There I was, standing in my local Sainsbury’s, waiting to pay for my shopping. “Hi, Lyra’s mum! How’s Lyra? How are you getting on with the new baby?” One of the staff from my daughter’s old nursery was in the queue behind me and was making nice, normal, small talk, but all I could think about was how flustered I was and how I wanted to get out of the situation and just be back home.

I have always been a worrier but I would never say I’ve been anxious. But at the start of this year I started to experience what I can only describe as anxiety attacks such as the Sainsbury’s incident. Getting Lyra ready for pre-school? Never usually phases me. But there were a couple of mornings where just the thought of trying to wrangle her into her uniform and get her to school before the bell whilst trying to deal with a Jenson poonami sent me into a minor panic. Taking both kids on a three-hour round trip to Shropshire to see my oldest and dearest schoolfriends and their little ones? Usually I would have been so excited about this kind of outing and made the journey into an adventure for the three of us. But the thought of potentially being stuck on the motorway with wailing children sent my heart racing to the point that I ended up cancelling our playdate.

I put these panic attacks down to the fact that I tried to take on too much, too soon after Jenson’s birth. Blogging is the best job in the world, but it’s still a job and I was naïve to think I would be able to glide gracefully back into the world of work a few months after having a baby. (And a baby who is still refusing to sleep through the night, at that!). When I plucked up the courage to go and speak to my doctor about what I was going through, she agreed and attributed it to postnatal anxiety. Her suggestions? Well the first two bullet points below are what the doctor ordered, and the others are tips/methods that I found hugely helpful.

Time Out

I had some time off work and spent some proper time with Jenson. Real, proper quality time. I even managed to take him to a few baby groups, which is something I just haven’t done this time round. Snatching a couple of hours of ‘me time’ whilst he napped was also invaluable.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Group therapy sessions filled me with dread: I had visions of having to discuss all my issues with a bunch of strangers. In reality, the hardest thing was walking through the door into the first session. A lot of the sessions weren’t really relevant to me but one thing that did stick with me were the quick fix questions to ask myself when catastrophizing (thinking the worst will happen):

– What would I say to someone who cared about me in the same situation? (If you feel that overwhelmed by it, just don’t go to Shropshire. Your friends will understand.)
– What’s the worst thing that could happen? (So Lyra’s late for pre-school once? The teachers know that parents are only human).
– Will this matter in five years time? (I doubt if Lyra’s nursery worker will even remember me in five years time, let alone the fact that I was flustered at the supermarket checkout!)

Just Breathe

After my first pregnancy yoga class four years ago, I came home and excitedly talked Rich through the stages of pain relief that I’d learned about. “Stage one is breathing! Would you believe it? I have to breathe innnnnn through my nose, and outtttt through my mouth.” Rich didn’t believe me. Nine months later, he soon ate his words…

The CBT sessions expanded on this technique by teaching us to breathe in (for four seconds), hold it (two seconds), and then breathe out (six seconds).

And Lauren has also mentioned to me an exercise that her acupuncturist introduced to her: placing your fingers over your left nostril and breathing in and out once through your right, and then swapping sides and breathing in and out once only through your left.

The cynic in me thinks that half of the success of breathing exercises is attributed to the fact that they’re distraction techniques, but of course there’s a whole raft of evidence which proves that deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain, thus promoting calmness and staving off anxiety attacks.

It’s Good to Talk

I wasn’t sure whether to talk to Rich about what I going through. He’s generally totally unsympathetic when I’m ill and I assumed he would tell me to just pull myself together. I was doing him a disservice and he’s been my rock. As have my mates. A problem shared and all that…

Find Your ‘Thing’

Don’t hate me for this one. Because my ‘thing’ this year has been exercise, and netball in particular. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I felt most panicky and overwhelmed at a time when I hadn’t played netball for several weeks. On a similar note, I’m a walking New Years cliche in that I joined a gym and have been hitting it hard since the start of the year. Booty Barre, Body Combat, Ashtanga Yoga…you name it, I’ve tried it. As with the CBT sessions, the most intimidating part of exercise classes has been attending the first one, but the buzz and sense of achievement I’ve experienced straight after has been phenomenal. And well worth the scariness of being the class newby.

As with deep breathing, the link between exercise and a healthy state of mind has been proven countless times, but it doesn’t have to be exercise. Just doing something – some form of activity – is always going to be beneficial if you’re feeling anxious.

Headspace App

The ‘basic’ version of the app is free. It has bitesize relaxation sessions in which a lovely relaxed man with an uber-relaxing voice tells you to relax. If you listen to it at night you may end up SO relaxed that you fall asleep to it. It has graphics that rival the Rock My pins that Becky creates. And the breathing gif at the end of each session is just plain genius. Can you tell that this is an app that I rate?

Typically, since I’ve started paying the £9.99 Headspace monthly subscription, I haven’t used it once, but this is probably a positive thing, as it goes to show that I don’t feel that I need it in my life at the moment.

I’m just going to leave you with a saying that hit home when I read it. It’s the old lifejacket analogy. In the safety demonstrations on a plane, you’re told to put on your lifejacket and oxygen mask before helping your children: it’s only when you look after yourself that you can help others.

Has anyone else been affected by anxiety? Any other tips to throw into the mix? (And whilst I’m by no means an expert, if you have any questions about CBT or anything else pop them into the comments box below and I will do my best to answer them).

P.S. Now that family content has moved back to RMS we’ll be back after lunch in our new Monday and Wednesday afternoon slots. This afternoon we’ve got a ‘Day in the Life’ careers post from a reader who’s juggling motherhood and a brand new business.