Longterm Solutions For Anxiety
Does being a mom make you feel burnt out? Between full-time jobs and shuttling kids to extracurriculars, maintaining a home and trying to have a social life, many moms these days are suffering from what Dr. Sheila Ziegler calls "Mommy burnout", basically a long term heightened state of anxiety. In her book of the same name, she talks about how chronic stress affects the hippocampus, leading to memory problems, difficulty learning new things, and poor stress control. Moms with burnout are more prone to anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. There are ways to solve this though, and not just in the long term
Challenging Cognitive Distortions
The first step in tackling your anxiety long term is to identify your own cognitive distortions. A cognitive distortion is a thought that relies on flawed logic to come to a problematic conclusion. Common types of cognitive distortions are:
All or nothing thinking (only complete failure or success is a possibility)
Overgeneralization (“always” or “never”)
Mental filtering (having a negative focus)
Discounting the positives
Catastrophic thinking (“horrible”, “unbearable”, worst-case scenario assumptions)
Fortune-telling and mind-reading
“What If” thinking
Discounting your coping skills
In order to put these thoughts behind us, we have to challenge them. Try to:
Examine the evidence
Use anti-catastrophic thinking (assume the best!)
Double standard (what would you say to a friend in your situation?)
Anxiety Trigger Hierarchy
Once you've figured out your problematic thinking and brainstormed some challenges to it, the next step to take is to list the different cognitive distortions giving you trouble. Then rank them from 1 to 10. Don't worry about the 10s for now. Pick something that is a 4 to 6 to work on.
Exposure therapy involves exposing yourself in little amounts to the thing you are scared of. An example: if you're afraid of spiders, you start by thinking about spiders a little every day until that anxiety goes down. Use your challenges to the problematic thoughts, and be mindful of the anxiety until it goes down on its own.
Don't use any other coping mechanisms (actions that you use to sidestep anxiety are called compulsions, and they are not healthy, even if the behavior is!). Avoiding coping mechanisms is called Response Prevention, and it is a crucial part of making Exposure Therapy work.
Once thinking about spiders no longer triggers much anxiety, you move on to looking at pictures of spiders. Then finding small spiders to look at, all the way to eventually holding a tarantula (eek!).
Exposure therapy has been proven to be one of the best, if not the best, way to reduce anxiety long term. But it is both time-consuming and hard. If you do the work, though, as with any therapy, you get out what you put in.
Mommy Burnout: How to Reclaim Your Lie and Raise Healthier Children in the Process. Dr. Sheryl Ziegler. Harper COllins Books, New York, NY. 2018.
The Pregnancy and Postpartum Anxiety Workbook. Pamela S. Weigartz, PH. D and Kevin L. Gyoerkoe, Psy.D. New Harbinger Press Inc, Oakland, CA. 2009.