My mom was a worrier. I thought of myself as a worrier too. Then I did some research on anxiety and realized that’s what I have. Not that I have self diagnosed with a disorder- I am not a psychiatrist- but more understanding the definition of anxiety and knowing that it does have a tendency to creep up on me in unexpected ways and for longer than it needs to. And remembering my journey thus far as a stepmom, I have had it triggered a time or two. Stepmoms have a lot of worry and stress heaped on their plates. Worry and stress are other names for anxiety. It’s a prettier name for it, more socially acceptable to call yourself a worry wart than say you have anxiety. And most people understand stress because they live with it too. But, there’s a stigma attached to the word anxiety. Just like there’s a stigma attached to the word stepmother. But believe it or not SOME anxiety is good- it’s adaptable behaviour. We need to have that adrenaline rush when events threaten our safety. If you are gassing up your car and a shady character sticks a gun in your ribs you should be anxious and scared. It’s our bodies natural, self preservation kicking in. Everybody worries or is anxious about something from time to time. However, the worry or anxiety is usually related to the situation. And usually that situation comes to an end. For example, a big presentation at work, getting approved for a mortgage. However, in the case of stepmoms it can be a pervasive apprehension typically around the stepkids or his ex. If you have anxiety before moving into blending a family, it can be amped up by the stressors of stepping. I’ve heard time again about stepmoms’ anxiety over a number of things from visitation and custody to child support payments and the impact that has on their budget to court proceedings to how the children are being raised and what they are exposed to in the other homes. The ex anxiety is also prominent in stepmom discussions. Particularly if there’s a high conflict or volatile ex (then self care and couple care is critical). Any kind of email, text or phone call is enough for some women to have a full on panic attack.
This post would be very long if I described all of the signs and symptoms here because anxiety has many names under the umbrella of Anxiety Disorders (Generalized Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Separation Anxiety, OCD are just a few) and the symptoms vary with each of them. But, according to the website anxietycentre.com, anxiety is a state of uneasiness, apprehension, or uncertainty and fear resulting from anticipating a real or fabricated potentially threatening event or situation. According to “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” by Edmund J. Bourne PhD, it can impact your whole being: physiological, behavioural and psychological functioning. Anxiety is the number one mental health concern for women. Bourne also states that stress over time plays a key role in the development of anxiety. Anxiety isn’t good for us if it pervades our day to day functioning and becomes debilitating. Debilitating means it prevents you from going to school, to work, having relationships, or leaving your house. The difference is in the intensity of the symptoms experienced and the duration of the experience. The severe form of anxiety may require professional help and possibly medication management. However, most people who have anxiety have it on the milder end of the continuum. Most people with anxiety don’t reach out for help, likely because of the stigma attached. However, it can be self managed.
How do you manage?
According to Bourne it’s important to take a holistic approach. So there IS hope. First you have to take care of yourself; lots of my other blogs have tips on self care. Fresh air and sunlight are always good places to start.Some other important things to remember are to find time for fun! Laughter really is good medicine. But, Bourne’s book is an excellent resource which is quite comprehensive. It includes tips and practical exercises. It also addresses topics such as relaxation, diet, exercise, positive self talk, managing mistaken beliefs, meditation, visualization, and a great section on being assertive. It also has sections on coping with panic attacks and help for phobias.
And if you are not the person with anxiety but your spouse or children have it, Bourne’s book is one to add to your library or your resources. Divorce and the grief and loss attached to it are triggers for anxiety.
So why am I writing about this? Because talking about it, writing about it and sharing it let’s you know you are not alone! It lowers the stigma and that helps people reach out for help when they need it. So they can come out of the shadows of guilt, shame and self blame. Take a deep breath, let it go, then breathe deeper, as many times as it takes to kick your anxiety to the curb..even if it’s for just now.