A few months ago, I wrote “The Ugly Side of Motherhood: Anxiety, Loneliness, and Exhaustion,” and I am finally ready to tackle Part 2. In my first article, I wrote about how I was trying to find ways to focus on my own self-care to help manage my anxiety. In a world where my son and I are literally together 24/7, I needed to find time away and get him sleeping better. I’m a single mom, and we share a bedroom, so I shared my goal of sleep training him for naps and talked about taking up my friends’ offers of help and starting to see a therapist again. Four months later, here’s my update.
If there is one thing I’ve learned since my son arrive, it’s that things are constantly changing. Sleep training for naps did not happen. What did happen was that my son had a major sleep regression. He went from sleeping in his crib – going down drowsy but still waking up one to three times a night at eighteen months old – to refusing bedtime. Refusing! I’m talking about hours of standing up, screaming in bed. I held my ground at first, but after a week I was beyond mom zombie status. So, I caved to the constantly changing toddler life and started letting my son sleep in my bed. Yes, my bed. He was always going to end up there anyway because we share a room, so I already had a rail and blanket set up for him.
You will never guess what happened; he started sleeping THROUGH THE NIGHT! I was worried about creating bad sleep habits by bringing him into bed with me so soon, but I was also desperate for sleep. He is sleeping better, which means I am sleeping better, too. It took a compromise with him, but I am happy to share my bed, as long as we both continue to get better rest. We are both much happier now than when we were waking up one to three times a night. A good night’s rest makes facing the tough parts of motherhood so much easier, and being willing to compromise and change my plans made it possible!
Regarding self care, I have continued to work on my anxiety issues and have the help of a truly amazing therapist. By asking for help, I’ve learned some techniques to help with anxiety or the onset of an anxiety attack using the Grounding Method. Grounding is “a technique that helps keep someone in the present. They help reorient a person to the here-and-now and in reality. Grounding skills can be helpful in managing overhelming feelings or intense anxiety. They help someone to regain their mental focus from an often intensely emotional state.” For me, this means using my five senses one at a time to re-orient myself, like a reset, of sorts.
I touch something soft, like a pillow, and hold it close. Music has always been healing for me, so I have a playlist set for times I am feeling a lot of anxiety or stress. Lavender is a very calming scent, and I use a spritz on my pillow whenever I need a reminder to be present. I tend to hold my breath when anxiety peaks, so I stay aware of my breathing and make sure I use my diaphragm properly. And when my anxiety is creeping up on me, I often get very warm, so a cold glass of water helps. Even something as simple as opening my eyes and looking outside is a way to use my sense of sight to help ground me.
Finding ways to use the grounding method takes some trial and error, so don’t give up, if, for example, lavender doesn’t help (coconut is my other go to scent). Keep trying. I sort of had to do research on myself, which sounds strange, to make a list of what I thought might help me.
Women often do not discuss postpartum anxiety, but I would encourage you to talk about it with your mom friends. Some women experience it more than others, but you are not alone in however you are feeling. There are healthcare professionals and medications to help manage it, so that you can be your best self for your child.
So, be flexible and remember that each child is different and has different needs and challenges. We can all learn so much from one another. Be kind to yourselves, mamas. Motherhood is the hardest job. Don’t forget to take time for yourself every now and then. We all deserve a reset.