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Helping My Daughter With Anxiety by Addressing Its Physical Effects

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My daughter is 11 and has a diagnosis of autism. Anxiety is an everyday challenge for my daughter and has been for as long as I can remember. Her heart beats double time, she panics, and this can lead to a meltdown.

When my daughter was around 9 years old, I purchased a cognitive behavioral book for children to see if I could help support her in understanding her worry. I bought it hoping, with some understanding, her worry would reduce. But at the time, my daughter just was not ready for that level of understanding. She found it difficult to grasp, and it didn’t have any impact in helping her with her anxiety beyond being able to identify what anxiety feels like within her body.

This made me realize understanding cognitive processes is difficult for everyone, and there must be a more practical way of relieving anxiety than looking solely at the thought patterns behind it. The more I read and researched anxiety, the more it dawned on me that the body has a distinctive physiological reaction when in fear. We all have a fight-or-flight response, and although not everyone will have the same reaction to the same thing, we tend to have similar physiological reactions when we experience anxiety.

Anxiety releases adrenaline, which makes our hearts beat faster, and in turn our breathing may increase. We may get a tingling sensation in our arms and legs. We may get a headache or a stomachache, and we may feel hot with our palms becoming sweaty. Having a written list of what anxiety feels like has helped us put strategies in place to address the physical symptoms as they arise.

We started with breathing — simple breathing exercises have helped us greatly, and I say us because everyone in our house uses them. It is a fast and simple way to start the calming process. We also started practicing a muscle relaxation meditation that contracts and then releases the muscles in turn to help them relax. Lastly we realized the need for space! A timeout from whatever we are doing can be so important for everyone, especially my daughter. Sometimes social situations and certain busy environments become too much for her. Simply having a five- to 10-minute timeout in a different room can make all the difference.

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We choose to practice these strategies when my daughter is anxious as well as when she is not anxious so she can try to stop the anxiety from building up. I do think having an understanding of the cognitive side of anxiety does help and hope to visit that side with my daughter as she grows into her teens. But for now, using strategies to combat the physical elements of anxiety works for us.

Learning more about anxiety and how it presents physically in our bodies has helped everyone in my house greatly. It can be a scary time for anyone to have an anxiety attack, so having practical solutions to some of the symptoms helps take some of that fright away. My daughter may always have anxiety, but as her mother, I will try my best to help her manage it so it doesn’t hinder her achieving, and she feels confident enough that if she is feeling anxious, she will know what to do to reduce it.

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The Dictionary Definition of Anxiety vs. How Anxiety Actually Feels to Me

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Anxiety is a feeling that’s had its hold over me so often these days, I can honestly hold my hands up and say it’s one of the only “feelings” I experience that makes me scared out of my wits.

I have, many times, described it as a feeling of “doom.” Just that single noun, as there is no other assortment of letters I can extract from my mind that has given it as much justice. That being said, it is not a feeling that can be described in just a single word. How do you describe such a powerful surge of emotion in something so static?

When my anxiety decides to knock on my door and barge its way into my comfort zone, from my inner bubble of family and friends I always get the conventional:

  1. What are you thinking about?
  2. Why are you worrying?
  3. Just shrug it off!

Hearing these comments has made me conclude that my anxiety might not actually be what is traditionally known as the term “anxiety” in general. Maybe it’s something else altogether, separate from what others — my family, my friends, my many many therapists — see as anxiety.

And from the ashes of these paranoid indifferent thoughts, I started coming up with the term “the bad energy.” The Bad Energy is in face not anxiety, and cannot be explained in terms of anxiety. It is something else altogether.

Interesting thought, right?

If I look up the word anxiety in the Oxford dictionary I get this:

A feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome: ‘he felt a surge of anxiety.

Let’s take a moment to analyze this.

A feeling of worry.

For me, this doesn’t apply. “Worry” is not the horrible “doom” defying feeling I feel at all, as my anxiety is illogical. I usually carry out my days (if not sunken down by depression) more on the optimistic side of life. It’s not that I’m just worrying and there’s a solution to stop this dreadful feeling. If “stop worrying” was the answer, then trust me; I’d f*cking stop worrying.

Does my “bad energy” come up when I sit there with my bills in front of me? A sickly feeling yes, but not “anxiety.”

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Does my “bad energy” arise when I have a job interview, an exam, a test of some sort? A niggly nervousness (see quote) — yes, but not the anxiety I am accustom to.

Now, has my “bad energy” come up when I’ve been shopping at my local store pondering over what kind of milk to put in my basket? It has. Has my “bad energy” come about when I’ve been driving in my car, windows down, singing along to a playlist on a nice sunny day? It has, quite frequently. Has my “bad energy” come about while I’m having lighthearted random conversation over coffee with a close friend? It most certainly has.

To call it a feeling derived from “worrying” is flawed in my case. This is the reason I get so worked up when people ask me what I’m thinking about and/or why I am worrying. I am not. It just is. You don’t blame the presence of a stone for “being” there because the person next to it is worrying about it, or because you thought the stone up in your mind. It’s just there.

Nervousness.

Yeah, I get this one. There are a few butterflies flapping about (although, I have described it once upon a time to my therapist as black heavy moths of lead flapping about viciously with little tiny razor blades on their wings), but we come back to the ultimate question again: What are you nervous about? Absolutely nothing.

Unease.

OK, this is more like it. That might be where the “doom” description came from. Unease, I do feel. If you count feeling uneasy as feeling like you’ve been repeatedly whacked with a sack of bricks.

So here is my shot at attempting to make up my own definition of what this anxiety/bad energy/razor moth doom feels like, for people who can’t seem to grasp the concept:

Imagine you’re skipping along happily on a great sunny day. Let’s make it better than great, maybe it began on an unexpected Monday morning where you got a phone call from your boss and he randomly gives you a day off. You are free in life enjoying yourself, with no where to go, no responsibilities to take care of, indulging in the sweet notes of upbeat music playing in the air and minding your own business when –

Darkness engulfs you. There is empty space all around you, and you cannot see a thing. It is pitch black, empty and cold. You don’t even know if you’re standing upright, or which direction you are facing, because all you can feel is the space of the unknown around you in the blackness. Your instinct is screaming at you to run, but you are stuck there with no sense of direction. Your skin starts to crawl, and you get a creeping feeling that something is about to happen. Something is going to jump out at you. But you can’t see, or feel or hear any sounds. Yet you know something is there, waiting for you in the shadows. Then, ever so slowly — so slow that it’s barely noticeable at first — you feel a faint breeze on the back of your neck. You are hit with a sudden shock of terror when you come to the realization that something sinister, your worst fear, is breathing its hot sticky breath beneath your hairline.

Now take that fear of yours, and materialize it… It can be anything, from a pit full of sharp needles, to the ledge off the tallest building you can imagine. From the darkness, you abruptly see it in front of you — your breath pauses from the shock of it appearing right there in your face. Then you realize you are at that pivotal point of no return, the point where the weight of your body tips over the edge of the ledge, the one where your brain says “no” and your heart stops beating. Keep that fear. Imagine it. That very moment of terror that makes time stop. Freeze it.

Now take that fear, that horrible electrically charged surge of emotion, and turn it dark. Turn it sour, almost to the point it is painful and sharp. More. Even more. Really fight to make it as nasty and as vicious as you can.

Now compress it. Compress that fear, and squeeze all that energy in to the tightest space you can. Feel it increase in weight, feel how heavy it feels in your hands, like a big hot ball. All that dense black energy all tight in one space, ready to explode.

Now put that nasty ball of compressed energy into your heart. Feel your back bend over and your muscles in your body squeeze and tense up with the weight, your heart still stuck in time paused on one beat, aching with the pain. There are no thoughts, no way out of it, your mind can’t even possibly register an explanation to why this is happening – your brain is still frozen in that singular moment with the fear of the shock, remember? Your breath still held on that one last breath.

Now carry that around all day.

And then, you sense someone who is still in that distant parallel universe where the sun is still shining, and the music is still playing, and they look over at you and ask:

“What are you worrying about?”

Maybe I’m not the “crazy” one after all. Maybe I am not the one who is indifferent. And maybe, more people in this world need to look up what anxiety actually means, rather than this globally passive term of “worrying” that people assume it is.

Follow this journey on The Manic Years.

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Separation Anxiety Doesn’t Just Happen to Children

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So apparently separation anxiety doesn’t just happen to babies and children. I know this because I have gone through it — you know, as an adult — very recently.

A little back story: my anxiety manifests itself in various ways; it shows up as actual anxiety/panic attacks, a short temper, that need to know (read: control) all the things, to having no appetite. The last one stuck with me over the course of the past four days. From the day my husband and children left on a road trip to visit his family, while I flew out to attend my cousin’s wedding.

Why was I nervous, why couldn’t I eat, why, why why? My children were perfectly safe, they were with my husband, he knows what they like to eat, what they like to do. He knows how to take care of them because, you know, he’s their father. And because he’s my husband, he knows what I need. However despite the daily phone calls, photos, text messages and video chats, my brain couldn’t turn off. And I let the anxiety control me, leaving me feeling like I was walking on a tightrope while our little family was apart.

Steady as she goes, I kept myself distracted, enjoyed the special time with my extended family, the gorgeous weather and the beautiful wedding. Meanwhile, my subconscious had a party of its own where my anxiety was the center of attention. The constant push and pull I felt as I walked into an empty house where I was alone just for one night. There is something about being alone with my own anxiety that creates even more anxiety, because apparently that’s a thing, too. But somehow I made it through, and I’ll be honest, it wasn’t easy. I distracted myself, played music to tune out the quiet, read my book filling my mind with the words of someone else’s story.

And the anxiety lessened for just long enough. Maybe today is the day I can accept it and be with it. One thing I do know is that despite the uncertainty in each situation that life throws at me, I gain more realization, which prepares me for the next time and the time after that. With practice and patience comes acceptance. And each day I work towards that goal.

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To the Person Who's a Master at Hiding Your Anxiety

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I see you. I see you sitting there, with a desperate plea in your eyes that touches my heart so deeply you couldn’t begin to understand.

You smile sweetly. Others are blissfully unaware. You are a master of covering up the way you feel. You use situations within your control to hide the deep fears that bubble away underneath your strong exterior.

But I see you. I see your pain. I understand the questioning. I know your heartbreak. I see it because I see myself in you.

I see the constant internal battle between holding it together and crumbling apart.

I see the way your eyes used to sparkle, but somehow, that lightness has begun to dim. You wonder if you will ever shine again.

I see the subtle changes in your face. I see how beautiful you are, but how your own belief in that has faded away and how, when you look in the mirror you simply see a strained and anxious face.

I see the tension in your body. The subtle postural changes that tell me you are protecting your heart from further pain and anguish.

I see how you find it hard to look at yourself without experiencing disappointment and frustration at what your mind and body presents to you.

I see the guilt. I see how you feel you have let down people you love. I see that you believe you are not entitled to feel this way.

I see that you are compassionate, loving and so beautifully kind that you believe your feelings are irrelevant compared to another person’s pain.

I see that you are strong. I see that you are worthy. I see that you are capable of the most incredible things.

I don’t see you as your anxiety. I don’t see you as your worries. I don’t see you as your quirks and concerns.

I see you.

You see, anxiety doesn’t have a “look,” a “type,” or a visible “symptom.” It hides itself away so deeply that even you sometimes think it isn’t there. This means people don’t see your battle or see your pain. It makes it hard for others to understand, to empathize and to acknowledge how you feel.

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I see you though.

Anxiety makes you feel like you have to be strong, even when you can’t be. It makes you believe you will be an inconvenience to others if you show your worries, like you can’t let anyone else see beneath the outer surface.

I see you though.

Anxiety makes you feel as though you are at fault, and if you ask for help, then others will think you are being weak and dramatic. It makes you feel like your problems are insignificant compared to the wider problems in the world. It makes you hide yourself away for fear of burdening others with your pain.

I see you though.

Anxiety makes you feel like you are not you anymore. That you have lost the person who once let their inhibitions run wild, purely for the sake of fun. That you are no longer the person who can let their hair down and not worry about the consequences. That you are no longer the person who was loved by all their friends and family. You want to be that person, but sometimes it is just too damn hard and too damn exhausting to pretend all the time. Sometimes, it is simpler to be invisible.

I see you though.

Anxiety makes you desperate to hide, yet desperate to be seen. A beautiful contradiction of emotions that lead you to almost creating an alter ego for yourself. The self who sees glimmers of “letting go” and embracing spontaneity and freedom versus the self who can’t speak to people, can’t eat in front of people and can’t even breathe around other people.

I see you though.

There are moments when you feel like you again, and you cling so hard to those situations that they so quickly slip out of your grasp, only to remember the feeling in your stomach, the ache in your muscles, the lump in your throat, the sting of tears in your eyes as you hold them back again, again and again. Then, you feel despondent, removed, heart broken that maybe it wasn’t really you at all.

I still see you.

When your heart pounds in your chest, when your mouth feels dry, when your breathing is short and your head is spinning, yet you still manage to hide it from the outside world. You manage to keep anxiety invisible to everyone but you.

I still see you.

That feeling of being torn between wanting to retreat and wanting to scream for help. Wanting to tell someone how you feel but being too terrified to say it out loud. Wanting someone to hug you but never daring to ask for it.

I still see you.

Anxiety is invisible to a lot of people, but not to me. For that, I am eternally grateful. I feel honored to see you. I feel lucky to be able to see through the outer shell. Through the wall you have built up. Through the strength. Through your own prison bars.

I see you.

You see me.

Words are not needed. Interaction is not required. I see you in front of me, and it only takes a glance to know that to each other, we are no longer invisible.

I will always be able to see you. Not anxiety, not worry, not stress, not discomfort. You.

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14 Things to Remember When Someone You Love Has Anxiety

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This piece was written by Koty Neelis, a Thought Catalog contributor.

It wasn’t until the past few years that I realized how badly my struggle with anxiety was. Simple things like waiting to hear back from someone or anticipating how something could turn out would leave my stomach in knots and my heart and mind racing. Now that I understand what anxiety is and how to help alleviate it, I understand a little bit better when I’m experiencing it. I don’t pretend to know all the answers when it comes to anxiety or mental health. I also understand my experience isn’t universal. Yet, I hope these things can help anyone who loves someone else with anxiety and for the person with anxiety to realize they are not alone.

1. It’s not just all in their head, and they can’t just “get over” anxiety.

More than 40 million people have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, but those numbers don’t represent the people who live with it every day and don’t tell their doctors. Anxiety is not something that can be cured with a simple, “Everything will be all right. There’s nothing to worry about.” The thing about anxiety is that nobody’s entirely sure where it comes from or what causes it. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains, “Panic disorder sometimes runs in families, but no one knows for sure why some people have it, while others don’t.”

2. Anxiety is an overwhelming experience.

Anxiety can leave a person feeling like their whole world is caving in. The first time I had a panic attack I was a teenager in a large shopping center with my mother. Suddenly, my mind was racing. I was sweating. The store suddenly felt small, and all of my senses were heightened. I felt like I was going to faint.

My mom couldn’t understand it, and I couldn’t understand it at the time either. We were just standing in an aisle while she was shopping for something. What was the problem? When someone is experiencing anxiety or when they suddenly have a panic attack, they get into a hyper-sense state where suddenly everything becomes loud and bright to them. The environment suddenly becomes an overwhelming place.

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3. Telling your loved one to “relax,” “calm down” or that something is “no big deal” doesn’t help.

Sometimes, it actually makes it worse. When someone tells you they’re worried or anxious about something, listen to what they’re saying. Let them explain why something has them all at sea. Hear them out, and try to understand from their point of view why they’re feeling the way they do.

It’s understandable that people want to provide solutions or express to their loved one that whatever is causing them anxiety is actually not a huge deal. It may not be, but in the moment when a person with anxiety is at the height of their emotion, telling them to relax only makes them feel like you’re brushing aside something that is real to them.

4. Not every person with anxiety is triggered by the same thing.

Often, anxiety has no obvious triggers at all. Something that’s fun or enjoyable for you could have the complete opposite effect on someone with anxiety. For example, one of my anxiety triggers is being in large crowds. This is a problem for me because I love going to concerts and hearing live music.

A couple weeks ago, I went to a music festival with a coworker and in the middle of trying to leave after Drake performed, we were body to body with 50,000 people, all trying to leave the festival. We couldn’t move, and we were in a stand still. Immediately, my mind started racing, thinking about how this was a dangerous situation to be in, about how many times I’ve heard of fatal incidences at music festivals where people were in this exact situation and about how all I wanted was to get out and away from everyone. This was all going through my head, whereas my coworker thought it was fun and awesome to be in the crowd with everyone.

Later, when I told one of my friends about it who has anxiety, she said, “Oh, interesting. Being around a lot of people doesn’t bother me. It’s when I’m faced with being in a one-on-one situation with someone, like if my friend randomly invites a new person to get drinks and leaves me alone with them. Then, there’s uncomfortable silence because I’m too awkward to make conversation. That’s what sends me into an instant panic until I have to excuse myself and go to the bathroom or escape the situation.”

Basically, what I’m saying is, not every anxious person’s experience is universal. We all experience anxiety differently, albeit in similar ways. Although someone can be self-aware of what factors seem to heighten their anxiety (drinking coffee, for example), there’s sometimes no particular things you can predict that will engage a panic attack. They can come completely out of nowhere.

5. Sometimes they just need to be alone.

There are times when your loved one might decline to hang out over the weekend or with your friends so that they can be alone to decompress and just be by themselves. Try to remember to not take this personal. Remember their anxiety isn’t a reflection on you or your relationship with them. People who deal with anxiety often just need more time to work things out in their head and think about everything going on in their life, especially if they’ve been particularly stressed lately.

6. They understand their fears can be irrational at times.

They know there are plenty of times when their anxiety makes absolutely no sense. Even if you both discuss the reality of the situation, their thought process is still thinking about the worse outcomes.

7. It can be difficult for them to let go of their fears.

Even if they’ve talked it all through and they rationally understand there’s nothing to be anxious about, it can still be incredibly hard for them to let go of the mindset that there isn’t something wrong.

8. If they open up to you about their anxiety, then consider it a huge sign of trust.

One of the hardest parts of dealing with anxiety is feeling like you can’t talk about it. The stigma that surrounds mental health is difficult to deal with because it makes those who have been diagnosed with a disorder feel like they’re weird and shouldn’t be open about their experience. If your loved one opens up to you about their anxiety, then it’s a sign they feel comfortable and open enough with you to be honest about a significant part of their life.

9. You won’t always be able to tell when they’re dealing with anxiety.

Just because someone is feeling extremely anxious doesn’t mean they’re going to be sitting there outwardly displaying signs of anxiety. Many times people with anxiety struggle in silence because they don’t want to make a big deal out of something or because, well, it can be embarrassing to admit. There have been times where I’ve been at a party and a friend has told me quietly they needed to leave because they were feeling anxious. If they wouldn’t have said anything, then I probably wouldn’t have guessed anything was wrong. Remember that even people who seem totally fine can be battling a war inside their mind.

10. You might not understand the ways they practice self-care.

Self-care is one of the most important things when going through a stressful time, and it’s the little things that can make them feel better. Maybe it’s doing a deep clean of the apartment or a closet, organizing books in a bookshelf by genre versus alphabetical. You might think it’s odd that the best way your loved one feels better is by cleaning the dishes, but many times these kind of activities are a form of meditation and help soothe the anxiety.

11. It’s important for you to remember to practice your own self-care as well.

Just because the person you love deals with anxiety doesn’t mean you have to walk on eggshells around them. They understand it can be a lot to deal with sometimes, and they’re grateful to have someone who cares about them. They don’t expect you to forgive all of their flaws or mistakes, which is where patience and understanding are truly appreciated.

12. Don’t feel like it’s up to you to solve all of their problems.

You and the love you give are not the solution to your loved one’s anxiety, but it can certainly aid as a balm. They don’t expect you to solve something in their brain that they don’t even understand themselves, and it’s important to remember this so you don’t feel burdened. Being someone that is simply there for them and listens to what they’re going through can often be all they need to feel understood and cared for.

13. They need strong and stable relationships to truly thrive.

Relationships that are back and forth and fail to offer any real support, stability or longevity can make them feel unable to really connect with someone. They need their partner or loved one to keep them grounded and make them feel safe.

14. They might never be like anyone else, and that’s OK!

Just because someone lives with anxiety doesn’t mean their anxiety defines them, and it isn’t something that has to be seen as this great, overwhelming presence that dominates your connection with them. Be there for them. Listen to their fears, their concerns and their thoughts. Seek understanding and communicate. This person might not be like anyone else in your life but isn’t that one of the most beautiful things about loving them?

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

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6 Things I Remind Myself Every Day as a Mom With Anxiety

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For me, being a mother and having anxiety, I have faced all sorts of days. When my anxiety strikes, it’s like I have left this world. I feel helpless, alone, scarred and disconnected from things around me. I used to curl up in a blanket and let the anxiety take its toll on me until I felt it was safe to move. However, now being a mom, I am not able to hide when my anxiety strikes.

I have to overcome it and do the best at being a mom as I can. It can be hard to take care of a little one while taking care of yourself and your anxiety. I am learning how to manage my anxiety while still being a mother. While it’s not walk in the park, I am doing it and here is how.

I came to the realization one afternoon while listening to my 18-month-old boy cry because mommy wouldn’t let him stand on the kitchen chair. I was afraid he would fall. My anxiety kicked in, and I was taken into my mind where the “what ifs” spiraled out of control. What if the last thing my kid sees is me giving him trouble?

After sitting there crying alongside him, I thought, “Why am I doing this to myself?” I was so afraid of death itself, I had lost the ability to parent my child and look out for his well-being, all because of the anxiety inside me.

I decided things needed to change that day. I needed to live my life being the best mom I can be for my son. It has been an uphill battle every day. I can no longer dwell on my anxiety. Even if I am in the middle of an attack and my son needs a cup refill, bum change or to for me simply help him build with his blocks, I have to be there every step of the way.

There are a few things I remind myself every day. I thought I might share them in hopes of helping another mother/parent living with anxiety.

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1. It’s OK to feel this way.

Sometimes, you need to let yourself feel the anxiety. This is OK as long as you remember it’s just a feeling and it will past. For me, sometimes, despite my best efforts, the anxiety is strong. It’s a bad day and that is OK.

2. You need to take care of yourself in order take care of your child.

Remembering to eat and to rest can feel impossible some days. For me, the fear of falling ill and leaving my son behind always helps me to remember I need to stay as healthy as I can and keep going to be there for my child. Some days, it feels like a heavy weight, but I see that little smile and it makes it easier.

3. It’s OK to have a bad day.

No one is perfect, and not every day can go a smoothly as planned. Acceptance is key. There are still days I have an attack, and I can’t let it go. I carry it with me all day, but I know it’s just one day. Tomorrow, I can try again and make it better. Everything is one day at a time with anxiety.

4. Be patient with yourself and others.

I know for me if a day filled with anxiety hits, I tend to get a bit on edge and easily aggravated. I used to shout a lot. Then, I realized there are better ways to express your emotions when on edge. Now, I remind myself of this daily. Be careful with the words you use, and staying calm helps me stay in control. I need to be in control while disciplining my child. I don’t want him to fear the monster the anxiety-induced rage has turned his sweet mommy into. I just want him to know what he did was wrong, and I love him no matter what.

5. Think about all the positives.

Day to day, there are ups and downs in life. Remembering to live in the positive side can be hard. It can be helpful to think about the happiness of the day before you go to sleep. It really helps me ease my mind of all the things that went wrong. I, then, can look forward to the happiness the next day will bring.

6. Enjoy every moment.

Life is full of the unexpected. I try hard every day to make it a great day. Sometimes, the anxiety weighs me down, but my son has watched me struggle with the bad days. He knows sometimes mommy needs a hug or snuggles to help me remember what I live for.

These simple reminders help me along the way when my anxiety becomes unbearable. Being a mom or dad with anxiety can be tough, to say the least. All I can do is wake up every day, ready to give it my all!

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