Chronic anxiety is an illness. And it’s curable.
You’re not weak. You’re not a bad mother. You can get through this.
In this post, I’ll cover both the physical and mental components of anxiety.
I’ll discuss how to calm anxiety by sending your body physical signals of safety through nutrition, movement, and meditation. And I’ll explain how you can condition your mind to focus on positive thoughts rather than negative, anxiety-producing ones.
You can heal your anxiety and transform your life. Here’s how.
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Talk to your partner, family, and friends about what you’re feeling. Ask for help.
How can your tribe help you to help yourself?
Maybe your partner can take the kids out while you prep healthy meals. Or a friend can babysit once a week while you go to a yoga class. Prioritize self care and get support.
If your anxiety is really severe, it may help to speak to a professional. Find a counselor and/or a holistic practitioner who can help you identify dietary deficiencies.
We had no money for a holistic doctor, so I educated and doctored myself.
I healed my severe postpartum anxiety and adopted a more positive mindset. Both these things take daily work to maintain, but they are possible — and so worthwhile.
Nourish Your Brain
A shift in diet may not cure anxiety, but it’s the solid foundation you need to make lasting changes.
I was so depleted after a difficult pregnancy, and I was breastfeeding a baby who was gaining a pound a week. It triggered terrible anxiety — like, curled up on the floor at the prospect of going outside anxiety.
I healed my body with whole foods. I was already eating what most people would consider a healthy diet, but I added supplements to build my strength back up. Raw milk, liver pills, and cod liver oil made an enormous difference in my overall health and brought my anxiety down to a manageable level.
The Weston A Price Foundation Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers is a good place to start. If you have trouble eating that well every week, consider some whole-food supplements to ensure adequate nutrition. Smoothies, like this one by Dr. Kelly Brogan, are an excellent way for busy mamas (and stubborn kids!) to get the nutrition they need.
The amino acid glycine has calming properties and may help with insomnia. Gelatin and collagen are excellent sources of glycine and other essential amino acids. I make gummies with grassfed gelatin, add collagen peptides to my smoothies, and make bone broth every week.
It’s important to eliminate sugar and wheat as well. Try an elimination diet such as the Whole 30, and then reintroduce foods one at a time to see which, if any, trigger your anxiety. I’d also consider decreasing or eliminating caffeine for a time.
And one last nutrient you may be lacking: Magnesium is calming to the central nervous system. This nutrient is best absorbed through the skin, which is an excellent excuse for a hot bath. You deserve it!
Move Your Body
Exercising in short bursts is better than nothing, but it’s not enough. Our bodies are meant to move all day, every day — so the more movement you can incorporate into your life, the better.
Take a family bike ride. Kick a ball around with your kids. Pack a picnic and walk to the park.
Yoga, mini trampolines, and roughhousing with your kids are all great ways to exercise when you’re stuck indoors. But exercising outside is even more powerful.
Katy Bowman’s book Move Your DNA details why “nutritious movement” is so vital to our wellbeing. Her book, blog, and podcast all have a wealth of information on how to incorporate more movement into your life.
Don’t Forget to Breathe
Take a deep breath. In. Out.
Magali Morales, a longtime counselor with a master’s degree in social work, says “the nutritional piece you mentioned IS perhaps the most important in the long term: a starving brain will send anxiety signals through the body; but the most important short term strategy will always be the breath.”
When helping people who struggle with anxiety, she emphasizes breathwork above all. “Long, deep breathing through the nose is the magic switch that turns on the relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system).”
For an even stronger response, Kelly Brogan MD suggests left nostril breathing.
Retrain Your Brain
Dr. Rick Hanson says “the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones”. Our brains evolved to value negative input over positive.
The good news? We can rewire our thoughts and choose positivity over anxiety.
Overcoming Negativity Bias
Becoming a mother can hone your anxiety to a razor’s edge. Excellent for keeping your babies safe… not so great for overall health and daily life.
Before my son was even old enough to crawl, I had visions of him falling from a third-story window. Cliffs, trucks, trains…
You may not be able to stop these thoughts from coming, but you can choose not to focus on them.
Acknowledge and honor your instinct to keep your babies safe, but don’t dwell on it. Let the thoughts wash over you, and move on.
If these thoughts come during the day, take a few deep breaths and focus on what’s in front of you. Get your kids outside, play a podcast while you wash the dishes, or read a good book during naptime.
If frightening images are keeping you up at night, simply change the channel. Think happy thoughts.
I know it’s not easy. At least not at first. It takes persistence to grab hold of every negative thought, release it, and replace it with something positive.
But you can do it. And the more often you do, the easier it gets. Negative thoughts still come to me unbidden, but clicking over into gratitude is automatic now, and often effortless.
Take in the Good
It takes about thirty seconds for a positive experience to make a lasting impression on your brain.
As often as you can, give the positives in your life your undivided attention. Focus on your baby’s laughter, a beautiful sunset, a hot cup of tea. Feel the positive emotion — be in joy, gratitude, peace — it evokes in your whole body, and stay with it for a good half minute.
In Hardwiring Happiness, Dr. Rick Hanson details how you can summon positive memories to rewire your brain and even take the sting out of negative experiences.
Each night when I go to bed, I list the things I’m grateful for. I focus on each one for at least thirty seconds, and drift peacefully to sleep (something that never came easily to me, even as a kid).
Choose real, tangible thoughts. Focus on experiences you can feel in your body, images that bring a natural smile to your face.
Meditation is a powerful tool for reducing anxiety and creating more peace in your life. You can sit and meditate or try a walking meditation out in nature. If you’re religious, try prayer; it’s an ancient and powerful form of meditation.
If simply sitting and emptying your mind is overwhelming (it is for me), try a guided mediation. I love Tara Brach’s podcast. Her guided meditations focus on loving awareness — something any mother will benefit from practicing.
Help for Anxious Kids
Kids suffer from anxiety too. Between the physical assault of harmful chemicals and the mental assault of busy schedules, kids today have too many stressors to deal with.
Find ways to connect with your kids. Parent as peacefully as you can… and when your anxiety gets the better of you and you veer off track, apologize and reconnect.
I believe in giving children as much power over their own lives as possible. For so many kids, chronic anxiety comes from a sense of helplessness. Learn to work with your kids instead of imposing your will.
Be mindful of extracurricular activities as well. Ditch the activities that cause your family stress, and make more time for the things that bring you joy. Spend as much time outside as possible, and experiment with calming activities like yoga or coloring (two very zen activities that mamas will benefit from too).
Inadequate nutrition is one possible cause of chronic anxiety for kids. The Weston A Price Foundation has an excellent online guide for Foods to Tantalize Toddlers and Preschoolers. Kids need a generous amount of dietary fat (from healthy sources like raw dairy, egg yolks, and avocado) for healthy brain development.
The breathing exercise I mentioned above is great for kids. For very young children, it helps to simply breathe deeply while you hold them.
If you have a worrier, I recommend What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety. It uses simple, empowering language to explain what anxiety is and how kids can banish their worries.
Here are twelve more tips on supporting your anxious child.
Thanks for reading! Have you dealt with postpartum anxiety or helped a fearful child? What worked for you?