Coffee can solve all the world's problems. Well, at least, all of my problems, according to my almost-3-year-old son. That's probably because he has seen me turn to that magical cup of steaming hot java one too many times after I've had a bad day with my anxiety (which, with two kids under 3, happens more often than I'd like to admit).
I was in the car recently, driving and crying about something frustrating, when I decided to pull over to the Starbucks drive-through and pick up my favorite espresso to lift my spirits. After I picked it up, my toddler asked me from the back seat, "Mama, you got coffee! Does that mean you're happy now?" After practically spitting out my drink with laughter, it made me realize how much my anxiety — and losing control of it — affected those around me.
I have general anxiety disorder, which means I feel anxious more than the average person. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, it means "persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things." According to personal experience, it means that anytime I'm behind on a project, the house is more of a mess than usual, my kids won't stop screaming, I'm nervous about an upcoming visit with family or a phone call to a stranger, or even the drive-through line is moving too slowly, I get anxiety. My heart starts to race; I start to become agitated, frustrated, or annoyed; or I just burst into tears. It's challenging, to be sure. But to my very observant toddler, it is something that concerns him deeply.
Sometimes, when I am anxious about something happening in my life, I can feel completely debilitated. Crying is OK. Yelling at my kids for no reason isn't. So, when I realized my son was watching me, I decided I needed to work just a little bit harder to show him that Mommy is OK.
So, I've tried a few new strategies to help me lower my anxiety and prevent breakdowns, especially during this time of spending longer periods at home. For starters, I try to determine what is causing the breakdown. If it's because of work, I give myself a break. I began turning off my phone and watch notifications when I'm with my kids, so I will be present when I'm with them. This has led to increased engagement with them, whether we're coloring or watching Sesame Street.
Or, if a particular assignment is getting me down (or, OK, the deadline is coming up soon because I probably procrastinated again), I figure out a way to get a break. I go to my office alone when my husband gets off work so I can focus on writing. Reading a good book or crying in peace are options as well.
Other preventative techniques include prioritizing my workouts and cleaning the house, which, not surprisingly, the kids love helping me with. Just turn on good music and make loading the dishwasher or getting in my cardio a game. If that doesn't work, then I set aside 15 to 30 minutes after they go to bed to clean up or fit in a workout video.
Finally, I found that it helps to just talk to my kids about how I'm feeling. I'll say something like, "Mommy is sad; do you remember a time when you felt sad? What did you do to make you feel better? What should Mommy do to cheer up?" Their positive attitudes and compassionate questions (and tight hugs) always make me feel so much better.
I'm hoping that by talking about my anxiety and taking steps to manage it, my sons will learn how to embrace and take control of their feelings as well. It also makes me feel more empowered knowing I am setting an example for my kids and that I have the power to make myself feel better. For now, I'm going to cuddle close with my babies, lean on my husband for support, and keep drinking coffee — it really does help!