Navigating the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic is challenging for everyone. These moms share their experience and tips for dealing with hard days.
When you’re struggling with a flare-up from anxiety, depression, or another mental illness, it can feel nearly impossible to tend to your children’s needs — and your own.
Add the pandemic, with its pile up of stressors and everyone at home, and the hard days may feel unbearable.
But remember that you’re absolutely not alone, and in addition to therapy, medication, or other mental health treatment, the smallest strategies can help you cope.
In the last few months, Dawn Perez, a work-from-home mom with generalized anxiety disorder and depression, has been getting exceedingly frustrated with her 16-month-old and 3-year-old sons.
“The smallest challenges and behaviors — which are completely developmentally appropriate for them — make me lose my patience, and it’s even more difficult that I am home with them all day every day,” she says.
For Perez, flare-ups also feature symptoms like fatigue, sleep issues, headaches, soreness or tight muscles, and loss of motivation.
Megan Casilla-Mwaura, a content manager and single mom with depression and PTSD, has been struggling with frequent pandemic-related panic attacks and sleep paralysis. Having to stay home reminds her of her abusive marriage and being locked inside her house.
Diagnosed with depression and anxiety, Imani Francies, a health and wellness expert, experiences extreme exhaustion, restlessness, and overthinking.
“I am unable to sit still without overheating and over-sweating because I feel self-conscious,” says Francies.
Interacting with her high-energy toddler is especially hard when she can barely get out of bed and out of the house. “On those days, I will feed my daughter quick meals and allow her to eat in bed with me. The fact that I am only able to do the bare minimum for her makes me feel worse, which also makes my episodes last longer.”
Mental health advocate and author Achea Redd also withdraws and stays in bed when her depression worsens. “Everything, even showering, is hard, and I cry endlessly,” says Redd, who worries about how those crying spells might affect her 9- and 13-year-old. Also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, Redd experiences tremors, insomnia, agitation, irritability, and lack of appetite.
For Katherine Smart, a military spouse with panic disorder, depression, and PTSD, the biggest challenge is not letting her symptoms and panic attacks “drag me down.” While deep transcranial magnetic stimulation has significantly decreased her symptoms, they can arise around her monthly cycle or amid stressful situations (like this pandemic).
But here’s the good news: In addition to treatment — like therapy and medication — these moms have found ways to navigate their difficult days.
Below, you’ll find what helps them lighten the darkness and take compassionate care of themselves — and might help you, too.
Nourish the body
Because meat makes Francies feel sluggish, she currently eats a vegetarian diet, consuming energy-promoting foods like peppers and mushrooms.
She also drinks half her body weight in ounces of water and regularly eats small meals. “If I stay with low energy for too long, I slip into a depressive episode,” she says.
Savor solo mornings
Even before glancing at her phone in the mornings, Francies centers herself by playing the piano, journaling, reading a book, sitting in silence, or practicing yoga. “I give myself so many options because it always leaves me excited about doing something different,” she says.
Casilla-Mwaura also prioritizes movement in the mornings, practicing 7- or 10-minute yoga videos.
Involve the kids
Doing activities that are both fun for her 2- and 5-year-old and restorative for her has been a big help for Casilla-Mwaura.
For example, when playing with her daughter, they’ll do kids’ yoga and sing: “I turn on some popular TikTok songs my kids know and scream out singing.”
Share what’s going on
Smart finds it helpful to tell her kids, who are 12 and 17, when she needs space to sort things out.
“If it’s a specific event that is triggering me, I’ll tell them, ‘Hey I gotta get past this date/issue/event/appointment, and then I should be good.’ They are usually very understanding and by now are pretty used to it.”
Ask for help
When Perez needs time to herself, her husband takes over after work. This is when she retreats to another part of the house to journal and take a bath. Or she takes a walk — “moving my body helps me to get out of my head and into the present moment.”
Her in-laws also take the boys on weekends so she can decompress.
To redirect her thinking when she can’t focus or sleep because her PTSD is “rearing its ugly head,” Smart turns to prayer. For example, Smart, who’s Catholic, will silently recite the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Holy Queen, Hail Mary, or St. Michael’s Prayer.
Do just one helpful thing
When Perez’s depression worsens, she does one thing that contributes to her mental and physical health: “A full day of tasks and sensory input is crippling, but one single task that I know is good for me is manageable.”
She notes that this could be taking a multivitamin, stretching when binge-watching shows, or using Epsom salt during baths (“Magnesium is a great mood booster and can promote sleep,” she adds).
Smart also likes to watch the summer storms from her upstairs porch or soak in the tub while reading one of her favorite authors.
For Redd, author of “Be Free. Be You, journaling about her negative thoughts is especially powerful as it reveals thinking patterns that need to be shifted. If she’s triggered by someone, she composes a letter. “I never send it unless I edit it three times,” she notes.
Go out in nature
When Redd needs to self-reflect, she finds comfort in taking solo walks after dinner. If her kids are with her, everyone rides their bikes to unwind.
Learn something new
Casilla-Mwaura is learning to play the kalimba, an African musical instrument. Doing something so different for her helps her feel like she’s not the same person she was years ago during her abuse.
“I get to realize that I’m moving forward, learning something new and somehow, I feel proud about myself even if I’m still learning how to play ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat,’” she says.
Based on something her then 4-year-old daughter said, Casilla-Mwaura regularly reminds herself that she’s a survivor, repeating these words: “I’m a survivor and my strength is the strength and inspiration of my children. With a happy smile above the aching heart, I heal every day and survive every day.”
When you, too, are struggling, figure out what you need, seek support, and find strategies that support your emotional and physical well-being.
And remember you, too, are a survivor.
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS, is a freelance writer and associate editor at PsychCentral.com. She’s been writing about mental health, psychology, body image, and self-care for over a decade. She lives in Florida with her husband and their daughter. You can learn more at www.margaritatartakovsky.com.