Our culture is full of messages that can quietly diminish a mother’s confidence in her actions, abilities or presentation. This, and the stress of parenting, can lead to a state of near-constant worry. Consider these common messages:
Buy this bathroom cleaner or your home will be teeming with flu germs.
We charge a $50 fee if you 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 are the types of suggestions that can escalate the intrinsic worry that many mothers already feel, independent of the self-induced pressures of parenting. On a physiological level, childbirth itself already induces brain changes which predispose her to anxiety. Trying to adhere to more and more rules and responsibilities contributes to 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 that worries her, she is letting you inside of her head. Her vulnerability in this way is a gift — it means she trusts you enough to share something causing her distress. She likely does not need more suggestions about how to fix the problem. Rather, what she would value from you is an understanding nod, a clarifying question, a reassuring gesture — evidence that you are truly listening. Be curious about her concerns, instead of coming forward 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 cause fixations or 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 thinking areas where she may seem stuck. Everyone has a unique way to reach a creative state. Remind her of hers. Is it tactile? Philosophical? Musical? Ask her how she gets to a state of happy concentration, and help remove obstacles to her pathway 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 release from worry and anxiety.
3. Take on a task
From a practical standpoint, taking on a task or three gives her the gift of time. Can you fold laundry, clean the inside windows of her car, help organize her to-do list? Small gestures like this can greatly 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 her intellect by simply asking her opinion about her areas of expertise allows her to re-engage the intellectual strengths she worked hard to hone, and the identity she once knew, 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 the past can be 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 laughter, or the act of laughing, changes a state of mind from dark to light. A good hard belly laugh is like taking a vacation from your thoughts. Encourage her laughter, however she finds it.
7. Exercise with her
Physical movement can release anxiety and mentally rejuvenate those under stress. Exercise is also well-known way to increase endorphins, the feel-good chemicals. Taking a walk with her, going to a class together, or watching her children while she exercises are all excellent ways to help her gain the gift of movement and relieve her of the weight of worry.
8. Distract her without fueling her fears
Distraction can look like an interesting conversation, watching a movie together, or talking about a podcast she enjoys. While indulging her fears around certain topics in this way can backfire, choosing subjects and activities that fuel her joy is an efficient way to push worry aside and mentally recalibrate in a healthy way.
9. Model healthy boundaries
Healthy boundaries are habits that encourage positive outcomes with people, substances, and behaviors that can feel destructive or emotionally challenging. Generally this refers to interpersonal relationships, but it can also include relationships with food, alcohol, perfectionism — anything that feels darkly powerful in life. Drawing clear limits with things that take energy away as opposed to giving energy back, is an important part of self respect. Mothers coping with ongoing stress can sometimes forget how to find the courage to say no. Remind the anxious mother in your life that maintaining limits is an important part of mental wellbeing.
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. The gift of sleep will give her back her brain, her sense of calm, and allow her to access the parts of herself that become reactive and anxious when sleep-deprived.
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.
This post originally appeared on www.thenurturetree.com