When we moved to Charleston three years ago I thought the transition would be seamless. We were moving back to my childhood home, my family, warmer weather, and that salt air that is healing in so many ways. Nevermind the fact that I was leaving behind ten years in a city I loved, with a community I loved and memories of meeting my husband and the birth of all three of my kids. Nope, this move was going to be great.
And it was great, until about six months in when I started feeling a bit of anxiety. As the anxiety continued, so did an onset of symptoms that stopped me in my tracks. Coupled with occasional panic attacks on the 526 bridge, my go-get-’em spirit turned sour as I tried to settle our family while battling unexpected health issues. I scrambled for answers and at times felt like I was going down rabbit trails of different advice. As I’m starting to come out of the fog, I’m learning that transitions are hard and require self-care and self-compassion while navigating all things new. I also discovered there are some great resources to walk women through unexpected seasons. Here are a few that have helped me immensely.
Five Ways I Worked Through Unexpected Anxiety
- Professional help – When I figured out these symptoms weren’t going away on their own, I sought professional help, starting with a counselor. I knew counseling could help tremendously in tough times so I decided to give it a go. It helped to have someone to talk things through with and also have ways to manage these new feelings. I was hesitant about counseling at first because of the cost, but there are great places who provide sliding scale fees, scholarships, and even accept insurance. I found help with Lowcountry Biblical Counseling in North Charleston and Life Resources in Mt. Pleasant. Another place recommended to me was Charleston Counseling Center with locations all over Charleston.
2. Medical help – When I described the way I was feeling to my counselor, she suggested seeing a doctor to get a good checkup. In all honesty, I had to do a bit of searching to find a doctor that would listen to all that was going on with me and address things holistically. I can tell you it was worth the search as I ended up with some diet changes and supplement regimens that really helped me heal. And while I knew medication was an option, I also knew that my body is very sensitive to medication so I chose to go a different route. But I believe that medication is absolutely an option and can be so helpful.
3. Good resources – Both counselors I saw pointed me to books to help work through the anxiety. The one I love most is Switch on Your Brain by Caroline Leaf. I’m jumping into the deep end with this first recommendation, but that’s because I find the content so fascinating. Caroline Leaf is a neuroscientist that studies the effect of our thoughts and choices on our brains and our overall health – both physical and mental. She presents a 21-day system of deep thinking (“brain detox”) to improve brain health. I know it sounds heady, and it is, but I have found it so helpful to counterbalance the modern society that pushes us to multitask and accumulate stress. The process of unplugging and deep thinking is a welcome change. A small disclaimer, this book is written from a Christian perspective and is very science-y but I hope you won’t let these details deter you from this book. But if this topic feels like too much, I also love Overcoming Fear, Worry and Anxiety by Elyse Fitzpatrick, Freefall to Fly and You Are Free by Rebekah Lyons, and Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist.
4. Exercise (in a way that feels right for the season) – Exercise is a known help for people with anxiety, but for me exercise completely depleted all of my energy and left me fatigued for days. This was a struggle as exercise had always been a big part of my life. I used to run and teach group fitness classes and always had a workout schedule planned. As my anxiety kicked in, so did fatigue and dizziness and blood sugar issues that made it downright impossible to safely workout. Giving up exercise was a big blow and one of the biggest discouragements I faced in our transition to Charleston. I came across a free 30-day Pilates challenge by Robin Long and I decided to give it a go. Each daily workout was only ten minutes long, but it was enough to hook me. I loved the short yet effective workouts that Robin provided. So much so that I ended up joining her online Pilates program for a small fee each month. All that to say, our bodies handle stress differently. Play around with different activities and intensity levels to see what works best for you, whether it be running, group classes, yoga, hip-hop or Crossfit, there is something out there for everyone.
5. Get outside – We live in too beautiful of a place to be stuck inside, but sometimes that is where anxiety takes us, at least it did for me. The symptoms that came with my anxiety made me want to curl up in my bed and just let it pass. But I also found that if I spent a few minutes outside, my mind wandered away from what I was experiencing and I felt calm and peaceful. My favorite ways to do that were to eat lunch on the back deck or read a book on the front porch swing. I also started walking, which was tough for a former runner, but I soon found that even short ten minute walks around the neighborhood were so freeing. I used this time to catch up on podcasts or simply be quiet and let my mind wander. And bonus points, I found a friend turned walking partner who made the time even sweeter.
I realize we all have different journeys and are affected by the stress and the joy of motherhood in different ways. I’ve learned that it’s important to uncover what makes you tick, what makes you relax, and how you can best take care of your unique self. Most of all, I found solace in knowing that I wasn’t alone in my struggle with anxiety and there is help out there for this season of life. And as I kept telling myself, this time of anxiety and motherhood will pass, which is why healing is so important. As moms, we don’t want to miss these younger years with our kids, so let’s take care of ourselves, seek help and encourage each other along the way.