My column on HuffPost is the written counterpart to my weekly BBM Global Network and TuneIn radio show (Wednesdays 1pm), with which it shares a title, MD for Moms.
This article was originally published in HuffPost on 2/11/2016.
Mothers worry, which is not pathological unless this anxiety interferes with the ability to enjoy and engage in motherhood, as I explored in the first article of this two-part series on maternal anxiety.
Most mothers will tell you they would jump in front of any target to protect their children. It makes sense based on how strongly we love our kids that we are terrified at the thought of any harm coming to them. Our feelings travel along a spectrum, from blinding love at one end, to white-knuckled, catch-your-breath terror on the other.
When our thoughts turn to our children’s well-being, our brains play out hundreds of anxiety-driven “What If” scenarios, hoping to preempt anything bad from occurring by warning them of potential dangers. Despite the functional benefit to some degree of anxiety, when ratcheted up, this same anxiety can lead to irrational and excessive fears.
Addressing this anxiety can be tricky, as it needs to be dampened down but is impossible to completely banish. If the goal was to rid a mom of all anxiety then the plan would be doomed to fail from the start.
From working with many women in my practice, I have developed a method that allows women to tackle their overwhelming anxiety without considering it the ultimate enemy. My approach involves taming and redirecting this energy in a way that makes it a beneficial tool for motherhood.
My 5 step strategy for empowerment over excess anxiety is called FINcE: Focus, Identify, Normalize, Compartmentalize, and Engage
1. Stop a moment, close your eyes and take three cleansing breaths (Focus)
2. Notice the thoughts that cause anxiety (Identify);
3. Remember you are hard-wired to worry (Normalize);
4. Isolate the anxiety so that it does not overpower your ability to function and act rationally as a mom (Compartmentalize);
5. Harness the energy derived from the anxiety into something positive, allowing you to be a happier, more empowered mother (Engage).
As an example, rather than preventing your child from using a scooter or rollerblades due to the fear of injury, close your eyes and breathe deeply, notice the anxiety, remember that fearing potential danger is natural (the healthy instinct manifests as, ‘I need to protect my child’), and convert that feeling into an unbreakable rule: The kids must always wear helmets and stay away from the street.
An easy mnemonic one patient uses to remember the steps is: I will feel FINE with Dr. Carly’s help along the way (get it?).
Reach Out For Help If It Gets To Be Too Much
Strategies such as the five step FINcE model can be very helpful for excessive ‘what-if’ thoughts. However, if you start to feel that your anxiety is out of control, I encourage you to seek support. Speaking to family, friends, a therapist, counselor, social worker, or a psychiatrist can be profoundly beneficial. There is no reason to suffer with painful anxiety, as it is readily manageable, and can be redirected and controlled without losing the normal ‘what-if’ maternal instinct necessary to protect our kids.
If you or a loved one is experiencing significant anxiety and/or depression, please reach out for help.
This is the second of a two part series on maternal anxiety. While mothers naturally worry, and should, the first part helps identify when that worry crosses into pathological anxiety and should be treated.
If you — or someone you know — are experiencing signs of postpartum depression or anxiety, please reach out to your health care provider.
If you — or someone you know — need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.