I’ve suffered from stress before – I’m a millennial so have grown-up alongside the technology that dominates our lives. Since becoming a mum, that stress has ebbed and flowed far more than it did before as my ability to take a pause was suddenly limited to the times when I could step back from my children. But somehow – even when I went back to work after my second maternity leave last year – I managed to keep on top of it all without losing my mind. I would read about people struggling and whilst I sympathised, I thought “It’s okay. I got this.”. And I did have it…until I didn’t.
I’m not entirely sure where I started to drift into a less than positive place. I doubt there was a single moment that did it, although I suspect going from a nursery mum to a school-and-nursery mum didn’t help. All I know is that is the autumn turned into winter last year, my anxiety levels were going through the roof. With those anxiety levels came a whole host of bad mental symptoms – in ability to concentrate, low resilience, tiredness, snappiness. And there were some physical symptoms too which just made the whole thing worse.
When it got to Christmas, I had a good talking to myself and knew that enough was enough. If I didn’t try and climb out of the hole I’d let myself get into then things would just get worse and I could end up in a place where I was no longer able to help myself. So, I took the Christmas holiday to really focus in on family life and forget about the stresses of school and work routine. And for those two weeks, I felt calm, relaxed and healthy. It was a positive affirmation that I needed to adjust how I dealt with everything that would be thrown at me when we returned to normal.
It’s been over a month since that cycle of craziness started and I feel in control of myself again. I even managed to get through the stress that is organising and running a 5th birthday party in that time without any major side-effects. That said, I also clearly remember those feelings when anxiety would creep in so I can “intervene” before they turn into anything. Whilst there has been no silver bullet, there are a few things I’ve done which have helped:
- Yoga: I have started doing yoga every other night after the girls go to bed. I happened upon “Yoga by Adriene” at the start of January. She has just launched “Home – a 30 day journey” and I started that but on alternate days. The breathing and focus required for yoga have been incredibly helpful in helping my calm and re-centre. The flows are also great exercise though which means that whilst I’m not doing HIIT or cardio, I am also managing to do some physical exercise every couple of days.
- Removing caffeine: I have never drunk tea for the caffeine but I was aware it was there. After having a few unsettled nights in the months leading up to Christmas due to caffeine a little too close to bedtime (in the form of a late cup of tea or, on one evening, a tiramisu) I decided to cut it out. I know some decaffeinated tea is processed using chemicals but after some research I discovered that my favourite brand, Clipper, use carbon dioxide to decaffeinate their tea so it remains organic. A simple switch which, if nothing else, makes me feel a little calmer about myself.
- Massage: I’ve been for a couple of massages over the 3/4 months. I kept carrying a lot of tension in my shoulders from stress and from carrying an increasingly heavy toddler. Both times I have felt instantly lighter on leaving (although less so on the second time which I took as a positive because I don’t think I was quite so wound up).
- Trying not to do too much: I kept feeling the need to do everything: make everything at home; avoid waste and plastic; give my kids a Instagram-worthy set of stimulating experiences every day. Then I realised that’s not possible and, on the last point, my girls will be happier with a calm mother than with all the activities in the world whilst I sit rocking in the corner! So I reminded myself that my core list of chores were the things to focus on and the rest would just happen as-and-when. The irony being that I’ve actually been more on top of things since the New Year anyway.
- Changing-up the routine: Nothing major but there were a few things which niggled me which I’ve changed or removed. One thing which has been really refreshing for me is to swap Little Z’s class on Mondays to an different activity; not only am I enjoying the change from something I had been doing for 4 years, but Little Z also enjoys what we do now much more.
- Culling my Instagram: I don’t check Facebook or Twitter but I do enjoy Instagram. I could stop using it, but I don’t want to. I did realise that my feed was full of people I didn’t relate to anymore though. So I went through and did a big purge. I also now actively unfollow people when I see something and realise their content isn’t close to my heart or my interests. I also stopped following any accounts that make me anxious, such as climate change accounts; I don’t disagree with the risk but I’m doing what I can manage on that front so seeing the dismaying news every time I took 5 minutes on the app was not helping me!
- Some ‘Me’ time: I was fortunate to have 3 days of annual leave left to take at the end of Jan (the end of my work holiday year). I listed out all of things things I wanted to do rather than felt I had to do. I blocked out time for all of them and pottered about. It was freeing and refreshing. It reminded me to find blocks of time to do my own thing, even if it’s making sure that I grab half an hour on Monday and Friday when Little Z is napping after lunch.
I’m very aware that anxiety can easily creep back in. If I think about it, I almost make myself anxious again. So I know that it’s going to take a lot of self-awareness for the coming months to keep myself in check. There are too many things in life now to worry about, things can easily get on top of me. Or anyone. Taking a pause to put things into perspective is so important. And there is always time for some escapism in cheesy TV – the last few months would have been even harder without my third viewing of “Jane the Virgin” or my millionth viewing of “Friends”!