5 Mantras That Help Me as a Parent With Anxiety
When I was diagnosed with anxiety four years ago, I never imagined that parenthood would be in my near future. I now have two daughters, a toddler and a newborn, whom I love deeply but who also bring with them an endless parade of new things I worry about. In my 20 months as a mother, I have come up with five mantras I use from day to day to cope with these anxieties.
1. “Do the next thing.”
This comes from an old Saxon poem my mother sent to me, made famous by author Elisabeth Elliot. It was meant as encouragement to homemakers to be diligent in their work, however mundane. Although I might be stretching its original meaning, I have found it very helpful in tackling the mile-long to-do lists I sometimes find myself stuck with. Looking at your list as a whole, you may feel utterly overwhelmed. How are you going to complete all these tasks in a single day, all while taking care of your tiny humans to boot? Take a deep breath and remind yourself: all that is necessary is that you do the next thing. What is most pressing? Laundry, dishes, preparing food… and go from there. If you don’t make it to tasks like vacuuming or organizing a drawer, it can wait. You will get to them eventually.
2. “Ten minutes at a time.”
In the summers, my husband works very long hours, sometimes leaving the house at 4 a.m., returning at 8 p.m. and promptly going back to bed. Occasionally, he even works across the state from us. When our first daughter was a newborn, he was home one day a week for four months. In hindsight, I’m amazed we were able to make it through that season of our lives, but at the time, I sustained myself by continually repeating the above mantra: “take it ten minutes at a time.” When I felt like my loneliness and anxiety were going to break me as I sat on the couch with a squalling baby, I told myself to look no further into the future than ten minutes. If I tried to think about the fact that my husband wouldn’t be home for five or six more days, I would’ve been completely crushed by the weight of that thought. As hard as it may be, at your darkest times, only allow yourself to think ten minutes into the future.
3. “Sickness is a part of life.”
Maybe not everyone is as terrified about illness as I am, but I can only imagine how many times I’ve googled the incubation period for x disease, analyzing how the germs are spread and scrutinizing every person I come into contact with for symptoms (I never should’ve taken that epidemiology class in college). This fear is powerful by itself, but it’s only amplified when one becomes a parent, especially when your child can’t necessarily tell or describe their symptoms to you. However, you will never be able to fully shield your children from illness. Colds, stomach bugs, even the flu are all part of life. Yes, they are awful. Yes, you can protect yourselves to a certain extent. But you also can’t stop living your life six months out of the year because you’re scared of them catching something. Sickness, unfortunately, is a part of life.
4. “It is out of my hands.”
We live in uncertain times. From school shootings and terrorists, to car accidents and cancer, we are bombarded with bad news. I spent the first months of my daughter’s life petrified about SIDS, sleeping on the floor by her crib and attempting to set up complicated breathing monitors. One night I was tearfully texting my mom how I was terrified I would wake up one morning and she wouldn’t be breathing. “She is in a safe place, and you’re following all recommendations — the rest is out of your hands,” she replied. That became a phrase I said to myself every night as I leaned over her bed and watched her eyelashes flutter, her chest rising and falling. “I have done what I can; the rest is out of my hands.” This applies on a worldwide scale as well. When I am watching the news and feeling panicked over threats of war, my husband says, “How will your worrying cause world peace?” He is right: that, too, is out of my hands. You cannot stop things from happening by worrying about them.
5. “Be here.”
We may never be freed from our anxieties, parents or not. The best I can do is learn how to handle these thoughts and dismiss them. By indulging intrusive or anxious thoughts, I am losing out on precious time with my little ones. I could be sitting on my phone researching flu symptoms or using a notepad to write down a huge list of tasks I need to do, but if I let those things consume me, I will miss my toddler dancing to her favorite song on the radio, or my newborn smiling at me out of pure instinctual response to seeing my face. Remind yourself to be present, physically and mentally — sometimes, that in itself can be the greatest solution.
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Getty image by Aleksandr Ermolaev