Anxiety: Friend or Foe?
Hi moms! We are going to talk about anxiety today. I know this isn’t a fun topic and might bring some of you anxiety even just seeing the title of this episode, but it is so important to talk about it because everyone has anxiety at some point and to some extent. And people who deny this, and want to pretend that they are just chill and zen all the time, are lying to themselves because everyone has anxiety.
Anxiety is simply your body‘s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or worry about what might be coming up, like the first day of school, or to going to a new job interview, going on a first date, going to get your driver’s license, getting a Covid vaccine and not sure how it’s going to respond with your body. Any time you have felt worried or nervous, scared, unsettled, jittery, or uneasy, you’ve had to deal with anxiety.
I have anxiety. I worry about anything new that is coming up that day or that week. I look into the future and I worry about things that I don’t know how they’re going to turn out. I worry about everything to do with everyone that I love. I have all of my own stresses and anxieties and then I take on everyone else’s, too. It’s kind of exhausting being me sometimes. And I wondered if any of you can relate?
I was always told that my anxiety was bad–especially in my first marriage–that it was this really horrible part of me and that I shouldn’t have it and that I wasn’t completely normal and mentally stable because I did worry a lot about a lot of different things. (And I still do.) I was even told quite often that I should go get on medication. But I realize now that most of that was him just not wanting to deal with me. Married to a completely different man has taught me that anxiety is a normal thing and there’s nothing abnormal about me or my worries. And these worries and feelings don’t make me a bad or difficult person.
I’ve actually learned that anxiety is not all bad. I mean, it’s not necessarily a good thing either if it is constant and causes severe distress and interferes with the ability to function. But situational anxiety, in general, is a normal human emotion. It happens to almost everyone who is facing any stress or uncertainty or anything new and uncomfortable or difficult in their lives. And let’s face it, life is full of a lot of new and uncomfortable and difficult. And it most definitely happens to us moms, constantly.
There’s a quote floating around out there that I really like. It says something like, “Becoming a mom is like choosing to forever have your heart go walking around outside your body.” It’s like, the minute we become a mom we have signed up for a life of a lot of anxiety, right?
And our kids…our kids have to deal with anxiety pretty regularly too, especially with everything that’s been going on around them this past year. But even before this crazy year we’ve all endured, anxiety was probably experienced by your children on the first day of school, on the day of a big test, getting ready for a party, or before a big game. Some of us and our children might say, with some of these times of anxiety, that they suffer from social anxiety. That’s a big buzz word today. But it’s actually quite normal to feel this way in social situations. Whenever there’s something new or different, we are probably going to feel anxious about it. It’s just part of being human.
It’s important that we know and that we help our kids understand that anxiety and social anxiety is completely normal and there’s nothing wrong with them and there’s nothing wrong with feeling anxiety. It doesn’t make you crazy, or emotionally unhealthy, or not in control of your emotions, or needing to go get on some sort of medication to control it. Anxiety won’t hurt us and it doesn’t mean something has gone wrong.
Part of being human is to feel some discomfort. It’s actually important we don’t always feel perfectly comfortable all the time. This discomfort we feel actually helps us grow, especially if we learn to face it head on and not run the other way.
My lock screen on my phone says, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
How are we teaching our children to deal with these uncomfortable, anxious, worried feelings? How are we dealing with our uncomfortable feelings?
We live in a world where we have so many comforts and conveniences that when we feel an uncomfortable emotion like anxiety we think that something is seriously wrong. And all that’s really wrong is that we may have developed a very low tolerance for discomfort.
Anxiety is completely normal and it’s a part of life. It’s part of being human. It’s part of the growing pains that help us become who we are supposed to become. And it’s in those discomforts that we feel that makes the times in our life when we feel joy so much better. Life isn’t supposed to be perfect.
Anxiety is an emotion. It’s a feeling. It’s a vibration in our body. And because it’s a feeling, that means it’s directly linked to our thoughts–to the sentences in our brain. And you know what? We don’t always have to figure out what is causing our anxiety. Even if we just say, this is happening because of the sentences in our brain that awareness is really so important and it’s the first step to really accepting ourselves for who we are and our feelings for what they are.
I feel like it’s pretty powerful to know that anxiety is a feeling that comes from the thoughts in our brain because that gives us all the power to change it, if we want to. Once we accept it, and make friends with it, and then might be ready for it to go away for a while so that maybe we can relax again, that’s when we need to realize that we have the power to make it go away, when we’re ready to.
But my point isn’t actually to make it go away, my point is to be curious about it and to accept it as part of who we are.
The reason I am talking so positively about anxiety right now is because we are just too scared of it. The big problem with anxiety is that we are trying to get it to just go away. But when we do that, when we push it down instead of face it, we actually make it worse. It’s like as if we had a blown at beach ball in a pool that we’re trying to keep underwater and push down and it just comes up even more forcefully.
The best thing we can do when anxiety calls is really feel those feelings–those vibrations–and not make it the enemy.
I’ve actually named my anxiety part of myself. Yep, her name is Annie. (I know, very original.) But it helped so much, seriously. I was working with a coach one day with a method that I love to use with moms in my coaching practice. It’s where we kind of have an inner dialogue with two conflicting parts of ourselves that are having such a conflict, and this conflict might be causing us to be stuck and not be able to move forward. You know, where sometimes you just feel like you’re spinning, that’s what I call it. I was so wound up with my anxiety and trying to stuff it down and not deal with it, thinking it was bad and wrong. Words that I had been told kept coming back to my head, and I kept thinking that something was wrong with me when I began to stress or worry. Anyway, so during this inner dialogue my Love voice (which was the one the anxiety was kind of contending with that day) and my anxiety voice were kind of communicating with each other about what they needed from each other in order to integrate, or get along. Well my love self was telling Annie that she just needs her to calm down and stop being so pushy. It was happening when I was about to have all my husband’s kids and spouses and grandkids, with my own kids too, come visit all at once and I wanted the visit to be great for everyone, and I was just stressing myself out on preparations with food and bedding and cleaning the house.
And Love was saying to anxiety—Annie, she likes to be addressed by her name–to just relax for once in her life, and just chill out, and enjoy that we get to have company, and just show them you love them, and it’ll all be fine, and stop being such a stress-case (that was another name that was always in my head). And you know what Annie said back to Love? (Maybe I should’ve named Love like Hippie, or something, because she was all love and peace and zen.) Anyway Annie said to Love: “Don’t you realize? Without me, there would be no you.”
It was because of Annie and all of my preemptive stress and preparations that Love was going to be able to shower my husband’s kids (some of whom I had only met once or twice at that point) with tons of love during their visit.
This might sound like a silly little story, but it freed me that day. I remember almost skipping around the house for days because for the first time I accepted that the reason I was so able to love so many people in so many great ways and really serve them is because I did have a lot of preemptive stress and worry that caused me to prepare and think through every little thing beforehand. (Which caused a lot of anxiety, of course.) But my anxiety part is part of what makes me me. My anxiety is part of what pushes me to be better. My anxiety, Annie, helps me show up in a way for people that I can just be love because I’ve already thought through all the things, and I’ve done everything I can and now I just get to show up and love people.
Anxiety is sometimes the very thing that is pushing us to be better than we are, and to achieve more, and to go after our ambitions, and grow into the brave, courageous, amazing moms that we are supposed to become.
Anxiety also helps us detect danger, or put us on alert, like being extra careful when driving in the rain or snow.
If you’re feeling unsettled in your marriage, that might be anxiety telling you that there may be a problem you need to pay more attention to and get resolved.
Or what about when you’re making huge financial decisions in your life– buying a new house or changing jobs–anxiety might cause you to focus so much on the decision, and maybe even lose sleep over it, but if you didn’t feel this way chances are you might miss something when making these decisions.
And it also enhances motivation and boost performance levels. Athletes who feel anxiety perform better; students who feel anxiety study harder; moms who feel anxiety figure out how to solve the issues that need to be solved, or figure out what changes need to happen so that their children will turn into kind, responsible humans.
But I do understand that there is a downside to it all. I have lived through some really tough bouts of anxiety. And when anxiety is sticking around day in and day out and getting in the way of your daily normal functioning, that is when it is important to figure it out and perhaps get some help and learn some tools to manage it.
Studies show that anxiety disorders are the most common mental challenge in the US, affecting over 31% of the population. I wonder how much of that is because we are pushing against our anxiety and feeling like something is truly wrong with us and beating ourselves up when we have an abundance of worry for a time.
But if you are struggling with anxiety and aren’t sure what to do about it, there is help available.
I have coached many mothers with anxiety who thought that they could never figure out how to cope with it; who have learned my tools and have discovered how to make sure their anxiety doesn’t need to control them or their lives anymore.
I am a coach for all things motherhood and that includes, and what I feel is most important, a mother’s mental health.
I hope these few minutes have inspired you to maybe think a little differently about anxiety. Because once we truly understand it and understand that it is completely normal, it is our job as mothers to help ourselves and our children figure out how to deal with this common, every day emotion.
Thank you so much for your time, and I will talk to you next week.