I’ve always been a person with anxious leanings. It’s kind of my M.O.
When I was a kid I would stress myself into a frenzy over school projects and grades and friend drama. When I was dating my husband I would worry that he had crashed on the drive home if he didn’t call me immediately. My mind just naturally has always seemed to come up with the worst case scenario or obsess over life’s tiniest minutiae.
When I became a mom it got worse. Suddenly everything seemed to make me anxious. My thoughts were basically an endless loop of, “The baby didn’t eat enough. Or maybe the baby ate too much. Why isn’t he sleeping? Maybe there’s something wrong with him…he must be trying to tell me something! Why is he sleeping so long? He usually wakes up by now. Is he still breathing? I should probably check his breathing…”
With each child my anxiety increased. When I had my first baby it was manageable, with the second it increased and when baby #3 joined our family, the change was exponential. A pile of toys left on the floor was enough to dissolve me into a heap of tears. It all felt incredibly overwhelming.
I went to a therapist for a while and was given some good tools that helped a bit, but I still felt stuck. I had honestly just gotten used to the idea that this was just me and my new normal and I needed to learn how to acclimate…learn how to be less stressed and grumpy and snappy at my husband and kids on my own. Somehow. It felt impossible, until recently when I made one simple change in my life that had a dramatic affect on my anxiety.
With an 8-month-old baby and stubborn baby fat still hanging on, I decided it was time to change my diet and start exercising. I am no stranger to dieting, but instead of some “quick fix” diet, I decided this time to try an overhaul of my lifestyle. In the past I would cut out entire food groups like dairy or gluten and be miserable for a specified amount of time in exchange for weight loss. Afterward, I would binge on all the junk and go back to my regular eating habits. This time though, the change has been slow and gradual.
I’ve been eating more intuitively and with the intent of fueling my body. Eating less of the foods that make me feels sluggish and bloated (for me that means less dairy, gluten and sugar) and more of the foods that make me feel strong and healthy (i.e. proteins like lean meats and beans, vegetables and fruit, etc.). And if I really want an ice cream cone? Well, I have it without regret. I’m losing weight slowly, but more than that I feel better. I feel less tired and foggy and I can already tell that this feels different. Like a journey toward health and not just another crash diet.
In addition to making diet changes, I also joined a gym. Initially, my motivation was to go use the treadmill so I could have a guilt-free excuse to watch trashy TV and get out of the house. I’ve always loathed working out, viewing it as a necessary evil, but it’s recently become so much more. I legitimately crave having that time in my day to sweat and get my endorphins flowing. If I go a day without working out, I don’t feel guilty, but I do miss it. I miss having that time to myself to watch my guilty-pleasure shows and listen to non-kid music and getting my heart pumping. It’s turning into a beloved part of my daily ritual.
While these changes weren’t earth-shattering, they have dramatically changed my moods. I knew I felt good, but I didn’t really think about my anxiety, until one evening my husband mentioned it. He said I seemed much happier and less anxious recently and I agreed. At first, I couldn’t really figure out why, until I remembered my small lifestyle changes and realized that maybe they were a lot bigger than I’d realized. I knew that diet and exercise could affect mood, but I had never experienced it myself in such a dramatic way. My anxiety is the most in-check it has been in years and it’s because I finally took the time I needed for myself — even it was for something so incredibly basic.
This entire experience has been eye-opening and has affirmed just how important self-care is. As moms we have a lot of balls to juggle and it can be easy to let self-care slide, but we truly are the best moms for our kids when we take the time to care for ourselves. Nourishing our bodies and our spirits is so important and really make all the difference.
Is there anything you’ve demoted from your priority list when it comes to self-care? Perhaps it’s painting, or going to happy hour with friends, or wearing real pants? Maybe it’s eating healthy foods and exercising. Whatever that thing is for you, know that you are not selfish for making time for yourself.