Are you just a worried Mum, or is it anxiety?

Are you just a worried Mum, or is it anxiety?

“We can’t sell that car seat, it only has a year left until it’s expiry date – what if the person who buys it has an accident and their baby gets hurt?”

“She’s running too far ahead of me, what if she forgets to stop at the road and gets hit by a car?”

“Why is the school phoning me? My daughter must have had an accident, I hope she hasn’t broken anything.”

These are real, actual thoughts I’ve had at some point over the past few months.

I’m an over-thinker. A worrier. And yes, just a teeny bit anxious.

In my mind, these three things are pretty inter-related. In fact, feeling worry and feeling anxious pretty much exist on a continuum. And my over-thinking tendencies tend to push the needle with regard to where I am on that continuum on any given day.

Personally, my anxiety was never an issue before I became a mother. Certainly my worrier tendencies were always there, but they were pretty low-key and probably no different to most of the general population: that little sinking feeling in my belly if I ever got called into the boss’ office, or that nervous over-preparing that came with a public speaking event.

So I never identified as being an anxious person. Which is perhaps why it took me a few years to recognise my anxiety as a mother. You know that saying they have about the plumber whose home is full of dripping taps? Well that’s kind of my situation. Even though I’ve worked in this field of mental health for years, it took me a little while to realise the issues in myself – probably because they were so mild. I was used to working with people whose mental health concerns were much more compelling, and much more complex. So that led me to put my thoughts down to typical new-Mum worries. But as the years passed I started to realise that many of the quirky little thought processes I had over my six years as a parent weren’t actually your bog-standard run of the mill concerns.

Not so much the thoughts listed above, but how about this one:

“This pathway is a bit secluded, I feel pretty vulnerable. What would happen if someone tried to steal my baby from the pram here? There’s no-one close by to help, no-one would hear me scream. What can I use as a weapon? What should I do?”

This was a thought I had pretty regularly on our daily walk in our small coastal town in Central Queensland – it was hardly Gotham City, and a brazen daylight abduction was highly improbable, but my brain still went there. So, yes, in fact, I actually was meandering a bit further along the anxiety spectrum than I realised. And even though my anxiety was quite mild when compared with others’, and I certainly wouldn’t classify it in a clinical range of anxiety, that didn’t mean that it didn’t deserve my attention.

Anxiety is a sneaky little thing – particularly in emerging or mild cases. It has blurry edges and often disguises itself as something else. It’s rarely cut and dried, and it can be difficult for us to identify. We can tend to explain away our anxiety under the guise of being “safety conscious”, “over protective” or just “a little highly strung”. In fact, in our world worry and anxiety are practically state sanctioned – think of the marketing campaigns from your workplace OH&S rep: “Safety First”, or “Take Five to Stay Alive.” Or popular phrases such as : “Better safe than sorry.” Even the Boy Scouts validate our anxiety with their iconic slogan: “Be prepared.”

Of course, I’ve got my tongue firmly planted in my cheek here. But my point is that, on the surface at least, it’s far more socially acceptable to be anxious than it is to be depressed. And that’s where the difficulty begins. Everyone worries, because the world is a dangerous place. Just turn on the evening news or scroll your Facebook feed for evidence of that.

So if everyone worries – how do you know when it’s too much worry? How do you know if it’s something more than just “worry”. And what do you do about it?

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So here’s a few questions to ask yourself to help you figure out where you sit on the “overthinking vs anxiety” continuum.

1: Are your worries constructive or controlling?

What do you do about your worries? Do your thoughts help to keep yourself safe in productive and socially acceptable ways – for example, making sure you have enough petrol and locking your car doors when driving at night time, or do they force you to make decisions and take actions that diminish your life in some way – for example, cancelling or turning down evening catch ups with friends due to your worries about driving at night. One of the hallmarks of anxiety is that it impacts our ability to undertake everyday activities.

2: Do your worries go away once you’ve taken action to address them?

Worrying thoughts are one way in which our mind alerts us to danger. Generally, once we’ve addressed the worry, it will leave us, but with anxiety, the fear and worry remains, despite all the actions you take to address it. For example, your daughter, who has a peanut allergy, is going to stay with your in-laws overnight. How do you handle this situation – do you give your in-laws one quick reminder about the allergy before you leave, or do you continue to worry about it for the entire night, find yourself unable to focus on the event you’re attending, and constantly wanting to send them another quick reminder text message?

3: Is your worry in your head or in your body?

Overthinking and worrying tends to stay predominantly confined to our brain, whereas anxiety is generally felt all through the body. So are your worries combined with a racing heartbeat, sweaty temples, shaking hands, tapping feet, a surging tummy, or a tightness across your chest? Physical symptoms such as these, when unrelated to physical exertion or another illness, can indicate anxiety.

4: Does your over-thinking affect the way you function day to day?

We touched on this in point one, but there are other ways that anxiety and worry can impact our daily life – more so than just avoiding certain activities. Is your work productivity being impacted by the amount of time you spend worrying, or reacting to your worries? Are your relationships being impacted – do you find you push people away due to your fears, or feel compelled to ‘put on an act’ around others? Are you delegating decision making responsibility at home or at work due to your worries? For parents in particular, are you finding you’re not enjoying your role as a parent as much as you should, because of your worries. Or are your worries affecting the amount of time you spend with your baby or child – eg. do you avoid letting anyone else hold or care for them – even trusted family members, or alternatively, do you relinquish care responsibilities more often than you want to, because you think others can look after them better than you can?

What do do about it

Anxiety is a personal experience, and it can be different for everyone. If you’re concerned you may be experiencing anxiety the most important thing to do is to speak to a GP, your Community Health Nurse, or another health professional involved in your care. A GP will be able to provide an assessment and diagnose an anxiety or depression. They can also refer you for Medicare funded services from a mental health Occupational Therapist (such as myself), a social worker or psychologist, under the Better Access to Mental Health Care program. If you already have someone in mind you’d like to speak with you can let your GP know and he can refer you specifically to that person, as long as they are registered for the program under Medicare.

When it comes to treatment options for mild to moderate anxiety, counselling therapies and lifestyle changes are generally the first course of treatment, with best practice being attempting these prior to prescription of medication if necessary. (Please note this is general information and treatment strategies are always personalised).

As I mentioned earlier though, you don’t have to be at a clinical level of anxiety to have it impact negatively on your life. Common motherhood traits such as excessive worry, stress, overthinking and the infamous “Mummy Guilt” can all impact our wellbeing and experience of motherhood. Which is why I developed my Mindful Motherhood program – a five week online program to help mothers overcome stress, guilt and overwhelm, to live a more meaningful life. You can check it out here

Coming up for air

Coming up for air

As I write this, I’m sitting on my couch, still in my PJs, hair unwashed, binge-watching Barbie episodes on Netflix with my feverish, and very unwell three year old by my side. We’ve been awake since around 10pm last night. It’s now 11am. I’m certain I can officially write this entire day off. Not a thing will be achieved. I’m pretty sure I won’t even stack the dishwasher.

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Stuck on the couch with a sick baby.

Today, I’m cool with that. I”m certainly not thrilled. I had stuff to do today. Work stuff. Home stuff. In fact, I was looking forward to several unscheduled hours to tie up a few loose ends. That’s all out the window now. No creating new resources for work. No writing modules for my new teen girls life skills program I’m currently creating. No decluttering the kids’ toy boxes. After two nights of broken non-existent sleep, I’ve got no energy to do anything but lie on the couch and mindlessly scroll through my Instagram feed. But, like I said, I’m taking it in my stride today. It’s not the end of the world…

But if it had have happened three months ago, or even this time last month, it might have been a different story.

You see, the past several months have been hectic, crazy busy, intense. And I don’t say that in a “look at me, I’m so busy and important” attention seeking kind of way. i actually say it in an “I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t been taking any of my own advice for at least the past year” kind of way.

It hasn’t been pretty the past several months. My clinic work hours have been long, My in-the-house work hours have been even longer. My husband and I had fallen into the woeful routine of “High Five Parenting”, exchanging barely barely more than a high five with each other as one of us walks in the door and the other walks out, our schedules so tightly packed and co-ordinated that I’ve even colour coded our respective schedules on my Google calendar.

The children, I hope, have remained relatively unscathed – I, on the other hand, have not. Coming off a period of adrenal fatigue from 12 to 18 months ago, from which I’ve never fully recovered, for these past few months I wasn’t managing well. I simply had too much to do and couldn’t do all of it. I also simply couldn’t shake this low level cold/flu/sickness that extended across several months. Coupled with a lack of motivation and energy this resulted in missed deadlines, forgotten emails, un-returned phone calls, turning up late to appointments, and a general feeling of letting people down. Which of course led to guilt, so much guilt. Plus a few little bouts of anxiety – such as the time I woke up at 4am, convinced I had left a candle burning in my clinic, and unable to get back to sleep. It wasn’t until I did an intentional drive-past at 8am on my day off, to check that the building hadn’t burned to the ground, that I could let that worry go.

None of this is like me. Not the real me. But it’s unfortunately too indicative of the “too much on my plate” me. It’s also exactly what I support women through in my work. I know, irony, right. Like I said, I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been taking nearly enough of my own advice. With a diet consisting of way too much sugar and processed foods, and too may days consisting of too little physical movement, but still not enough (contemplative) stillness, my lifestyle has been totally at odds with my message.

That’s a particularly hard thing for an allied health professional to admit. I’ve struggled to say it out loud – for fear that if I admit to not looking after myself it will somehow render me unprofessional or incompetent. A health professional who doesn’t look after her own health? A health professional who has put on 20kg and can’t shift it? Oh, the shame. But it doesn’t make me any less of an OT or Pilates instructor, and it certainly doesn’t make me any less of a person. But what it does do is simply prove that I’m human. It also gives me a greater insight into just how effing hard it can be sometimes. For people who’ve never experienced this kind of exhaustion, fatigue or anxiety, they simply can’t understand that total lack of ability to get out of bed in the morning – even if it’s for something you love, or have been desperately looking forward to for weeks. That bone-aching tiredness that prevents you from moving your legs at more than walking pace, even when you so genuinely “want to want” to go for a run. That incredulous feeling of overwhelm when you have so much to do and don’t know where to start, so you simply choose to do nothing. Unless you’ve been there, you might be able to empathise, but you don’t truly understand. It’s a very bizarre and unsettling feeling. It makes you question your worthiness as a person, and makes you wonder when, or if, the “real you” might ever show herself again.

This isn’t a situation that’s specific to any one group of people, but I have seen it so, so much in working mothers lately – particularly in those mothers who run their own business. Being a business owner / mum is a struggle every single day, and for those of us in the midst of it, it can seem that no-one else sees exactly how hard it is, as my wonderful friend Carly from Sass Place so eloquently explained in this blog post.

But, luckily for me. It has all finally seemed to turn around in the past month. Since about mid September I’ve felt like I’ve finally come up for air. That i can come home from my day at work without contemplating another few hours on the laptop to finish some important task. That I can take a full day off work without feeling the pull of what else I “should” be doing. That I’m no longer rushing – everywhere and everyone. That I can go to bed at night without a mind frustratingly going over everything I didn’t tick off my “to-do” list. So what’s changed? In short, I started heeding my own advice.

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I made a concerted effort to say “no” and “yes” in a more considered fashion. Better boundaries with working hours and additional requests that required a “no”, for which previously I may have said “yes”. And more “yes” to extra quiet time, earlier nights, screen time limits, meditation, and the reading of real, actual books. I had several big events I was committed to in the past few months, including three interstate trips in five weeks. Some of them were non-negotiable, some of them I brought upon myself and potentially shouldn’t have. I’ve certainly learned a lesson about over-committing myself.

I asked for help. I outsourced tasks within my business. I booked a few sessions with a counselor. I had an art therapy session. These things all helped. Yes, they all cost money. But for me, they were worth every penny – and more. I had to invest in myself. What I was saving in terms of dollars, I was paying for in my dwindling wellbeing.

I stopped pushing so hard and accepted a level of consistency in my business. There’s no magic solution for this one unfortunately, for those of you in the slog of a start up phase of a business. Maybe I always had to put in the hard work I have done over the past two and a half years to get my business to the point where it is now running comfortably and I’m about to start a waiting list. But what I do know now is that I’ve resisted the urge to add an extra clinic day to my caseload or add more after hours sessions, when previously I would have done just that – eager to provide more services. Right now I know that’s not the right move for me. It’s time to put a boundary on myself. What I also know is that while I perhaps couldn’t have brought my business this far with less work, I could have (and should have) implemented better self care strategies. There were absolutely habits and behaviours that I overlooked which could have made a big difference to my wellbeing.

I stopped mentally beating myself up for not achieving my self-imposed expectations. The big “aha” moment came when my counselor asked me – “Have you always placed these kinds of high expectations on yourself?” It’s a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees. I can spot a chronic over-achiever a mile away, but I couldn’t identify it in myself. What I’d always told myself was simply hard work, commitment and drive, was actually, in fact, great expectations and setting myself up for a fall. I just couldn’t see it in myself. I expected more of myself than I’d ever expect of anyone else. Who else can say that about themselves?

Which brings me back to today – as I sit here, trapped on my couch by an overheating toddler. This moment, a mere month ago, would have sent me into a tail spin. I would be trying to finish presentations or balance my expense account while caring for a sick child, getting distracted, making mistakes, and ensuring whatever tasks I tried to do only got done half as well, while taking twice the time. It all came from a place of fear. That my business, or perhaps my world, might fall apart if I didn’t keep pushing. When in fact it was the opposite. It was the push that was causing the cracks to deepen.

I’m not saying there won’t be another time where its appropriate for me to start pushing again. But I know that right now, is not the time. A forced slow down is exactly what I – and my family – need right now.

So today, as i sign off from this blog post. I’ll turn this laptop off, switch Netflix over to re-runs of the Gilmore Girls, now that munchkin is sleeping and just embrace today as a day when nothing will get done. Because the world won’t fall apart., my business will still be standing tomorrow, and I’ll still be good at my job after a day off.

Until next time,

Keep well, Sarah xx

I have PND: Should I see an OT or a psychologist?

I have PND: Should I see an OT or a psychologist?

I’m often asked why someone with depression, anxiety or postnatal depression or anxiety would choose to see an Occupational Therapist (OT) rather than a psychologist when trying to overcome their mental health difficulties.
 
It’s a decision each woman has to make for herself, in conjunction with her GP or other medical practitioner – and the decision may come down to several factors.
Both services are fantastic options and provide a clinically relevant service with many different facets. From a highly generalised perspective, psychologist support will focus primarily on ‘talking therapies’, whereas OT support will have a component of talking therapy, but will have a greater focus on practical strategies and outcomes, such as supporting the woman back into participation of her life roles. This is what we call “occupations” – we use “occupation” both as a treatment modality and as a therapy goal.
Should I see an OTor a psychologistfor support with postnatal depression_
 
The good news is, you don’t have to choose just one or the other. OT and psychology work together really well. A woman may see a psychologist for a period of time to help her make sense of her thinking patterns, and how these affect her mental wellbeing, and may also seek support from an OT, who can work with her to help her re-establish routines and skills to enable her to fulfil her role as a new mother, and to develop habits and practical strategies to support her ongoing wellbeing into the future.
 
A person might see a psychologist for a period of time and then follow that up with OT support, or they might see both concurrently. It really depends on the person’s particular situation and needs.
It’s also important to remember that the relationship between the client and the therapist is an important factor in the success of any therapeutic endeavour. So it’s important that the person seeking support feels comfortable with, and confident in their chosen therapists abilities.
The best course of action if trying to decide between OT and psychologist support is to discuss your options with your GP.
Until next time,
Sarah
Let your mind meander with a mandala – Guest Post.

Let your mind meander with a mandala – Guest Post.

Never heard of a mandala? Maybe you’ve heard of them, but had no idea they could improve your wellbeing?

Have a read of this great guest post by Nan Berrett.

Mandala

You feel like grabbing a handful of your hair and pulling really hard, but you know it’s not going to help.

There are plenty of tricks you can use to help your mind de-stress – it’s just a matter of finding something which works for you and gives you the results you need.

Our minds are constantly filled with clutter. Some of our thoughts are useful, but many are just distracting ‘noise’ which are tiring in their own right. When we are stressed there is an additional persistent humming in our heads which focusses on our fears and anxieties – and this is the most difficult noise to silence.

If we are fearful of an outcome, worried about our relationships with our lovers, families or friends, concerned about looming deadlines, unfinished tasks or general overload because we take on too much, then it becomes important to try some calming techniques for the mind.

Mandala is a Sanskrit word which means “circle” and although it is a spiritual and ritualistic symbol associated with Hinduism and Buddhism, it can be used as a tool to allow your mind to problem solve and find calm.

In spiritual practice Mandalas are often created using coloured sand and form intricate and exquisitely beautiful patterns, but for our purposes we will create a Mandala using paper or card and a handful of coloured textas, pencils or crayons.

How to create your own mandala:

Start by drawing a circle on your paper – use the boundary of a saucer rather than a dinner plate. Somewhere inside the circle, not necessarily the centre, draw a representation of your anxiety. This can be as simple as a symbol, a letter of the alphabet, a stick figure, or even a word.

Take a black texta, pen, or pencil and, starting from just outside the boundary of the circle draw parallel lines, like a little road, and wind this path within the confines of the circle, until it reaches your anxiety drawing. This bit can be tricky and you’ll have to concentrate, drawing one side of the track and then the other side, so you keep the path even.

When you finally get to your goal you can start the fun part. Choose your first colour and begin to fill the track – you can use the same colour all along, or you can change colours. While you are colouring in start thinking about your anxiety and consider some of the strategies you could use to eliminate it from your life or fix it.

When you’ve finished the path, it’s time to colour in the remaining white space – this is your Mandala, so you choose how you want it to look. Draw patterns, dots, block colour, whatever you feel drawn to do.

You’re almost finished – take the black texta and go over the lines of your path again and make them stand out. Add some shading if you want to. Pop some edging onto the boundary of the circle and you’re done.

Sit back and admire your work – it looks pretty good!

You may have had some emotional reactions when creating your Mandala. It’s not unusual to cry, or even start talking to yourself while you’re working. There’s nothing wrong with showing some emotion.

Look at your Mandala and trace the path from the outer edge to its windy end. Every turn represents a new thought about the problem, a memory, a decision.

The Mandala in the illustration above was one I drew years ago when I was having some serious issues with someone I considered my best friend. At the time I felt betrayed and abandoned, but by the time I had finished the exercise I had remembered all the great things about our friendship and that I was as much as fault as she had been. It gave me the clarity to approach her and mend some bridges – best thing I ever did.

Nan Berrett is a communications consultant who also workshops strategies to support positive emotional wellbeing outcomes – these include creating and walking labyrinths, journaling, creative writing and poetry.

Waiting Room Gratitude

Waiting Room Gratitude

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I’m writing this from hospital. Sitting on the not-very-comfortable single person sofa bed, watching my 12 month old daughter sleep peacefully in her hospital cot.

Luckily for us, my daughter isn’t seriously sick. She’s had a cough and a mild fever on and off for the past few days. Originally the doctors thought it might be croup, but now we’re waiting for the full results of her blood tests which indicated she has some kind of infection.

While I’m telling myself I’m not really worried, there’s still a small part of me that’s quite anxious.

I’m sure most of us would agree the hardest thing about parenting is having your child get sick. Especially when that child is a baby – they don’t understand what’s happening to them, they can’t tell you how they’re feeling, or where it hurts. You can’t explain to them why you’re forcefully pinning them down to let the nurse take their blood, or why they’re lying naked and scared on the cold x-ray machine. It’s traumatic – for both the child and the parent. I know I barely held it together in the fourth hour of my emergency room wait at 3am when my bubba was getting increasingly distressed.

But as I sit here now, all I can feel is grateful. Because all I can think of is those Mums whose children are really, truly, seriously ill. Those Mums who’ve spent more nights on fold-out hospital couches than they have their own beds. Sleepless nights spent watching over their precious children, willing them to get better. Anxious days spent holding their breath, waiting for test results, hoping and praying for good news.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be the parent of a seriously ill child. In the three and a bit years I’ve been a mum this is the first time we’ve dealt with a sickness which required hospitalisation. We’ve been so blessed to have robust, healthy girls, who are rarely ever sick.

However, some of my friends have not been so fortunate. Some of them have, and still do, live with the daily issues of having really sick little babies, toddlers and children. Mums whose babies spent the first few months of their life in hospital. Mums whose babies never made it home.

So I’m grateful. I’m grateful to have beautiful, chubby, healthy girls. To live within 25 minutes of an amazing children’s hospital. To have wonderful, caring and thorough doctors and nurses who pull funny faces at my little Moochie. To have an awesome supportive family. To have a flexible job where I can change my shifts with ease. To have enough medical knowledge to understand what’s happening and not be frightened of the hospital environment.

I’m even grateful for having to wait four hours in emergency, because it means that, while my daughter was sick, she wasn’t sick enough to need emergency intervention.

Because I know there are so many other Mums out there who have much less to be grateful for. And it’s to those Mums whom I tip my hat. You Mums (and Dads!) are amazing, truly.