My day-to-day life is very busy. And everyone around me is busy too. It often feels like we never stop. If I take a break, I usually just think about what I should be doing, or what I will be doing next. I’m not very good at emptying my head, living for the moment and just relaxing. And when I do, I sometimes feel guilty, which causes me to be: anxious.
I feel like the word anxious was often taboo until recently. Maybe it’s the COVID-19 pandemic that forced us to think inwardly, maybe society has changed, or maybe something else. For me, I never really thought about it until I couldn’t explain – to myself – why sometimes I am nervous, or I feel overly stressed, or I’m just plain upset.
And I don’t think I’m unique. I’m not talking about crushing anxiety (which I know many people do suffer from). What I’m speaking to here is something more under-the-surface, more subtle, harder to pinpoint. It doesn’t hold me back – in fact sometimes it helps me gain the courage I need to push myself.
But it’s there, every day. It’s the less concrete, but important stuff like, are my children healthy? Are they succeeding? Do my husband and I earn enough money to support the lifestyle we want for our family? Where will I be in 10 years? 25 years?
What really makes me unsettled, speeds up my heart, causes my hands to be unsteady and scares me a bit are the little things. It’s stuff that may stop me in my tracks, and even as I type, I’m a bit embarrassed.
It may be that I have a list of appointments to make, from dentist or pediatrician for the kids to a haircut for me or grooming for my dog, and I’m so busy at work that I won’t have time to actually go to any of these appointments. So I don’t pick up the phone to book anything.
I hate driving. I drive because I have to, not because I like to. Anytime I go anywhere, I plan my route, consider how long it will take me, or before I turn on my car, I pause and take a deep breath.
There are never enough hours in the day. I don’t wish the day away, because it means I may fall behind. How do I please everyone? How do I write that important message for this person, attend a list of meetings and track it all? That meeting is at the same time that I need to pick up my 7-year-old. Can I miss the meeting? Can someone else pick her up? And what am I making for dinner tonight? Do I have the ingredients? Yikes, the kids’ laundry basket is full. Did I sign the kids up for hot lunches next term? Did we move money into the chequing account so the next mortgage payment goes through?
I could write page after page of questions just like these that swirl around my head every day. It’s only very recently that I realized I, like many other people across the globe, suffer from anxiety. And it made me think, are we all a little anxious?
There’s nothing on my list above that is unique. What causes me to be anxious is probably not that different from many other working mothers, or just mothers, anyone who has a job or who is just trying to live life. It’s only in the last few months that I have thought deeply about anxiety, and why I – and many others – have it.
The list of daily stresses in my life isn’t going anywhere. I accept that. But I can create coping mechanisms, or find tools to help me try to overcome what makes me anxious.
Surround myself with great people
I’m putting this first because for me it’s the most important. Both in my personal life and professional life, I have people I can lean on. I can laugh with them and cry with them. I don’t have to name them, as you know who you are. A few years ago, someone who I look up to taught me about creating my own Board of Directors for my life. These are people who I can trust, who always have my back. They cheer me when I need cheering, they step in to do the work if that’s what I ask – or don’t ask. But they also tell me like it is – they are brutally honest with me and know what’s best for me. I love my Board of Directors.
When I feel anxious, my first reaction is to do nothing. It’s easier to be indecisive, or to sit on the couch, than act. And when I say be active, it’s two-fold:
First of all, I feel better when I pick up the phone and book that haircut or put away that clean basket of laundry. I can let it sit, but it doesn’t go away.
Second, literally be active. I try to exercise every day. It may be just 15 minutes, or maybe it’s a long walk (I love my walks at work with my steps buddy!). I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been in, and when I exercise I feel great. I feel those endorphins being released. It’s easy to say, I’ll exercise tomorrow. But I know it’s good for me.
Take a Break
I mean really take a break. I know I should take a lunch break every day, which I rarely do. But what I mean here is to get away from it all once in a while. Take a physical break. Take a mental break. I don’t even have to go anywhere. But I have to walk away from work. I have learned that I am more valuable to my employer when I’m refreshed.
But it’s not just a break from work. It’s a break from everything that makes me anxious. I may grab a day or two here and there, but right now, in the summer, is my time to take that true break I need. It may be time by the lake in the mountains, or sitting under the oak trees in my backyard. Paddle boarding on the smooth lake, picking wild blueberries or reading a great book. It’s what I need to do.
This one may sound cliché, I know! I learned yoga years ago, as a teenager, and I enjoyed. But I thought nothing of it. I have rediscovered yoga recently, and even just taking a few minutes every day to do the Sun Salutation calms me. I close my eyes, I focus on each yoga pose, and that’s all I do in those moments. It actually clears my head. It doesn’t mean that my list of tasks goes away, but my heartrate slows a bit, my hands don’t shake and I feel confident. Give it a try, it’s worth it.
Write about it
One key thing I have learned about being anxious is that it’s important to accept it, and to talk about it, or in my case, write about it. It’s okay to have anxiety. I really do believe that we are all a little anxious. Don’t keep it to yourself. I have thought about this blog post for a while, that I wanted to write it. But I was anxious to share this with the world. So I put it off.
I finally got enough courage today, on my birthday, while I sit by the lake, in the mountains, with my kids at camp and a few vacation days from work. For just a few days. I haven’t walked away from everything that makes me anxious, but I let myself take that well deserved break.
Pause. Take a deep breath. Try it.