I hope we are all on the same page when I say that self care is an incredibly important part of a joyful existence. We also know that spending time on ourselves in a way that nourishes and rejuvenates us becomes more difficult once you become a parent.
There are some excellent blogs and articles written about self care and I will link a few of my favourites up on the facebook page in the coming days. This post is a little different. I started to notice a lot of bloggers I follow opening up about their experiences with anxiety or panic attacks. I know a lot of my friends have also experienced this, often for the first time, after becoming parents. And I also know that I have experienced anxiety myself in the last year.
And sometimes, it isn’t as obvious as anxious feelings or a full blown panic attack. An indication that you have unresolved feelings could be as simple as the disproportionate reaction that catches you by surprise. Your child makes a minor mistake and this unexpected rage overflows from within.
Does this resonate with you? Have you been making an effort to find time for yourself, but still find yourself feeling strung out?
Respectful parenting is so rewarding, but sometimes it can feel overwhelmingly difficult and emotionally draining. Keeping calm in the face of huge, sometimes violent emotions as we help these little people navigate the ups and downs of their feelings can be incredibly challenging. And while we are helping our children process their emotions, it can be very easy to disregard our own feelings. So now to my (not so) revolutionary addition to the dialogue about self care; finding space to process your own feelings.
This isn’t about pampering or finding time for a quiet cup of tea (although that can definitely be a part of it), it is about intentionally sitting with your emotions. It is making time to embrace your feelings, validate them and process them. Anxiety and panic attacks can be caused by a build up of suppressed emotions. I think it is really common, and often necessary, for parents to put their own feelings aside while they address the needs of their child. This is especially true in moments where your children are struggling with their own emotions.
Many of us identify uncomfortable feelings in the moment. You feel the sting of hurtful words, the anger over a broken possession, the judging eyes burning into you when your child’s emotions overflow outside the home. I know I am guilty of suppressing these feelings and not making time to revisit them later. I am trying to be a lot more mindful of this and carving out time to sit with them a little longer. For me, this looks like taking fifteen minutes by myself when my husband gets home from work. This works well for me because it gives me the evening to find resolution which we will get to. If you have older children, you might find these moments during the day, or maybe while younger children are napping.
So let’s get on to what this might look like for you. Here are some steps you can take to make sure you are addressing your own emotional needs.
When you have some space, revisit the emotional state you were feeling
- Allow yourself to embrace the emotion you were feeling. Was it fear, a sense of failure, anger, hurt? Many experts in this area also advise that you try and identify where in your body you are feeling it. Do you feel tight in your chest, a lump in your throat, a feeling in your stomach? This can be helpful down the track for you to identify a pattern of being triggered. Now is also the time to let go of any judgments you have around that feeling. For parents, I think it is really common for this judgment to centre around the age of the child. This could look like ‘my two year old said she hates me, but she is two!’ or ‘I know my four year old hit me, but she was really angry and she calmed down after that so we should just get on with it.’ Letting go of the judgment allows these statements to transform into ‘I love my two year old and it really hurt to hear her tell me she hated me.’ And, ‘my four year old hit me when she was angry and I felt scared and upset that she reacted in a violent way.’
- Sit with this feeling for some moments, without judgment. I find it useful to take some big breaths.
- Now is the time to understand why you are having this feeling. Were you triggered? Was a personal boundary crossed? Do you feel like your values were compromised? Do you have an unmet need? Did you contribute to this in a way that is generating feelings of guilt or shame? What is the big picture emotion here? Is this an isolated event or a build up of small events?
- Address the feeling. For me, this is the hardest part, but it is also the most important. If your needs are not being met, now is the time to brainstorm about what changes you can make to address this. Talking to a partner or friend or your child about your feelings can help with closure, while other people find journaling to be a similar outlet. You may need to sit calmly with your child and restate your personal boundaries (eg. You were really angry earlier. It’s ok to feel angry and I am always here to support you, but it is not ok to hurt my body when you feel angry.) Or find the source of the big picture problem and see if it can be addressed.
Learning to do this consistently takes time, but it is so worthwhile. Addressing these smaller emotions as they arise can help stop the build up towards anxiety.
I would love to hear about your experiences with giving this a go. Has it helped you too?