Ten Ways to Calm an Anxious Mother

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our culture is full of messages that quietly undermine a mother’s confidence in her actions, abilities and presentation. This, and the stress of parenting, can lead to a state of constant worry. Consider these common messages:

 

Buy this bathroom cleaner or your home will be teeming with flu germs.

We charge a $50 fee to reschedule your child’s pediatric appointment on the same day.

Get Your Body Back Fast After Pregnancy

Breast is Always Best

Family Dinner Together Every Night Keeps Kids’ Grades Up

 

These types of advice and suggestions can escalate the intrinsic worry that many mothers already feel, independent of external pressures. On a physiological level, childbirth makes a woman experience brain changes which predispose her to anxiety. Suggesting more rules and responsibilities can increase what is already an uncomfortable storm of worry and self-doubt.

Have an anxious mother in your life? Here are some ideas to help her.

1. Offer your curiosity, not advice

When a mother tells you something bothers her, she is letting you inside of her head. Allowing herself to be vulnerable this way is a gift she is giving you — it means she trusts you enough to share something worrying her. She likely does not need more suggestions about how to fix the problem. What she would value from you is an understanding nod, a reassuring gesture — evidence that you are truly listening. Be curious about her concerns, ask her questions, instead of coming at the problem with a debate or a solution. Refrain from feeding her worry with more fear or criticism. New mothers, especially, can be sleep-deprived, which can make them fixate or have looping thoughts that look a lot like OCD symptoms. Try not to focus on the subject of her worry, but instead, validate the feelings and emotions around it. Fuel her curiosity — not her fears.

2. Help her innovate

Creativity is the antidote to frustration, fear and anger. Engaging her creative mind will help her find movement in areas where she may feel stuck. Everyone has a unique way to reach a creative state. Remind her what hers is. Is it tactile? Philosophical? Musical? Ask her how she gets to a state of happy concentration, and help remove obstacles to her getting there. Does she write, sing, garden, paint? Or puzzle out ideas in conversation? Encourage her creative outlets. Helping her reach a creative state will allow her a break from worry and anxiety.

3.  Take on a task

From a practical standpoint, taking on a task gives her the gift of time. Can you fold laundry, clean the inside windows of her car, help organize her task list? Small gestures like this can greatly help calm her and provide a welcome few minutes for her to reflect and gain a neuroreflective pause.

4. Ask her opinion

Motherhood can feel lonely and detached from a lot of the community of adult life. Often, years of education and life experience gained before having children go untapped when a woman becomes a mother. Validating this part of her by simply asking her opinion about her areas of expertise allows her to re-engage the intellectual strengths she worked hard to hone, but which are often underused in the early parenting years.

5. Remind her of her power

Trusted friends serve as a memory bank for those who are overwhelmed. Sometimes pointing out that she has shown strength in small ways is helpful for her to hear. Did she remember your birthday, or say something that helped you? Remind her of these actions  — she may not realize the difference she’s made in others’ lives.

6. Laugh with her

It goes without saying that laughing changes a state of mind like nothing else.  A good, hard belly laugh is a vacation from the worry.

7. Exercise with her

Exercise is a well-known way to increase endorphins. Take a walk with her, attend a dance class together, or watch her children while she exercises. Give her the relief of a sustained heart rate and muscle fatigue, and afterwards, the glow of achievement.

8. Distract her without fueling her fears

Distraction can look like having an interesting conversation, watching a movie, or suggesting a podcast she might like. However, indulging her fears in this way can backfire, so choose topics and activities that are more focused on the things that give her joy as opposed to fueling her worry.

9. Model healthy boundaries

Healthy boundaries are habits that encourage positive outcomes with things that can be destructive or emotionally challenging. Generally this refers to relationships with people, but it can also include relationships with substances, behaviors, or entities that feel darkly powerful in life. Drawing clear limits with things that take energy away as opposed to give energy back, is an important part of wellbeing. When you are a role model for this type of behavior, others learn from you. Are you prone to indulging in something, but know how to rein yourself in and not have it control you? That is an important skill you can role model for others.

10. Give her sleep

Perhaps most importantly, giving a mother the chance to sleep helps her mental health more than anything else. Many anxious mothers simply do not get enough sleep, and a full night of uninterrupted sleep is a luxury she can hardly fathom. Offer to watch her children while she naps. Be aware that sometimes mothers with infants worry less when their infant is beside them. The gift of sleep will give her back her brain, and allow her to access the parts of herself — concentration, focus, and presence, that are enjoyable states of mind.

If the anxious mother in your life continues to struggle emotionally, encourage her to seek care from her doctor and a licensed mental health therapist trained in maternal mental health. Excellent treatment options are available. 

Reassure her she does not need to suffer. 

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