleeping or just plain functioning. You might even be having destructive or suicidal thoughts. Any of these conditions indicate that it is time to reach out for extra help and assistance. Talk to your doctor or find a qualified therapist who can help you to sort through your anxiety and determine the best course of action. You do not have to cope on your own!
Here’s the cool thing about being a parent. More often than not, you only face a few challenges at a time. First pregnancy, then the birth, then breastfeeding, then sleep. Somewhere down the line you deal with toddler tantrums. Later on, you have a defiant teenager. You get the picture, the challenges come slowly and gradually. Unlike a beekeeper who has to maintain her zen as she walks into a swarm of bees, a parent only has to deal with a few challenges or obstacles at a time. So shoo that anxiety bee away and tell it go make some honey. You have some parenting and self-care to attend to.
Here’s to Sanity and Beekeeping,
As promised, here is a link to the guided relaxation CD that I listened to approximately one million times when I was pregnant, and then maybe a couple more times when I was a new parent. It is so soothing and lovely, it practically put me to sleep every time. Side 1 is for expectant mamas who want to prepare for childbirth. Side 2 is for new parents who need some relaxation. Enjoy!