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Why You Shouldn't Judge Me for Being on My Phone When I'm With My Son

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Yesterday was a bad day for my anxiety. It hit out of nowhere. There was no warning, there was no explanation for it. Usually I can tell when I am going to have an anxious day by certain guideposts: a fight with a friend, an unexpected or drastic change that had no warning, when I hit the submit button on an article. The anxiety I feel after those events makes sense, and is basically expected and accepted after learning to live with my anxiety for this long. Yesterday, however, it hit out of nowhere.

The weather was beautiful with a picture-perfect sky. My husband, son and I had a wonderful start to the day by snuggling up and watching a movie. I was not overly exhausted, which has essentially been my permanent state of how I function since I became a mother, which was a massive bonus.

We decided to run a few errands and bam, right there in the middle of the toy store, I found my mind and heart racing. Next to the adorable baby clothes and cute toys, I could barely focus as my husband, son and I looked around for a new board game for us to play.

When the anxiety hits hard and heavy like that, I walk myself through stages that work for me to help overcome the feeling of anxiety, as I imagine other people have tools that work for them.

My first step is to try to distract myself and essentially reroute my thoughts. I look around and start naming everything I can see. For example, as I sit in my room writing, I would stop and think, Night stand. Light. Television. Dresser. Clothes. Hanger. Blanket. Pillow. Fan. You get the gist. While we wandered the aisles, I continued to list every item that I saw. My distraction technique failed this time, and I continued to wander the aisles with my heart pounding — all the while smiling and helping my son pick out a toy.

Next step I use to curtail my anxiety is to write. Anyone familiar with me or my prior pieces, knows that I use writing as a way to escape. I couldn’t control my surroundings, I couldn’t control the anxiety elephant that was sitting on my chest. But I could control the protagonist of my book. I could give her the strength and courage that I so desperately needed in that moment. She had the chance to soar while I felt like I was floundering.

Maneuvering through a busy store while trying to focus on writing proved to be quite difficult though. Plus, I felt like everyone was giving me dirty looks, like I was ignoring my son to play on my phone. They had no idea I was using it as a way to stave off a full-blown panic attack or that my thumbs furiously moving over a screen wasn’t the result of me looking at social media, but rather me trying to get my breathing regulated.

That too, failed. It was the first time in as long as I can remember that it did not help calm my heartbeat that was flitting with as much intensity as a hummingbird’s wings. Where usually I find myself with the ability to get lost in hours of writing, I could barely formulate a sentence.

My last attempt to quell my tell-tale heart was music. I always carry a pair of earbuds with me for occasions such as this. I put in one ear bud and let the other hang so I could keep tabs on my surroundings and interact with my family. I put on the same artist that I always do: Matt Nathanson. I have been listening to his music for over a decade now. His songs helped me through college, bad breakups and high points in my life. I know the lyrics to his songs so well it’s like saying rosary. I repeat the soothing lyrics over and over again, hoping that the familiarity eases my soul. It is akin to having homemade chicken noodle soup brought to you when you are sick. There is a comfort to his music that goes deeper than just melodies and harmony. It hits me to my core and I am forever grateful for all of the times his music has pulled me out of a slump.

While I have other ways to try to divert the negative energy, I tend to use those three techniques the most frequently as their success rate is high for me. They might have not worked as well as they usually do on that day, but I was eventually able to breathe in and out deeply after a while.

I am sure that I am judged by people as they pass and see me with my eyes glued to my phone. There are always those open letters that encourage parents to put down their phone and interact with their child, spend time focusing on your child and less time focusing on a phone. What some people fail to realize is that the phone I am gripping is making me a better parent simply by using it as a tool to bring comfort when my chest constricts and I feel like I cannot breathe. It is my modern day equivalent to a stress ball and I refuse to apologize for something that helps me be the best parent I can be when I’m feeling anxious.

I understand that anxiety, panic attacks and depression hit every person differently. I would love input from others as to what tips and tricks they use to help settle their souls when they find themselves in situations similar to mine. I am also hopeful that this article will give readers new things to try when they are struck by anxiety and feeling consumed by the quicksand thoughts that make them sink deeper and deeper the harder they fight against them. So this is me, Shya Gibbons, extending a hand to help pull you out of that quicksand and to let you know that you are not alone in this.

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Unsplash photo via Rawpixel

Originally published: October 18, 2017
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