There’s one thing many people don’t know about me.
I suffer with anxiety.
I take medication every day.
I want to share my story, because I have worked with plenty of moms that struggle with anxiety too.
If you struggle with anxiety or worry, my hope is that by sharing my experience, you will gain insights about yourself, realize that you’re not alone, and learn a thing or two that might help.
When I was 10 years old, I suffered a tragedy. My father was killed in an automobile accident with my whole family in the car, including me.
My 5-year-old brother almost died from smoke inhalation and lay in the hospital bed next to me covered with tubes. My mother hit the dashboard, breaking her jaw and knocking out all of her teeth. All things considered, the concussion I suffered seemed small in comparison.
When my mother was wheeled into our room and I saw her for the first time, her mangled and bruised face was very disturbing. I felt powerless, scared, and my heart felt broken. I didn’t let her know. I didn’t cry. I pushed down my feelings and held them inside.
After leaving the hospital, the three of us went home and never talked about the accident until about twenty years later.
For six weeks after leaving the hospital, I would sit at the dinner table, with a lump in my throat, eating, not saying a word, and trying not to look at my mother with her mouth wired shut drinking her meal out of straw. I got really good at stuffing my emotions.I got really good at stuffing my emotions.Click To Tweet
At night lying in my bed I would work myself into a panic when I couldn’t sleep.
Then something strange started to happen. I would be sitting with a group of people, watching a movie, or doing something else, and I would become terrified.
When this happened I didn’t tell anyone, with the exception of one time. On vacation in Florida, I felt that familiar terror return. I told my grandparents that I thought I was going crazy. I don’t remember them saying anything, but their concerned faces affirmed they understood.
This simple acknowledgment helped me. For the first time, I felt that this terrifying feeling I was experiencing made some sense to someone.
And then, when my family moved in junior high school, my anxiety and panic went away.
Until about thirty years later.
When my daughter was turning twelve my anxiety returned. It was at this time, that I recognized them as panic attacks.
Adolescence was uncharted territory and it hit me like a brick upside the head. I was totally unprepared emotionally.Adolescence was uncharted territory and it hit me like a brick upside the head. I was totally unprepared emotionally.Click To Tweet
Who could have seen this coming? I was blindsided.
It was as if someone turned on an anxiety switch.
A different kid was now living in my house. I had no idea what I was doing. It had been so much easier being her mother only months before.
That powerless feeling I felt so many years ago came flooding back.
My daughter was expressing so many emotions.
She was sassy and talked back.
She rolled her eyes.
She was strong willed.
She was angry.
She was struggling with learning difficulties.
After years of pushing down my feelings, it was very uncomfortable to start feeling so many emotions again. And I was scared. I didn’t know how to handle her behavior.
Parenting an adolescent can awaken our anxiety and bring a whole new meaning to the word worry. And there’s a lot to be anxious about.
For one thing, there’s a lot less we can control. Our adolescents are fighting for independence. They’re separating from us, and pulling away.
This parenting stage requires a lot more emotional energy. It’s a collision course and a roller coaster of emotions for everyone.
When you’re used to pushing down and burying your feelings like I was, dealing with your adolescent’s mental, emotional, and physical changes can be the perfect storm for anxiety.
Shortly after having several panic attacks fifteen years ago, I got help. I knew I had to deal with the unresolved feelings and issues that were having a negative impact on my life and the way I was parenting.
While I can’t tell you I’m anxiety free, I’ve learned a few strategies that have helped me.
Give Anxiety a voice.
This may be counterintuitive, but it works.
I’ve learned to treat my anxiety (and all of my feelings) like a friend and give them the voice and attention they deserve.
I compare my anxiety to a person that’s been duct taped and kept in a trunk for years.
Anxiety needs to be let out. It needs attention. She’s like a friend who thought she was protecting me for many years. I often treat anxiety like an enemy; I want to push her down and shut her up. The more freedom I give her to speak up, the less fearful she becomes. She feels safe again and calms down.
Understand Anxiety’s story.
Panic strikes anytime the phone rings after 10 PM. Immediately my mind imagines one of my kids being in an accident. Sirens can trigger panic too.
In the last year, I’ve handed the car keys over to my baby (my 17-year-old). Sometimes, as she drives away, I say a prayer and my stomach churns a little.
We have to release our tweens and teens to go out into the world. And with that, comes not having control over what happens. We can no longer hover. They won’t let us even if we try.
Shake hands with Anxiety and treat it kindly.
Sometimes anxiety feels like it’s a monster in the closet or hiding under the bed.
If we can make friends with our anxiety, we will realize it’s not the scary monster we thought it was.
“Hello anxiety, there you are again.”
We can invite anxiety to breathe. We can practice mindfulness meditation, pray or put on soothing music.
I talk to my anxiety with the kindness of a mother who cares about her child. I give my anxiety what it didn’t get as a little girl. I calm myself by affirming it’s understandable I’m feeling this way.
I may ask for a hug, phone a friend, or go for a walk. I remind myself that I’m not the only mother that feels this way and I’m not alone.
Even crossing my arms and hugging myself helps.
Don’t let Anxiety drive.
I love how Elizabeth Gilbert talks about fear always being present. She says that “Fear will always be there, because you can’t get rid of it, but you can put it in the back seat. It’s not allowed to give directions, or hold the map or mess with the radio. It gets to have its scary thoughts but it’s not allowed to drive.” I love that!
If we let our anxiety/fear have too much power it will steal our joy.
We want to appreciate every precious moment and give our kids the space they need to spread their wings and experience the joy of growing up.
I remind myself daily to savor the moments that I have left and not allow anxiety to rob me of this time.
I purposefully practice being in the moment.
Moment by moment presence helps me to not live in the “what if this happens” state of mind that feeds my anxiety.
We have to let go and expect our kids to make mistakes, have fender benders, and to acknowledge that sometimes, bad things will happen. This is part of life. And our role as parents is to love our kids and slowly release them with fear and trembling at times.
It’s true that our adolescents will test us and stretch us. We can allow this to change us for the better and heal old wounds. Raising adolescents has a way of stirring up our old baggage that’s been buried and that we need to deal with.
Today my kids and I can laugh a little. They will tell you I’m the “worst case scenario” mom.
I warn them not to stop on the side of the road to help anyone after hearing about a kidnapping.
I still yell, “Car!” when my 26-year-old daughter crosses the street.
The other day I had visions of my 17-year-old choking on popcorn as she was laying down (I calmed myself and said nothing).
Whatever’s the worst-case scenario, I may still share it with them with the hopes of keeping it from happening, however, I’ve experienced so much healing in my life I can let it go.
If you struggle with more than your fair share of anxiety, you can get support – see a therapist, a coach, talk to a friend, or a support group.
Today, I’m intentional to embrace and express my feelings and not run away from them even when they’re uncomfortable and inconvenient. I make time almost everyday to be still, to meditate, pray, read my Bible, or do something that brings me peace. I remind myself of what is true and when my anxiety tries to take over, I tell it to get in the back seat.
I may not be able to control what happens, the choices my kids make, or keep my loved ones safe all the time.
But I can control my choice to live in this present moment, embrace all of my feelings and trust that no matter what, I’m going to be okay.