By Laura Rubin
At a doctor visit a few months ago, I mentioned that my anxiety had increased since having my son three months before. I know. Understatement of the century. When he asked me exactly what I was so worried about, I laughed and asked him how much time he had.
I listed the obvious culprits: “I worry my son is not napping enough. I worry when someone else watches him for an hour. I worry he spends too much time with me. I worry he might stop breathing at any moment. Does he get enough playtime, enough rest, enough tummy time, enough everything? Am I enough?” The desire to ensure that my son was healthy and happy splintered my thoughts into a thousand possible ways that he might not be either.
I was officially diagnosed with anxiety about six years ago, but it’s been a constant companion most of my life – even before it had a name. I had been able to manage the anxiety well enough, but then I had a baby.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m lucky because my days are filled with joy. I’m happier as a mother than I’ve ever been in my life. But I’m also more afraid than I’ve ever been. There are bright days, but there are also days when the worry doesn’t stop. When my thoughts chase themselves around my head like so many small, neurotic dogs. Maybe that’s parenthood for everyone, regardless of mental health status, and I should accept it as a small price to pay. But I also know that if I don’t manage my anxiety, it will chip away at my joy. It’ll reduce my son to numbers and developmental milestones rather than the sweet little boy who is currently grabbing his foot and smiling at me.
So, I’ve made a list of what has helped me on this journey. It goes without saying that if you live with anxiety — or its close cousin, depression — you should work with your doctor to do what you need to do, whether that’s medication, therapy or some combination of tactics.
I’m no expert, but here are some everyday life tips that I’ve gathered over the past six months.
1) Talk To Other Parents. There’s something to the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and not just for the child’s sake. Parents need a community, too, whether we form it by connecting with current friends who have kids or by linking up with parenting groups. This is admittedly not my forté. An introvert to my core, I also have a tendency to want to do everything myself and never ask for help. But after weeks of worrying about my son’s love of 30-minute power naps, I finally asked one of my mom friends how she got her daughter to nap. Her reply? Her daughter didn’t nap at all. It was completely sporadic until one day she figured it out on her own. I stopped obsessing. Even if we don’t always have answers for one another, there is something so reassuring about just hearing, “Yeah, me, too.”
2) Google Is Not Your Friend. Yeah, we all know this one, but that doesn’t mean we don’t stare into the blue light of our phones at 2 am looking for advice. I’ve lost count of the number of questions to which I’ve desperately sought answers in the far corners of the internet. When my son wasn’t gaining weight fast enough. When he kept waking up 20 minutes after going to bed. When we took him to the mountains and it occurred to me (once we were already there) that maybe he was too young for the altitude. I kept trying to find the one answer, the one “right” method. I ended up more stressed than I had been before my search. The annoying truth is, there is no one way to parent, as much as we want it to be that simple. And I know you’ve heard it before, but you know your baby better than anyone. Trust your gut. When you do need advice, there are plenty of places to turn, like friends and family – and reputable websites.
3) Get Out Of The House. This one clearly looks different for parents who work outside the home versus those of us who do not, but the underlying idea is the same: change up your environment. I’m home with my son, and there are days when it feels so much easier to stay home rather than race to get out the door before he decides he needs to eat or nap again. Still, when we walk to the library or run errands, the fresh air and conversation — even if it’s just exchanging pleasantries with the grocery store cashier — are enough to clear my head. Even my husband, who works outside our home, has to change up our routine once in a while. We went out for tacos last night. Exciting, I know! It was enough, though, to get us out of mental ruts that form when we’re in one place for too long. And when I decide I really do need to hunker down at home with the little guy, I do that, too.
4) Find Your Outlet. It’s taken me a while to admit, but I’ve learned that when my anxiety about my son is at its peak, it typically coincides with me spending all my time focused on him. Parents tend to think about our kids a lot, and that’s a good thing. Except when it dips into an obsession. Ever been mid-conversation with your spouse and realize you haven’t heard a single word because you were silently wondering if your baby’s gentle snoring from his stuffy nose was actually sleep apnea and he might stop breathing in the middle of the night? Right. Me neither. That’s when I know I need to take a step back and spend a bit of time away from my little one. Reading is my escape, even if it’s just half an article, and I like to get lost doing anything with my hands. My latest sewing project may be taking me a comically long time, but I know it’s there for me when I need a moment to myself.
5) Listen To Your Kids. The most important recommendation I can give is to listen to your kids. They will teach you calm. I know it’s hard to believe when they’re throwing toys across the room, but nothing has been as therapeutic to me as being completely present with my son – getting lost in him. Sometimes I just need to say, “Nap routines be damned,” hold him while he sleeps, and soak up that moment. Life moves too quickly for most of us, and our kids are the best way to slow down.
After dedicating most of her career to corporate sustainability, Laura is now lucky enough to hang out with her infant son full-time. She lives in beautiful Denver where she spends her days reading, writing, exploring and generally making things up as she goes.
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