According to The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety is, “An expected part of life… feeling anxious when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or before making an important decision.” Makes sense, right? Anxiety is totally normal when you’re facing a stressful situation or confronting an obstacle or challenge.

I call that kind of anxiety “little a” anxiety. Everyone has “little a” anxiety at some point in their lives. For me, it’s a little tickle, butterflies in my stomach, sweaty hands or goosebumps, but nothing I can’t brush off and move past quickly.

What I’m talking about here is what I call “Big A” Anxiety. “Big A” Anxiety lives in your belly and chest and makes it hard to breathe or sits in your mind, trying to convince you that the world is crumbling around you, everyone hates you, and you’re a TERRIBLE parent. The kind that makes it hard to function for yourself or your family.

Mental health professionals call “Big A” Anxiety an anxiety disorder. NIMH states: “Anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, it does not go away and can get worse over time. Symptoms can interfere with daily activities like job performance, school work, and relationships.”

So, how can you manage your “Big A” Anxiety in a productive, healthy way and keep it moving for your kids and your family?

Here are 5 tools I use when my anxiety tries to take over and derail my life.

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Put Down the Caffeine – Pick Up Some Water

Anyone who knows me will tell you I am the QUEEN of coffee. I love everything about it. The smell, the taste. But let me be real, I especially love the caffeine. It gives me life. Caffeine has singlehandedly seen me through some exhausting times in my adult life. I am 100% unapologetically a “Caffeine Mom”.

But honest to god, y’all. I notice a significant difference in my anxiety when I abstain from caffeine. I mean, it IS an upper, right? Anxiety gets you amped up to begin with, but when you add caffeine to that, you can kiss “calm” goodbye.

I’ve started drinking water when I get up instead of heading straight to the coffee maker. Honestly, my mornings are calmer now. I don’t feel like I’m starting my day already all twisted up, and that’s good for me AND my girls. Mornings with 4 kids is hectic, and while coffee helps me wake up, adding a stimulant to what is already a stressful situation is an almost guaranteed recipe for heightened anxiety.

Get a Change of Scenery

Sometimes, when my anxiety builds, the house feels suffocating. When that starts, I’ll load the babes into their stroller and take everyone for a walk around the neighborhood. Sometimes we end up at the park, sometimes we just walk around the block a few times. Either way, the change of scenery and moving my body both help me find my center again.

Plenty of studies explain how exercise affects the brain and helps people manage several different mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety. And that all makes sense to me. But at its most basic, even without all the science behind it, the simple act of getting everyone up and out shifts my focus on something other than anxiety. Getting into the sun and fresh air makes breathing a little easier, which calms down racing thoughts and slows everything down for a little bit.

If it’s raining or too cold out, I’ll throw the kiddos in the car to do laps at the mall or even the local grocery store. And sometimes just taking a ride in the car with some snacks for the littles and good music on the radio is what the doctor ordered.

Sitting at home, chewing on the anxiety over and over and letting it run away with you won’t do you or your kids any good. This isn’t about finding a solution, or even figuring out where the anxiety comes from, it’s simply about giving yourself space to breathe and getting your feet back under you. A change of scenery goes a long way in making that happen.

Take a Nap

Yes, I know. So much needs to get done every day. Between work, kids, laundry, cleaning, errands, cooking, sports, dance and…everything, the thought of stopping long enough to nap sounds impossible, and even selfish.

Except, it’s not. Not impossible, and DEFINITELY not selfish. Sometimes anxiety reaches a fevered pitch. When it gets that far, shutting it all down and letting your mind go blank for a little bit might be the best idea.

Think of it like turning your phone off and back on again when it’s glitchy. Taking a nap, even a 20-minute power nap, is just like restarting your phone. It closes all your thoughts (apps) and allows your heart, mind, and body to recalibrate.

It won’t solve any major problems, but the world might look a little less stressful if you’ve given your body and mind a chance to stop for a minute and rest.

Meditate

Ok, so maybe napping isn’t your thing. Or maybe it’s not an option in your crazy hectic life. I can understand that. Trust me. There are days where I’d give anything for 30 minutes to lay back and close my eyes, but 1-year-old twins make that difficult, to say the least.

On days where a nap would do me and my anxiety a world of good but I can’t squeeze one in, I’ll turn on some great meditation music or a guided meditation and allow myself to fall into that place for 10-15 minutes.

You can do it while you’re folding laundry, doing dishes, or any chore that’s automatic or repetitive. Contrary to popular belief, meditation doesn’t have to be done sitting cross-legged on the floor with complete stillness and silence around you. Any time you are focused and aware of your internal thoughts and feelings you are, in a sense, meditating.

Talk to Your Doctor – Get the Meds. They Will Help

There is absolutely no shame in admitting your anxiety has reached a point where it is unmanageable without help. In fact, refusing to talk to a mental health or trained medical professional, suffering in “silence” and allowing anxiety to rule your world (and by extension your family’s world) is damaging and unfair to all of you. You can’t show up as the mother you can and should be when your mind is racing or when you’re balanced on the knife’s edge of anxiety day in and day out. You aren’t doing yourself or anyone else any favors by denying that you need help, and the longer you wait, the worse it will get.

I know it’s hard to admit not having control over our thoughts and feelings, and it’s even harder to reach out for help. But if you’ve tried all the things – diet, exercise, meditation, yoga, therapy, etc. – and you’re still dealing with intense, life-altering anxiety, it may be time for support in the form of a prescription anti-anxiety/depression medication.

Do your research. I know what meds I will never take (based on how habit forming they are), the short- and long-term side effects, and their cost. I have 4 kids to take care of, a home and a business to run. Something that zonks me out makes me loopy or unable to drive isn’t an option for me.

If the thought of taking meds scares you, remember that they are just another tool in the mental health toolbox. You can pull them out as needed and taking them during the rough patches doesn’t mean you need them forever.

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Look, Anxiety is a mental illness that alters your life, no doubt about it. It is something that takes time to learn how to recognize and even longer to learn how to manage. But just like with anything else, if you’re willing to put in the work, develop your self-awareness, and build a mental health toolbox for yourself, it’s not unmanageable.

You can absolutely be the most AMAZING momma, even with anxiety.