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anxiety anger

Anxiety Can Make You Angry

It happens to those of us with anxiety all the time. The little things that are part of our everyday environment set us over the edge. That feeling of not being able to see straight, or “seeing red” as it is sometimes referred to, can be triggered by the most innocent of things. A compounding of the day’s responsibilities, a slight unraveling of the day’s schedule, the inability to get something done, an interruption at a busy time, it can be like the flip of a switch. 

Anxiety can make you angry. 

The other day a friend shared a personal story with me, and with her permission allowed me to share it as an example of this very thing. This friend, a mother of two young children, had woken up at 5 a.m. (as she does every day) to complete her mounting to-do list. She wanted to get in her workout, fold the laundry, shower, wash the dishes, send a couple of emails, get the kids fed, etc. all before getting the kids off to baseball practice. The list was set. It seemed manageable. All was well. That is until the dog ate the kids’ breakfast, the mom ran out of shampoo, the kids got into an argument, the dishwasher was full, and all of a sudden the mom was running out of time. Those feelings of being overwhelmed crept up on her, then her child asked her if they could go to the park after baseball…and she lost it. 

It seems so simple. So innocent. Yet those moments of anger are a frequent part of living with someone with anxiety. It is not that the mom wanted to be angry with her child for asking about going to the park, it is just that it felt like one more thing added to a mounting to-do list. Could that laundry wait? Those dishes wait? Yes. But, with anxiety, it can be hard to think in those logical terms (even for the most logical of people). It is not that we want to be an angry person. We want to be a place of solitude for those we love. We want to be a safe landing zone, not something to be feared. Anxiety makes that difficult. 

After that moment went down, her kids looked at her in fear and she felt awful. She was full of guilt, overcome with emotion and started on her usual string of apologies. She didn’t mean to lash out, yes she would take them to the park. And, her kids, used to the drill, gave her grace. They forgave. They hugged her. They told her they loved her. She asked if they were ok. 

This is one of the ugly sides of anxiety. It is hard. Acknowledging these issues, getting help from a licensed professional, learning coping mechanisms, stepping away from the situation, all of these are positive steps in the right direction. Nobody wants to be an angry person. We all want to be calm and level-headed. If you are an anxiety sufferer, allow yourself some grace. Try to say “yes” more often. Give yourself breaks. Apologize to those you love. Talk to them, explain to them why you may have reacted the way you did. Teach them the beauty of forgiveness.

Relating to our previous post on how managing your anxiety, especially as a parent, is important so that you don’t pass it on to your children, taking the difficult step to acknowledge your anger as a symptom of your anxiety is also crucial.

How Do You Calm Down (Fast!)

Those feelings of anger or anxiety are creeping up on you. You are “seeing red.” You feel like you are going to explode. What do you do? How can you calm yourself down fast and effectively?

  1. Count to 10 – Sometimes the secret is simply changing your focus. Counting to 10 does that. If you are actively focusing on counting, counting slowly, then you can disengage from whatever is getting you all hot and bothered. Then when you are ready you can reassess and think more clearly. 
  2. Smell Something Nice – You might think I am joking but there is a lot of research around essential oils and soothing scents, like lavender or jasmine. Consider carrying a scent in your bag or wearing a scented bracelet and turn to it in moments of stress.
  3. Touch – Touch can be a calming thing. You can always turn to a significant other, a friend, or a child and ask for a hug, or rub up against a pet. Or, if that is not available, or not desirable, then turn to yourself. Rub your hands together for a few seconds. You will be surprised how calming it can be. 
  4. Move – Movement is a powerful thing. Getting your heart rate up for a few minutes is healthy. Getting out of situations by taking a walk, or walking up and down the stairs, releases stress. It allows you to burn off steam, regain calm, and refocus. 
  5. Breathe – Focus on your breath. Take a few minutes, close your eyes, breathe in and breathe out. Focus on the inhale, getting it as deep as you can, and focus on your exhale, getting it all out. Let it go. 
  6. Write It Down – Sometimes it just helps to get it all on paper. It helps to organize your thoughts and put things into perspective.
  7. Guided Meditation – There are so many apps and YouTube videos with guided meditation. They are at your fingertips. Find five minutes and use them. 
  8. Practice Mindfulness – Sometimes it is as simple as taking a moment to look around. What is really happening in the moment? 

Calming down can be extremely difficult when we are overwhelmed, but give yourself some compassion. You are human. You are entitled to your feelings. You are strong. You will get through. It is all going to be ok. 

Help yourself and your kids by managing anxiety

Anxiety is a very real thing that many of us face. It can be so easy to get overcome with emotions, feel overwhelmed by the day’s events, and get frustrated. Next thing you know you are lashing out at your children. Yelling at them for things that aren’t really their fault. We have all done it. But for those with anxiety, these occurrences can get more and more frequent, passing on your anxiety to your children. 

If this sounds like you, first of all — take a breath. You are not alone. There are healthy ways to deal with your anxiety so that you aren’t passing it on to your children.

Healthy Coping

Here are some things to get you started:

1.) Take notice — Before you can make any changes you have to recognize where changes need to be made. Pay attention to the way you are reacting to things. How are you speaking to your kids? What do their faces look like when you talk to them this way? How are you feeling internally? What led up to this instance? Recognize it, so you can alter your behavior. 

2.)Take a break — When you realize you are feeling overwhelmed, stop what you are doing. Take a moment to look around and examine what you are doing, what is making you feel overwhelmed? Remind yourself of your reality. Bring yourself back to earth. If it is an ongoing thing, then take the time for yourself to get done what you need so that you can regain calm. 

3.) Alter Your Schedule — If you are seeing a pattern of anxious feelings, maybe it’s during deadline week at work or maybe it is during a certain time of the day, then make the necessary changes in order to feel relaxed. Get up a few hours early to get things done. Go to bed earlier. Plan ahead of time. Whatever works best for you in order to feel like you are in control of your time. 

4.) Learn Stress Management — Healthy stress management is not always known. Instead, we tend to turn to things like alcohol or eating which can increase our anxious feelings. Instead try breathing techniques, meditation, exercise, reducing your workload, etc. 

A licensed professional can help you to recognize and conquer these anxious feelings so that you are not passing them on to your children. Your children are hyperaware. They turn to you for guidance. Be a good example. Learn healthy coping mechanisms. 

Ask Mabel: I feel bad about the thoughts I have regarding my children because of my postpartum psychosis

Dear Mabel,

I have decided that I need to see a therapist about my postpartum psychosis. I have been having bad thoughts about my babies. I would never hurt them but it makes me feel like a horrible mom for having these thoughts. I know therapy is a step in the right direction but is there also a medication that could help? I don’t know what to do but I know something needs to change. 

Sincerely, Erica from Missouri

The Courage To Speak Out

Mabel: Hi Erica, I commend you for your courage to speak out. I know that many moms who suffer from postpartum psychosis feel so horrible about their thoughts that they are embarrassed to address them. But, starting the conversation with a licensed therapist can help you heal and move forward in a positive direction. 

Postpartum psychosis is caused by the hormone fluctuations that occur during and after the birth of a child. These hormone changes can be major and they mess with the chemical makeup of our brains. In addition to negative thoughts, these changes can cause depression, severe confusion, loss of inhibition, paranoia, hallucinations, mania, and delusions. They usually start to occur in the first two weeks after childbirth. These things you are experiencing have a lot more to do with biology than your morale as a person. 

You are NOT a bad mom. The fact that you feel like a horrible mom means that you are exactly the opposite. You are a good person and a good mom for wanting to get help and make changes so that you don’t have these thoughts. 

I am proud of you for seeking help. There are medications that you are welcome to discuss with a health professional. Therapy will also benefit you and help you to heal.  

How to combat parental anxiety

Of course, you are going to worry if you are a parent. You are, after all, wearing your heart outside your body. Your kids are your world and it terrifies you that something could happen to them. But, what if you are one of those parents who is constantly terrified to the point where it is hard to function in daily life?

Are you faced with overwhelming anxiety about your kids playing outside because they might get hurt, they might get abducted, or hit by a car? These are all valid worries but when they are all consuming they can get in the way of letting your kid be a kid. They can make it hard for you to sleep and function as a parent. And, that anxiety can rub off on your kids. So — what do you do? How can you combat parental anxiety?

Tips to ease parental worry

1.) Do your research. Yes, many times as parents we are told to stay away from the internet because it always points the worse, and yes that can be true. But, the internet can also be a resource. Of the 800,000 missing children, only 115 of them were taken by strangers (Psychology Today). What really are the risks? How likely is it that your child is going to be abducted from the front yard? How bad would it be if he/she/they broke their arm climbing a tree? Is it really the end of the world if they miss a night of sleep? Confront your fears as realistically as possible. 

2.) Teach your kids. If you talk to your kids and teach them the things they should be careful of then you have less to worry about. Teach them to not talk to strangers. Teach them to wait at the corner and look both ways before crossing the road. Teach them to stay on the sidewalk. Teach them to stay close to you, to be aware of their surroundings, to not give up personal information unless they know they have found someone safe (like a police officer or a doctor). Talk to them about their worries, their concerns. 

3.)Practice mindfulness and meditation when you are anxious. Take a moment with your child to listen to the sounds around you, count as you breathe in and out, and take in the small moments. Appreciate all the energy and the innocence and the beauty your kids bring to your life. 

4.) Take care to make things as safe as possible. If you have a pool, make sure it has a fence and make sure your kids know the pool rules. Make sure your kids know your phone number, secret words (in case someone else has to pick them up from school), address, etc. 

5.) Create a list. What are the pros and cons of parenting your child over-protectively? What do you want for them? What do you want to avoid? When you take some time to really think about it, it will help to put things into perspective. 

6.) Get help. If you can’t seem to work through your fears and anxieties, seek help from a licensed mental health professional. They can help teach healthy coping techniques and provide suggestions on how to move through anxiety rather than having it cause a roadblock. 

It is ok to worry. It is ok to be overprotective. But you don’t want it to interfere with yours or your child’s day-to-day life. It is impossible, sadly enough, to put your kids into a bubble and keep them safe all the time. They have to learn some of these things on their own and you can help to be their guide. 

Are we forgetting about mothers?

I don’t pose that question lightly. It is a topic worthy of our thought, our discussion. It is a reality that demands to be paid attention to. 

We rush to the hospital to give birth to our precious babies who quickly become the center of our worlds. They are carefully looked over and checked up on with appointment after appointment. All the weight checks, the shots, the checking to make sure their hearts sound well, their joints are developing correctly, it goes on and on..and for good reason. These are our babies and they are small and tiny, and oh so new to this world. We should be paying attention to their health and their development but what about moms? 

Moms are sent home from the hospital after just going through a major life transformation with some guidelines, maybe a painkiller or two, and in many cases a few stitches. They aren’t followed up with. They are supposed to figure it out. It is their God-given ability to be a mother, so they should just know how to do it, right? Society expects that mom will seamlessly adjust. She will adjust to this new normal with little help. Yea, it won’t be easy but she will get through. The only follow-up she has to look forward to is six-to-eight weeks postpartum when in many cases her incisions are looked over and she is sent on her way. 

There is no depression screening, no required well check, no one helping mom adjust. Mothers need to be ok too. After all, happy mothers raise happy children. It is hard to care for anyone if you don’t first care for yourself. Let’s check in with our mothers. Ask if they are ok. Make sure they are ok. Let’s listen to our mothers, hear their cries for help and honor their need for support even when they themselves might not realize how much they need it. It takes a village to raise a child, that is for sure. We can’t expect a mother just because she has a uterus to suddenly be thrown into a whole new world like nothing ever happened. It is a shock to the system. She deserves support and she needs it. 

The loneliness of being a perfectionist

It is hard to be perfect. In fact, it is impossible for everything we do to turn out exactly the way we want it to. It is impossible for everything to be perfect, leading to an immense and overwhelming sense of pressure for a perfectionist.

Being a perfectionist means always striving to be the best at everything. To be on the top, at the pinnacle, and it is a very lonely place to be. There are many different kinds and combinations of perfectionists with two of the big ones being: overt and covert. 

Overt vs. Covert

The overt perfectionist has a strong want for order around them at all times. They have anxiety when things get chaotic and tend to want to always be “right.” The overt perfectionist fears failure and therefore won’t try things they might not be good at. They want to do everything they can to not lose control and believe abilities are pre-determined and not able to be developed. (SOURCE: huffingtonpost.com; Smith, A.W. (2013). Overcoming Perfectionism. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.)

The covert perfectionist often hides their perfection actions and thoughts. They have low expectations of those around them and act as if they want to be average or carefree but secretly want to the be the best. The covert perfectionist may choose to underachieve to avoid the pressure or competition with those that might be better at something. (Smith, 2013)

Regardless if you are a covert, overt, or a combination of both, the inner struggle of a perfectionist can be overwhelming. And, it is made even more difficult by the fact that those around us often find it hard to relate. Our peers have difficulty empathizing and understanding the frustration, the NEED to be the best. 

The perfectionist is often told to “get over it,” “no one is perfect,” “try harder next time,” or “it is not a big deal.” The result often leads to more mental stress, to depression, anxiety, and difficulty maintaining relationships. Our society views perfectionism as a positive quality. It leads to success in business and life, but there is a happy medium. There has to be a way to try hard, to work hard, but to also accept and let go when things don’t go as planned. When we study and study and study for the test and there are questions we still are not ready for, we need to accept we tried our very best and maybe next time we will take a different approach. 

If you are one of those people who consistently struggle with the urge to be perfect and to be on top, then it can be helpful to receive help from a mental health professional. Talk to someone who can not only understand why you feel the way you do but to help you with skills to curb these feelings and help you to live a healthier, happier life. Frequently clients also find it helpful to be in support groups, to find people who do know how to empathize with your feelings, to help you know you are not alone. 

Finding YOU after pregnancy

You went through the whole nine (really 10) months of pregnancy and were excited, scared, anxious, elated about the new little human entering your life. Now the baby is here and you are consumed with sleepless nights, overwhelming days, and a profound loss of who you once were.

Having a child is a major life change—we all know this—but what can be shocking is that feeling that you don’t recognize yourself. You don’t know who you are anymore. It is important that you reconnect with your old self, embrace your new normal, and not lose sight of what is meaningful to you. Yes, of course, that new bundle of joy is your world and he/she is at the top of the list all day every day but you also need to care for yourself. By failing to take time for you—even if it is a short coffee outing with a friend or a solo trip to the gym—you are hurting yourself. If you don’t take care of you, it is a lot harder to take care of the others in your life.

It is common for moms to feel like that is all they are— “I am a mom, but what
else?” It is the new mom identity crisis and it can be rough. So what can you do to reconnect with yourself after pregnancy?

Reconnecting with YOU

1.) Connect with friends in new ways—Instead of late nights at bars or concerts,
meet your friends for book clubs, coffee dates, or playdates at the park. You need
to continue to have adult conversations and adult time, and support from others
who understand your challenges.

2.) Embrace a hobby—Maybe it is going for a run, hiking, knitting, painting, or writing…whatever it is that makes you feel alive and gives you a sense of accomplishment make time for it. It can be daunting to think about adding another thing to your list, but this stuff is important for you, your happiness, and the happiness of your family.

3.) Don’t compare— You are your own person. It does you no good to compare yourself to others. The mom guilt is there, we all have it but it is not necessary. You need to care for yourself, and you should not feel guilty that you are doing something for you rather than staring at your sleeping child for hours on end. It just hurts your soul.

4.) Ask for help — Don’t be afraid to ask a grandparent or a friend, or hire a part-time babysitter so you aren’t doing it all, all the time. If you are feeling like you could really use an hour away then take it. Losing your cool and your sanity isn’t going to be helpful for you or baby.

5.) Take care of you—Find time for that shower, or to get that haircut. Take naps when you are tired. Forget about the laundry, it will get done eventually. Take a deep breath. You will get through.

If you are struggling with feelings of being overwhelmed, depressed, sad, alone, or you just feel like you could use someone to talk to seek out a qualified counselor. And, know you will find yourself again.

Anxiety as a mom: Turns out, its part of evolution

I have always struggled with a small degree of anxiety, but I was not prepared for what happened after I had kids. Now my anxiety is full blown. I worry a lot, nit-pick at my spouse for not doing the dishes fast enough or right (aka the way I would have done them). I have feelings of my heart racing and my head overflowing with worry all too often, but why? Why is my anxiety so much worse as a mom than it was before?

It turns out a lot of it has to do with the brain, and the love hormone: oxytocin. 

Oxytocin first surges during pregnancy and continues to surge to promote bonding after the child has arrived, according to researchers. The hormone increases with a simple look from a mom to a child, a snuggle, or tears from a “boo-boo.” And moms aren’t alone, researchers have found similar changes in the brains of dads who provide a lot of caregiving (source: theatlantic.com). 

The Oxytocin Effect

The same hormone that creates those feelings of unconditional love, strengthens bad memories. Research by Northwestern University suggests oxytocin could be the reason why events that cause emotional pain, such as being bullied at school or tormented by a boss, can have effects that linger long after the event is over and can trigger anxiety in the future. The hormone has been shown to strengthen the social memory of the brain.

Researchers found when a negative or stressful social experience takes place, the hormone activates the part of the brain that intensifies the memory. Oxytocin also increased feelings of being fearful and anxious during stressful events occurring long after the original event. 

So, yes the same hormone that is increasing feelings of love and making you drool over your child. The same one that makes you want to pick up and cuddle your child—even when they are keeping you up all night, or getting snot all over your shoulder —is the same one that is increasing fear and worry of bad things happening. Is it really the worst thing if the dishes aren’t done the way you want them? 

The good news is now that we know about the double-edged sword of oxytocin, we can use the power of other parts of our brain to reign it in. To stop and assess the situation before immediately getting to high-anxiety level. To be mindful. While you are in the midst of imagining the worst that could possibly happen to your child, your child is playing quietly next to you. Rather than sending yourself into a tizzy, stop, breathe, and talk to yourself about what is happening at the moment, right here, right now. Find out if there is immediate evidence that makes you feel this way, if there is no evidence and you still feel overwhelmed by anxiety then it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional. Call a qualified counselor, such as the Women’s Therapy Institute, where we can help.

Are you having a pigeon day or a statue day?

Sitting in a restaurant one day with my five-year-old, I noticed a sign that said: “some days you are the pigeon and some days you are a statue.” I had a little giggle about it and thought this might be a fun way to teach my children about the ups and downs of life. 

The truth is some days you will be the pigeon, going about your business and living a carefree existence, and other days you will be the statue getting pooped on by the pigeon—metaphorically, of course (unless it is really one of “those days”). So now when they are having a tough day, I ask my children in a humorous tone “are you having a pigeon day or a statue day?” It helps my children to identify the ups and downs of their life, talk about it, laugh about it, let it go, and understand that life is not all good all the time. 

All in the way we think about it

Life is not easy, we all know this, but we have control over the way we process life’s ups and downs. It is all in the way we think about it. Some days don’t go as planned—you overslept, the hot water in the shower was used up, your toast was burnt, you were late to work, it can go on and on and on… and these moments have the ability, if you let them, to disrupt the rest of your day and rub off on the people around you. Rather than sulk about how much your life sucks, at that point in time, laugh it off. Except that today you are the statue, and maybe tomorrow you will be the pigeon. 

Let it go, take a deep breath, and look for the positive in the situation. Maybe you missed some early morning drama at work because you were late, maybe you had a couple extra minutes to spend with your kids, maybe you treated yourself to a special coffee or a chocolate bar, or maybe you just need to accept that tomorrow is a new day. 

The way we react to the ups and downs of our days can teach our children a lot. It is important that we set good examples and help them process their feelings. Maybe they forgot their gym shoes or didn’t get the seat they wanted on the bus, or the cafeteria ran out of pizza before it was their turn —teach your kids to reassess, to look for the positive, to understand they will have pigeon days and they will have statue days. Little moments don’t need to lead to a pile-up of unhealthy emotions, they need to be let go.