This post comes from my podcast, Motivation For Moms episode 34, entitled "5 Hacks For Taking Control Of Your Anxiety" To listen to this podcast episode, click here. Be sure to subscribe on iTunes to get the latest show episodes, and please write a review, which is the ultimate gift to me.
Hey Mama. Anxiety is really common for moms. Anxiety can exist without us even being aware of it, it can totally debilitate us, and it can rob us of the chance to thrive, be fully present with our families, and live our very best life. You’ve probably heard various strategies for managing your anxiety, including my not-so-favorite piece of advice to just stop worrying, but today, I want to take a new spin on anxiety and frame it in a way that will hopefully leave you feeling like the BOSS of your anxiety. I’m bringing you 5 POWERFUL hacks for tackling your anxiety, to help you feel more empowered and capable of not just surviving motherhood, but thriving in motherhood and beyond.
Welcome back to this week’s episode of Motivation For Moms! Before we dive into talking about anxiety today, I wanted to give a shoutout to one of my lovely listeners, “cherie_et_amie” on Instagram who said,
“Hello, I am your huge fan from S. Korea! I have been listening to your podcast each multiple times. They are so helpful and motivating. Could you provide the scripts on your website? Sometimes I cannot understand 100% by just listening to it since my native language is not English. Thank you so much! I can’t even tell you how much I love your show.”
Cherie, I don’t know if that’s your first name or just your instagram name, but THANK you for connecting on Instagram, and thank you for being a fan of the show, and yes, the transcript at least for this episode is UP on my website so you can go on there and translate as needed, and eventually, I’ll get the transcripts for past episodes up to. Just a reminder that if you ever have a request for me, like Cherie requested that I update the transcripts of the podcast on my website, if you ever have a request for an episode about a topic that you’re needing to hear, let me know! You can send me a direct message on Instagram, or send me an email, to [email protected]. And if you would be willing to take 60 seconds and go write a review of this podcast on iTunes, I would LOVE to share it here on the show.
Today I’m talking about anxiety. We all experience anxiety from one degree to another, especially in regards to something happening to our kids, or anxiety about what other people think, or anxiety about finances, and sometimes, we feel anxious for what seems like from no particular reason. According to the Anxiety and Depression association of America, women are nearly twice as likely to experience anxiety than men, and anxiety can be related to our hormone fluctuations. When I was breastfeeding, I experienced a condition informally known as Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, or D-Mer, which can present as sudden and severe feelings of anxiety, dread, fear, and other negative or devastating emotions and physical symptoms such as nausea, just prior to having a letdown. There is very little research into this condition except for anecdotal evidence, which basically means the only evidence we have on the conditions based on what moms report, but as we look further into it, it seems it’s more common that we realize. I didn’t even realize that I had D-MER for the first several months of breastfeeding my first baby, until I began to realize that I was beginning to associate breastfeeding with these feelings of dread and nausea and severe anxiety, and then I began to look into it, and low and behold, this is actually a real thing. And I have been WAITING for a chance to bring this up in the podcast, because it’s such a severe condition that I think is more common than realized, and the medical community has absolutely no knowledge or research or even a proper diagnosis of this condition. At least not yet…we’ll get there. If you think you might also have D-MER or you’re just curious to know more about it, you can visit D-MER.org to learn more.
I suspect that it could be related to past trauma or a loss of connection with our own mother or caregiver in our early formative months and years. I absolutely cannot say for certain whether it is or isn’t, but I am very interested in how all of those things could play a role. My mom thinks I have it because when she breastfed me, she had a dissociative disorder as a result of her own life trauma, and she admits that she was not present and engaged with me, even when she breastfed me. But again, it’s really hard to say at this point what the cause is, and whether or not it is related to trauma, or dissociation, I think the most important thing, is becoming aware of what’s happening when you’re experiencing severe and debilitating emotions. And even if you don’t have D-MER, or even if you’re not currently breastfeeding, or have never breastfed, anxiety can be severe and debilitating, and deserves our attention, because as moms we want to live our best life.
A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a trauma workshop called Claim Your Power by Mastin Kipp. If you do not know who Mastin Kipp is, I highly recommend you look into him, at the very least go follow him on Instagram. This guy is absolutely amazing the way he explains how trauma manifests in our life, and how to gain control over our emotional states.
One thing I learned from this conference was that trauma is misunderstood. Many people claim that haven’t experienced any real trauma in their life, and they they still go on to experience anxiety and depression and other symptoms. It’s important to understand that we could have experienced trauma in any area of our life: relationship trauma, emotional trauma, physical trauma, abuse trauma, accident trauma, sexual trauma, social trauma, religious trauma, birthing trauma, parenting trauma, financial trauma, health trauma, the list goes on. All of us have experienced trauma in our life. Most of us have experienced several traumatic events or situations that we may have gotten through, but maybe we never processed or became integrated with.
My big takeway from this conference was based on the Polyvagal theory, and if you aren’t familiar with it, be sure to do some research on it. Basically, when we have anxiety, it’s actually just a survival mechanism that is meant to keep us alive and safe. When something traumatic happens to us, it causes either one of two responses, either fight or flight response, which originates in our sympathetic nervous system, and produces stress hormones and causes tension, and a heightened sense of awareness, or, if we know that there is no fight in us, that we cannot fight or flee from whatever is causing trauma, then we respond with our parasympathetic nervous system, which causes us to shutdown and dissociate. This is what happens when animals are caught and eaten by other animals. They instinctively know to cut off consciousness and pain receptors and dissociate from the experience, because, who wants to be conscious when they’re being eaten, right?
If we survive a traumatic experience, which all of us have, then we are left with either two body memories: either the fight or flight, or the shutdown/dissociative response, which basically means that our body remembers that thing that almost got us, and it’s going to do its job to make sure that that thing never gets us again. So we’re either going to be more susceptible to anxiety, or depression, or, we might bing-pong between both, and you never know what’s going to hit. Fun, right? Now this is a super boiled down explanation for the complex nervous system functions and responses, and I highly encourage you to hear it yourself from the pros, because I’ll be honest, there may be some things that I am just not explaining properly, because low and behold, I am not a psychology expert, but what I can point out in talking about anxiety specifically, is that anxiety is meant to keep us safe. It’s our built in response to danger to keep us alive. I don’t know about you, but thinking about anxiety as protection is something I had never really considered before, and so this new spin on anxiety that I promised in the beginning is that we can actually have a sense of gratitude for this life-saving response that we have to threats in our life.
But here’s the problem. As humans, and as powerful, intentional, go-getter mamas, we’re not just trying to survive, are we? We’re trying to thrive and live our best life! And in that case, our anxiety does not serve us the way that nature intended it to serve us. When something tiggers us, either within or outside of our awareness, we don’t always need that hyper-awareness of danger. We don’t always need to be reminded that something bad could happen. We certainly don’t need our anxiety interfering with our ability to enjoy our life, be present with our children, or making strides in our goals.
The good news is that not only can you manage your anxiety, but in learning about anxiety originates and manifests can help you, because, when you shine a light on something, and understand something scary and painful, it tends to not be so scary and painful, and, there are things you can do to calm your anxiety and restore peace again when you’re experiencing anxiety or even feeling a panic attack come on, and I’m sure you’re anxious to hear that, no pun intended. Without further adieu, here are my five powerful hacks for taking control of your anxiety, instead of letting it control you and your ability to thrive.
1) Understand your anxiety and be curious about it. I’ve already mentioned that when you shine a light on something, it tends be more manageable and less threatening. This means understanding where your anxiety is coming from. It means doing the work to uncover your hidden trauma, which could be in your therapists office, in your journal, or in workshops like the one I attended. The more you understand how the nervous system works, the more you are able to manipulate it to get the results you want. In this case, you want to feel calm and peaceful instead of feeling anxious. If you can’t attend Mastin Kipp’s Claim Your Power live workshop, I recommend his book, Claim Your Power, which you can get on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble. When I was pregnant, I started noticing that I was feeling really anxious and emotional whenever I would drop something. I talked to my mom about it and it turns out that I had gone through a very traumatic experience as a young child that I had completely forgotten about, and she suspected it might have been coming from that. When I was 5, I was sitting on a barstool and had dropped something, and then fell off of the barstool, and onto one of our baby kittens and killed it. Recalling this memory totally devastated me, but in working with a therapist I was able to properly process this and integrate the emotions around this traumatic experience. And guess what? My anxiety that I was getting whenever I dropped something slowly over time stopped happening. It wasn’t immediate, but every time it would happen, and I would notice like, like a scientist examines a specimen in a lab. You look at it when it’s happening and you go, “Hmm, isn’t that interesting. I’m having that feeling again” and when you become a witness to your own emotional and physical reactions, you no longer feel like a victim to your anxiety, you no longer identify with it, and it becomes less powerful.
2) Take inventory of your stress factors. You probably already know that stress, lack of sleep, alcohol, too much caffeine and other stimulants, not exercising, and not eating well or eating too much sugar can all affect how you feel and if you are struggling with your anxiety. And as moms, let’s be real, it can be really challenging to take care of ourselves in these areas. But take inventory of how each of these areas are for you lately and where you can improve. More than likely, there’s one area that’s totally been neglected lately, and I’d venture to bet that you already know what that area is. Holistic health means doing your best to be healthy and optimal in all areas of your life and health, and if just on thing is off, it can wreck havoc on your ability to thrive.
3) Get clear and aligned with your values and intentions. Because not having clarity and not being aligned with our intentions can result in us feeling insecure and anxious. This means having clarity about what our purpose is, what kind of mom we want to be, what kind of women we want to be, how we intend to spend our time, how we schedule our time, what things in our life are coming up that we want to prepare for, where our money is going, what our goals are for the next three months and in the next five years, what are values are, what are spiritual and religious beliefs are, and whether our habits and decisions, and the people in our life, and the things we spend our money on are all aligned with all of these things. I guarantee if you make it more of a priority to get honest and clear about these things, you’re going to experience a greater sense of peace, purpose, and feel less anxious about your life overall.
4) Meditate and exhale slowly. Another thing I learned in the Claim Your Power workshop was that our body has hidden dials that can either amp up our anxiety, or can help to calm it. One of these such dials is the Vagus nerve which runs from the brain to the gut. According to an article in Front Psychiatry, “The vagus nerve represents the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which oversees a vast array of crucial bodily functions, including control of mood, immune response, digestion, and heart rate. The stimulation of vagal afferent fibers in the gut influences monoaminergic brain systems in the brain stem that play crucial roles in major psychiatric conditions, such as mood and anxiety disorders. In line, there is preliminary evidence for gut bacteria to have beneficial effect on mood and anxiety, partly by affecting the activity of the vagus nerve. Since, the vagal tone is correlated with capacity to regulate stress responses and can be influenced by breathing, its increase through meditation and yoga likely contribute to resilience and the mitigation of mood and anxiety symptoms.” So let’s briefly break this down. What this is basically implying is that the vagus nerve is the communication line between the gut and the brain. So if you have ever wondered if the connection between the gut and the brain, or whether the gut feeling is a real thing, the answer is yes, there is a HUGE connection between the brain and the gut, and the vagus nerve is one such connection. So as it turns out, the cultures that have used meditation and breathing exercises for thousands of years may have known what they were doing, since as we find out, there’s scientific evidence on how deep breathing and meditation helps us calm down and ease anxiety. Basically, when we take in a deep breath in, and we slowly let it out, we put pressure on the vagus nerve that tells the brain to slow the heart rate and calm down. When you meditate, you get the same effect, as long as you’re being intentional with your breath. So how do you put this into action in your life to help you ease your anxiety. When you are feeling anxious, I want you to take a deep breath, hold it for three seconds, and very, very slowly let it out. Do that three times. Notice how you feel. And incorporate a meditation routine into your daily schedule. There is SO much evidence that shows that meditation, even just a few minutes each day, not just relieves anxiety, but prevents it. So make it a daily practice to meditate, even just for a few minutes each day, preferably in the morning and at night, when you have a quiet space, before your kids get up and after they’re in bed. Put some meditative music on or do a guided meditation.
If you want, you can go to my website www.saramuender.com to get a free guided meditation that I created for encouragement, anytime you’re feeling discouraged. Of course, there are other guided meditations you can find, but if you find my voice to be soothing, and you would like this encouraging meditation, you get the audio file delivered straight to your inbox so you can listen on the go or anytime you need it. Again, go to www.saramuender.com to request this free guided meditation I created for encouragement.
5) Stop drinking. The thing about alcohol is that if we tend to be anxious people, or if we are experiencing anxiety, we may feel drawn to alcohol or even crave alcohol, or even be addicted to alcohol, because it’s a depressant and it helps to calm the nervous system. At least, until wears off, and then, it actually makes your anxiety come back even worse. This is one of the reasons why I decided to completely end my relationship with alcohol, because its like pouring gasoline on the fire of your anxiety. I was skeptical about how I would be able to manage without it, but let me just say that my anxiety really did improve once I cut alcohol out of my life. It takes a little time to recalibrate and adjust, but you when you do break through that reliance on alcohol to help you relax and calm down, you will notice that eventually you do level out and your anxiety improves. I would love to encourage you to take a break from alcohol, at least for a while, give your body a break, and let yourself properly deal with your anxiety in a healthy way that’s going to give you a chance to heal whatever your anxiety is coming from and teach you healthy coping mechanisms that will allow you to live fully and thrive. I’d love for you to join my 5 day alcohol free challenge that begins Monday August 12 that I’m holding in a private popup Facebook group, if you are interested in joining, visit www.BreakthroughMoms.com to apply, I’m holding a limited number of spots for this challenge so go apply as soon as you can, remember, the challenge is completely free, it’s five days, and it’s a great opportunity where you can kind of test the waters and see not only if you can take a break from the mommy-wine life, but what you can accomplish and do for yourself in those 5 days. It may seem like no sweat off the back for most people to be able to go 5 days without alcohol, but for those of us who struggle with anxiety on a daily basis and rely on alcohol to help us get through the day, joining a challenge like this is a really powerful way to jumpstart a new lifestyle for yourself, one that involves healing past trauma, learning new coping skills, and establishing habits and routines that’s going to create a life really worth living, a life that’s full of joy, excitement, peace, relaxation, achievement, and emotional regulation. This is my reminder to you that it is possible to get unstuck from the same old cycles and habits, and that you can overcome your anxiety without alcohol, and actually, with a few simple changes in your life, you can start living fully, enjoy these precious years you have with your children, and not just survive, but truly thrive.
Thanks for listening today, thank you for investing in yourself, and thank you for not settling for second best in your life. Thank you for not just accepting the fact that you live with anxiety, but for taking control on the quality of your life and for setting the example for the next generation on how to not just survive, but how to thrive. By working on yourself, you’re helping to make the world a better place. Now go out there, take charge of your day, you beautiful, powerful, incredible mama.