I've always had this idea of myself that I was relaxed, easygoing, and calm. People always said things to me that reinforced my belief: "You're so calm all the time," or "I always feel more relaxed after spending time with you."
A few months ago, I realized this was an illusion.
I had to fill out a questionnaire for a new doctor and it included the question, "Tell me about yourself." I looked to my husband, "I'm easygoing, right?"
He smiled while looking a bit confused and said, "Ummm, no, you are not easygoing."
I just gave him a blank stare. I couldn't find a response. My first thought was, "He's just being dramatic." Then I saw through his eyes how un-easygoing I am. I realized I just appear easygoing to others, but inside I am not even close. I have a constant low level of anxiety.
Even before my baby, I needed to be extremely prepared for whatever was happening. If I was going to a work event I would spin trying to figure out the appropriate level of dress, who was going to be there, where I would park, who I would talk to and so many other questions. I rationalized it by telling myself I'm an introvert, which gives me a bit of social anxiety, which I've managed by being prepared.
Having my baby didn't create new psychological or relationship challenges as much as it amplified ones I had before. The exhaustion and stress of the baby put a spotlight on these and the band-aids I had in place to keep myself together.
Having a baby pushed me over the edge. There are about a million anxiety-inducing factors that come along with mothering. The biggest stressor for me has been the mental load. The constant thinking of What does he need? Did he eat enough? Did he poop today? What should I dress him in? Is his bag packed? Should I bring the stroller or front pack? Was his nap long enough? Should I start moving his bedtime? Why isn't he sleeping in longer? Am I doing what I need to for his emotional and physical development? AND MORE. Constantly. Cycling.
Then as a stay-at-home mom like myself, you are also surrounded by reminders of, I need to move that laundry to the dryer. That shelf is insane and needs to be cleaned. Look at all this dust! What should we have for dinner? We'll have to go to the store after the park.
Then add in that I'm also working-from-home and you get, Did I respond to that email? I've got a conference call at 10 am, so if I feed him, and get him in the stroller he should be quiet enough to get through the call. What time do I need my husband home in order to get ready and out the door to make it downtown to the board meeting?
Then if there's a spare quiet minute I might think about myself, I got food for the baby, but what did I get for myself? How many days ago did I shower? This last part is a bit of an exaggeration. I can smell myself quite clearly and know the answer.
It's constant noise in the brain that keeps you thinking that there's always something that needs to be done in order to be prepared and that you are NOT prepared. The result for an introverted control-freak perfectionist is amped up anxiety.
I'm very aware of how my son behaves differently depending on my energy. He is constantly aware of how I feel and if I get upset, he acts out and has a hard time settling. If I'm calm, he is more likely to be playful, relaxed and sleep well. His whole life I've paid attention to that and thought, It's a good thing that I'm so calm and easy going! I wonder why he still has a hard time sleeping and social anxiety? Ha.
I know I'm not 100% in control of my son, he is his own person, his own personality, and will react to the world in his own way. I DO however have an impact on him that can amplify his own normal healthy anxiety or help calm it. When I had the realization that my son had to be feeling my constant low-level anxiety I knew I needed to do something about it.
Under it all, anxiety is sending the message to my body that I am not safe. I have been constantly unconsciously broadcasting to my son that we were not safe. That is the last message I want him to get from me!
I've started to tackle it head-on. I've identified a few things that have helped:
Awareness is key. This sounds obvious, but when I wasn't aware that I had this going on, I couldn't do anything about it. Now I notice and am curious about myself. I observe when I feel my anxiety escalating, notice what's causing it, and see what works to calm myself.
Breathing. Sounds elementary again, but when I am anxious I've noticed that I hold my breath or take very shallow breaths. Making myself stop and take intentionally deep breaths, even some with those loud yoga exhales, really helps.
Writing things down. When I feel myself spinning I stop and get my notepad and make a list of what I need to do. It gets it out of my head and helps me let go of the spin.
Not taking myself so seriously. So what if I forget something and have to run back home for it. So what if I take my son to a café to meet a friend and have to leave after two minutes because he's a disaster. So what if I'm on a conference call and he starts yelling. At the end of the day, it is all okay. Letting go of perfection and the false belief that if I put enough time and thought into life, I wouldn't forget anything, I would have naps planned perfectly, I would wash his hands immediately so he wouldn't ever get sick. All of which is a joke. You are not 100% in control.
All is well. This is my mantra. When I notice myself spinning or going towards worst-case scenarios I start repeating, "all is well." Because really, it is. It is more than 'well.' It is amazing. I love my life, my family, and my current situation.
Gratitude always helps me get out of my head, into my heart and into the present moment. That is where I can really meet my son. He lives there.
These are a few things I've noticed that don't necessarily keep me from getting anxious, but help me recognize when I'm in it, and move through it quicker. I'd love to get to being in a calm, joyful state of mind the majority of the time. I've got a lot of work to do, but in the meantime—all is well.