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A Mom's Guide to Managing Anxiety

Hey Mamas, I'm going to get real with you today. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with anxiety. I always blamed it on my fairly traumatic childhood, but then I had children of my own, and man, it was an eye-opener.

My husband and I created a stable home our kids, full of love, trust and laughter. Somehow though, I still have two very anxious children (The jury is still out on the little one.), who struggle with transitions, change and the unknown.

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At first this reality was hard for me to accept. I gave my kids what I never had, how can they still be anxious?? I blamed myself, and felt a lot of guilt about unknowingly passing on my anxiety. Then I got to thinking, you can't blame yourself for biology and body chemistry. Anxiety is just a part of my makeup that my kids have shared with me since birth, like my blue eyes, my love of pickles and my great taste in music.

I'm just a tiny bit of a control freak by nature (hahaha!), but realizing that I couldn't stop my kids from being anxious was kind of liberating. It allowed me to stop blaming myself and instead teach them the coping strategies I'd picked up throughout my anxious life. It made me realize that I can't "fix" them, but I can be exactly the role model they need. I can teach them that living with anxiety doesn't have to limit their lives.

The coping strategies below can be used for you to help yourselves and your children live with anxiety and live well. I also included a few important things to remember when thinking about anxiety.

Deep Breathing- At our house we call this kind of breathing, balloon belly breathing. Make sure it's your belly that is rising, not your chest. There are so many types of breathing exercises out there, so feel free to keep experimenting until you find something that works for you. I love these deep breathing exercise cards for kids from Childhood 101.

Tapping- This technique involves tapping with your fingertips on 9 specific meridian points on the body while focusing on the source of your anxiety. It is also known as EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and it's an ancient Chinese holistic practice that is being used by cognitive behavioral therapists around the world. Tapping calms the nervous system and helps restore balance to the brain. Visit this site for Tapping 101 and a video that explains the 9 meridian points.

Grounding with 5-4-3-2-1- Take a deep breath and then use your five senses to find 5 things you see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you smell and one thing you can taste in your mouth. This strategy gets you back to the present moment and is especially good with treating past trauma. Find out more here.

Guided Meditation- There are many specific meditations tailored to coping with anxiety on apps like Headspace and Insight Timer.

Give Yourself a Squeeze or Use a Weighted Blanket- A good hug, even if you're giving it to yourself, can lower the stress hormone, cortisol, and give you a burst of oxytocin and dopamine to promote a sense of well-being. A weighted blanket can have a similar effect. I've been considering getting one of these senso blankets or something similar on Amazon, to keep in our bed for those nights that our kids have nightmares.

Muscle Tense and Release or Progressive Muscle Relaxation- Start with your toes and then move on to each small muscle group in your body. Tense the muscles for three seconds and then release. Focus on how your muscles feel on the release. This has been known to help with physical symptoms that are caused by stress and anxiety like headaches and stomachaches. There are also guided meditations to help you through this process. To learn more visit this site.

Take a Hot Bath or a Shower- All of the fancy well-researched strategies above just weren't practiced when I was a kid, so this simple technique was pretty much the only one in my toolbox. I thought of the bathtub as a magical place where all of my worries could just melt away. Even as adult you can tell when I'm really stressed because I may take more than one bath in a day. After all this time, the strategy still holds up.

Try a Distracting Activity- Something repetitive that you can do with your hands is usually a good idea. Find something that you enjoy doing that is fairly repetitive; knitting, drawing, playing with play dough, jewelry making, puzzling, playing board or computer games. You can also try an activity that you can easily escape into like a good book or movie.

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Write a Worry Script- When worries keep you from sleeping or wake you up in the middle of the night, get that crap out of your head! Use a journal to write down what you are worried about. Explore the negative emotions that the worries bring up. You can face your fears in a safe space and really imagine what the worst case scenario would look like.

Review Past Anxieties- Think back to the last time you felt really anxious. What was the worst thing that happened? What did you do that helped?

Don't Be Afraid of Medication- I'll be honest, I always was. I didn't get the help I needed because I didn't want to be the person who needed medication to function. I know there may be more of a stigma related to mental illness, but, if you or your child had asthma, you probably wouldn't skip the inhaler because you didn't want to medicate them.

Medication shouldn't be the only solution, but when used in connection with the cognitive behavior therapy it can work wonders to help kids reduce anxiety enough to learn the positive coping strategies they need to become healthy adults. Our pediatrician explained it to me like this: Kids are going to develop coping strategies to deal with their anxiety and these will be either positive or negative strategies. If they can't manage their anxiety enough to focus on the positive strategies, they will only have once choice remaining. That really made me think and reshaped my opinion on medicating my own children.

Anxiety isn't all bad- Despite what we've been taught, anxiety can be a positive thing. Your worries can help you stay safe, plan ahead and make better, more informed choices. For more, read about the 6 Hidden Benefits of Anxiety.

Find more great strategies and ideas on how to manage anxiety on the sites below:

Coping Strategies for Supporting Students

50 Strategies to Beat Anxiety

Calming Anxiety- Coping Skills for Kids

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If you've been battling with anxiety, you're not alone. The progress might feel slow, and your kids might do things that trigger your worst fears on the regular, but just keep going. You are a great mom because you are showing up every day and doing the best you can.

♥ Erin

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