Practical Coping Strategies for Anxiety for Moms
Living day to day with anxiety is no easy task. The constant barrage of “what if” thoughts can feel exhausting, and just functioning- going through the basic motions- can be a major challenge. And as moms, we can’t just quit- and often we can’t even take much of a break.
The kids still need food, clothes, attention, sleep, and more, no matter how overwhelming meeting each need feels. So what can we do? What practical coping strategies for anxiety can we use to get us through the day?
Below are some suggestions that I have implemented that I hope can be helpful to you as well- but please know that I didn’t do all of these at once or even on any given day.
My goal isn’t to give you another overwhelming list, but instead to add tools to your toolbox as you go about your day. Just pick what seems doable for you in the moment.
Also- just to note- these are not to replace the critical pieces of healing like therapy, medication, healthy eating, exercise, and of course you talking with your doctor. And I am not a doctor or any kind of medical professional, so please take all my ideas as things I have learned from experience, not as medical advice.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase through my links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Be honest with yourself about your anxiety
Anyone with anxiety knows it’s exhausting. You know what else is exhausting? Trying to pretend that everything is okay when it’s not. So lighten your load a bit and be honest with yourself- if you’re feeling anxious, admit it to yourself. It doesn’t mean your a lesser person, a failure, or weak!
Consider approaching it as a fact instead of a problem with yourself to be fixed. The sky is blue. Rocks are hard. I’m feeling anxious. That sort of thing.
Just being there in the moment in your head and accepting anxiety as uncomfortable takes away some of it’s power.-Stephanie Iraggi, www.MamaShark.blog
We tend to try and avoid uncomfortable things (that’s normal), but sometimes “sitting with” (as one of my therapists called it) your difficult feelings…just being there in the moment in your head and letting it be uncomfortable…takes away some of anxiety’s power.
Anxiety tends to compound itself when we panic about it (funny how that works), so accepting the anxiety as a how things are at the moment can be a good step in the right direction.
Be honest with others about your anxiety
This one is always a challenge for me.
People don’t want to hear about my anxiety, right? If people really knew what goes on in my head, no one would want to be around me. Everyone else copes just fine, and it’s just me who can’t deal. Maybe I’m going crazy.
You read those last sentences and empathized, didn’t you? You related to it. Guess what that means? I’m not alone in those thoughts, and neither are you. Guess what else that means? If we did talk more about it, we’d find others feel the same way, and maybe those lies would lose some of their power over us.
So dare to be honest with others. Now, I’m not saying you need to go spill your guts to the next person you run into. But try telling your spouse “I’m struggling today”. Or text a friend and ask them to pray for you. Or tell the mom on the playground that you’re having a rough day.
Start small and find who you can trust with your feelings, then build on that. I’d challenge you to find the words, the vocabulary that you need, to explain how things honestly are with you.
Practical Coping Strategy for Anxiety- Get Help
There’s the basic help that everyone with anxiety should be seeking out- talking with their doctor, eating well, therapy, medication if needed- but I’m talking about the practical help. Because getting to the doctor, making healthy meals, going to therapy, picking up medications- all of that in itself can feel impossible to get done (especially when you’re already taking care of a family and home!) when you are already weighed down with anxiety.
So ask for help. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to afford paid help- go for it. Personally, we don’t have much in the budget for that sort of thing, but I do periodically hire a local mother’s helper (teen girl in the neighborhood) to come and help watch the kids, do the dishes, etc. I also am blessed with a lot of family nearby, and they regularly help watch the kids so that I can get the other things done that I need to take care of myself.
I know many aren’t as fortunate as I am in having those people nearby, so it may take some creativity. But try and figure out some things that you *could* get help with, and then look for opportunities to accept that help.
Accepting help isn’t weakness, and you won’t be thought less of for us. Do you think less of a friend when they ask for help? I didn’t think so. Those who love you will be happy to help. And one day, you’ll be able to return the favor -and it’s okay if that doesn’t happen in this season of your life.
Practical Coping Strategy- Create Routines
Maybe this isn’t the case for everyone, but I know I have an easier time managing my anxiety when I know what’s coming next- the Unknown is definitely a trigger for me. Because of this, an important factor for coping day to day with my anxiety is routine. Notice I didn’t say “schedule” because I have little kids- nothing ever goes according to schedule!
I read this fascinating article that explores the idea of anxiety as a learning disorder, and one of the things it pointed out is that those of us who struggle with anxiety often have the most difficulty with the “little” decisions.
What order to do things in for the day, or what time to try and put the baby down for a nap, or which route to take home- those are the things that tend to make us stress. You can read the article for more, but one of the things I took away from it was realizing that the more I can reduce the quantity of those “little” decisions, the easier things can be mentally.
On the practical side, this means that my mornings are pretty consistent. Not always the exact same, because things with kids are always changing, but there’s a certain set of things I do that stays more or less the same- and it helps reduce the decisions I have to make, and therefore the opportunities for anxiety to invade.
Practical Coping Strategies for Anxiety- Get Out
One of the hardest things about having anxiety as a mom (for me anyway) is trying to get out of the house with kids. I even wrote an entire article on it because I think about it so much.
The hundred details of getting everyone dressed, figuring out what I need to bring, making sure everyone has gone potty, has shoes, jackets, getting snacks, figuring out directions….it feels like too much.
So for me, a practical coping strategy for my anxiety is I always get ready to go in the mornings. When I get dressed, I get dressed as if I’m leaving the house- put in earrings, pick weather-appropriate clothes, etc.
I keep the diaper bag always packed (I have a free list for you here) and healthy snacks on hand to grab and go. Over time I have created a routine that sets me up to have the best chance of getting out of the house.
If you’re like me, I tend to not want to make plans because I might not be able to keep them. I feel too anxious about doing anything new or different (or even the same), so I just avoid it. But I know if I get out and do something, I’ll feel better.
Even my highly introverted self benefits from making connections (even short and shallow ones) with other people.
Both science and experience clearly show that connecting with others is good for our mental health (p.s. you need to read Daring Greatly), so I’d challenge you to be brave and make some plans! It doesn’t have to be every day or all at once- just start with what feels do-able and build on it.
And know that you’re not a failure if you have to cancel sometimes. It will be better for your mental health to have plans and cancel sometimes than not to make plans.
Another great way to boost your mental health is to get some good old Vitamin D! Getting outside, however short, helps to boost your mood, and it’s good for your kids, too! For a while I even put “go outside” on my to-do list every day so that I would at least step onto the porch for a few minutes. Give it a try!
Communicate with your body and brain
Our bodies don’t speak the language of logic. Anxiety often comes out in fight/flight/freeze responses stemming from the brain perceiving threats (that may or may not exist) and no amount of logic is going to convince the body/brain that everything is okay. Great, right?
So what can we do?
Here are a few tools that have been helpful to me.
- Paced breathing/four square breathing. I talk more about both in this article. But the idea is to trick your body into thinking that things are calm/non-threatening by breathing as if they are. Basically you’re trying to make your body think: “Oh, I’m breathing calmly- things must be okay because if they weren’t, I wouldn’t be breathing like this!” Smart, right?
- Try Rescue Remedy. I keep Rescue Remedy in my purses, diaper bag, on my dresser, and next to my bed. It stays with me so I can take it before anything with needles, during panic attacks, and anytime I’m feeling stressed. I even took it before cervical checks during labor! It’s pregnancy and breastfeeding friendly, very gentle, and just enough to take the edge off of the panicked feeling.
- Try the Emotional Freedom Technique (Tapping). This one takes a little longer to learn, but it’s well worth it. Once you’ve practiced a bit, it’s easy to take anywhere and into any situation because you only need your fingers!
- Create your emotional playlist. A wise older mom suggested this to me not long ago, and it’s making a difference for me. Basically, create a playlist of songs that make you feel the way you *want* to feel and think the way you *want* to think- then play it. Music and emotions are inherently tied, and you can cue your emotions to follow suit by using music.
- Use an app like The Calm App to help you on the go or at bedtime.
- Pray/meditate. These practices have been shown to actual rewire the brain in positive ways!
- Get moving- gently. Remember, we’re trying to convince our bodies that everything is great and that we are not running from the proverbial bear. So if you’re struggling with anxiety, you may want to avoid activities that feel like you’re running from that bear.
- Create Reframing Cards. Write down your anxious thoughts, then reframe them in a positive light. Then practice taking the original thoughts and switching them out for the new ones. Carry these cards with you in your pocket or on your phone so you can reference them until you memorize them.
These practices and similar ones can help rewire your brain into more positive patterns.
But remember- you probably didn’t get here overnight, and you probably won’t get out instantly either. We’ve all got thought patterns that we’re used to traveling- and like ruts on a road, it can be hard to get out of them.
These suggestions can help you start forming new paths, but it will still take time to re-create better thought habits. Be patient and celebrate each victory along the way!
Mama, you are amazing.
Being a Mama with a mental illness takes an amazing amount of courage. Showing up for your family day after day, moment after moment, takes enormous strength. You are amazing, Mama.
P.S. I know you might be struggling right now, Mama, so I created some printable Scripture affirmation cards for you. Throw your email in the box below and I’ll send them to you for free!
If you are a Mom with anxiety, you may also like these practical coping resources:
- 7 Easy Ways to Simplify Your Life as a Mom (all very practical!)
- The Decluttered Mom Brain Challenge for practical ways to reduce your anxiety
- Meal Planning on a Budget– lessen your stress with this simple method!