Most days, I go for a walk. I live near a small lake, and the loop around it is about two miles long. I listen to audiobooks or podcasts, and I usually stop somewhere along the route and take a picture or two. My favorite images end up on my Instagram account with the hashtag #SanityWalk.
These walks help me stay sane.
Before I became a mother, I was an organized, type-A, get-things-done kind of person. I got into a good college, graduated in four years, got a job, went to grad school, and got married. I thought I could handle anything.
And then I had kids.
Almost overnight, everything changed. Needless to say, I was no longer on top of my game all the time. Most of the time I wasn’t even sure what game I was playing, what the rules were, or how I could possibly win.
I developed what I now know was postpartum anxiety, although I didn’t realize it at the time. The combination of a racing brain, a newborn, and a toddler made sleep nearly impossible. My constant exhaustion made the anxiety worse, and it wasn’t long before I felt overwhelmed most of the time. I cried frequently, and as my babies grew into toddlers, I started snapping and yelling at them.
I felt guilty for losing my temper, embarrassed by my behavior, and ashamed that I wasn’t a better mother.
At some point – and I honestly couldn’t tell you what that point was; those years went by in a fog – I decided to dig myself out of the hole I was in. I learned about and started practicing mindfulness. I went back into therapy, and began taking a low dose of an anti-anxiety medication. I met with a sleep specialist, and started treatment for sleep apnea.
And I started walking. The regular movement, fresh air, and time away from my email, to-do list, and to be honest, other people (including my kids), helped clear my mind and calm my emotions.
It wasn’t long before the anxious thoughts became less frequent, and I felt less reactive and overwhelmed. I was more patient with my kids, and I was yelling at them less often. (Don’t get me wrong; I still lose it with the girls from time to time, but it’s happening less frequently than it used to, and I rarely get sidelined by guilt and shame anymore.)
After less than a year, I was able to stop taking the meds. I’m not in therapy right now, but I will go back if the need arises. I’m sleeping well most of the time, and I still walk as often as possible.
(I am aware that I just wrapped up almost a year of big changes, hard work, and a lot of ups and downs into three sentences. It wasn’t nearly that easy, and I don’t want you to think it should be that easy for you. But it is do-able, especially if you have support in the process, and it’s well worth the effort.)
Before I became a mother, I could pretty much handle whatever life tossed my way. I was like a car that could go miles and miles with very little maintenance. Now, well, I’m a different person (or car, or whatever). I still run well, but I’m being driven a lot more frequently than I ever was before, and I’m carrying two little passengers with me wherever I go.
The bottom line is that I need a lot more regular maintenance than I used to. For me, that’s mindfulness, sleep, and #sanitywalks. They don’t cost me any money, and the extra time spent walking, sleeping, and breathing helps me be more effective and empathic with my daughters. As long as I stick to my maintenance plan (which I think of as my #sanitypractices), I can deal with life and parenting without falling apart the way I used to.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing more about #SanityPractices for parents. We’ll look at easy, do-able, and powerful ways to take care of yourself so you can take care of your children without losing your mind.
If you think you might suffering from a postpartum depression or anxiety, check out the resources at PostPartum Support International.
This post was originally published on my Mindful Parenting blog on PsychCentral.com.