How To Handle Unproductive Worry and Curb Your Anxiety
Moms worry. Sometimes we worry about productive things like what we're going to pack for lunch or if we've washed our kids swimsuit before their next swim lesson.
Other times, our worry is unproductive, like worrying about kidnapping or long term consequences of small behaviors. Unproductive worry is thinking about the distant future on a problem that is unsolvable and unlikely to happen. Too much unproductive worry, and you've got anxiety.
Unproductive worry is caused by 3 main cognitive distortions:
1) Fortune-telling (predicting the future)
2) Catastrophic thinking (assuming the worst will happen)
3) Discounting your coping skills. (assuming you will fall apart).
Identifying which thoughts are unproductive worries and what cognitive distortions you are employing is half the battle of addressing your anxiety in the long run. We will talk more about long term ways to calm your anxiety in the next few weeks. So what can you do in the short term?
Most of us with anxiety do what is called "chest breathing". Your chest rises and falls with each breath. This causes you hyperventilate, causing the level of carbon dioxide in your blood to drop. Instead, we should be breathing with the diaphragm.
Place a hand on your chest. Feel it rise as fall as you breathe. Place the other hand on your stomach. Try to make the hand on your stomach move with your breath instead of the hand on your chest. Try and breathe out and in for even counts. This should immediately calm you down. Bonus: you can do this anywhere, anytime, for free!
Self Soothe with the Senses
A DBT skill to lessen an emotion is to activate the senses and practice mindfulness of that sense. Smell is the most obvious, but you don't have to invest in expensive essential oils to activate your senses. Mindfully listen to birds chirping, or cars passing. Look mindfully at the grain of wood on your furniture, or mindfully sip some tea. Feel the texture of a favorite blanket or neat rock.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing a muscle group for 10 seconds, then releasing. This may take longer to do, and longer to feel the effects of, but it should help a little in the moment. Begin with your hands, then your upper arms, then your toes, then your knees. Move on to do your stomach, chest, shoulders, and neck. Finally, tense your lips, eyes, and eyebrows.
Self Compassion Break
Dr. Kristen Neff has a book all about self-compassion and its healing power. It's a great read (link below). She discusses the concept of a self-compassion break on her website. To do this exercise in a moment of anxiety:
Tell yourself "This is suffering." This helps you acknowledge that anxiety is real and painful.
Tell yourself "Suffering is part of life." or "We all struggle in our lives." This normalizes the anxiety.
Adopt a soothing touch (hands to heart, self-hug, etc) and say to yourself "May I be kind to myself."
I find this exercise extremely powerful both short term and long term. It helps address both the immediate cause of anxiety and root self-esteem issues and the "mean girl" in my mind that cause a lot of my depression and anxiety.
If you're a mom, you're going to worry. Society sets us up to worry by demanding the impossible from us. But using the above exercises will help nix that worry, so you can be the calm mom you're meant to be.
Weigartz, Pamela S. and Kevin L. Gyoerkoe. The Pregnancy and Postpartum Anxiety Workbook.New Harbinger Publications, Inc. 2009. Oakland, CA.
Neff, Kristen Self-compassion. Harper Collins Publishers. 2011.New York, NY.
Linehan, Marsha M. DBT Skills Training: Handouts and Worksheets. Second Edition. The Guilford Press. 2015.New York, NY.