Anxiety and Motherhood in Seattle: A Common Occurrence

Kelly was a mother to two kids, ages six and five. Like most moms, her life was busy, but recently that busyness had turned into something more. She felt at times like she was suffocating just standing in her own kitchen or sitting in the car after dropping the kids off.

Her husband, Matt, worked in downtown Seattle and usually was out of the house by 7 am or earlier depending on the day. Kelly was responsible for getting the kids up, feeding them, dressing them and getting them to school before 8:45 am.

Typically, the kids liked to sleep in the morning, as did Kelly. After Matt left, Kelly usually slept until about 7:45 am or so. It didn’t make much sense to get up earlier than that as the kids weren’t up anyway.

With that said, Kelly did set her alarm for 7:20 with the hopes that each morning would be a little different than the previous. When her alarm did go off though, she usually hit snooze and would sleep some more or would lay in bed playing on her phone.

PARALYZED BY ANXIETY

However, Kelly didn’t just hit snooze because she was tired and she didn’t lay in bed because her phone was that intriguing. She laid in bed because she literally had trouble getting out of bed. She had started to feel paralyzed by anxiety. And not anxious about her just her job, but even her kids. In fact, some days, she event felt resentful towards them, which mortified her.

The morning routine was crippling for Kelly. The stress she felt translated to physical ailments. Her mouth was dry and her stomach usually would be in knots when she woke up and it was better for her to lay in bed until she absolutely had to get up.

She was constantly questioning if she was a good mother or, sometimes when she was really feeling down, if she even really wanted to have kids. She had told herself since she was a child that she wanted children, but, now that she had them, they seemed to constantly demand her attention.

Where were the days where she could just go out on a date night, have fun at a concert, or go away on a ski trip for the weekend without the constant bickering and nagging of the kids? She felt that everything she was doing these days centered around her children and she certainly didn't remember her mother doing the same when she was younger. Her mom usually kicked her out of the house and told her to go play, while she sat in the living room gossiping with friends on the phone.

Not that you would know that from the way her mother criticized her now regarding the kids or the house. It was never clean enough whenever her mother came over, as if she had time, or even should be cleaning up after the kids and her husband constantly.

And her career? It'd completely stalled since having kids. Of course, nobody talked about it, but she'd been passed over for promotion 3 times in the past year. Constantly having to take off when the kids got sick or passing on the big project opportunities because her kids had traveling sports games every weekend had certainly played a big role in that. 

Even the weather was becoming a source of mental stress and depression. Cloudy days just seemed to add extra weight, making her feel gloomy. And cloudy days in Seattle are the norm, which wasn't helping.

And though the worries were predictable, the results weren’t and that perhaps was Kelly’s greatest stress. As a woman in her early thirties, she herself was the typical millennial mother working odd hours to accommodate her family life. She and Matt were regularly lauded for how well they made things work.

Yet for how well everyone saw the family, inside Kelly was a wreck. She could handle major projects at work where thousands of dollars were on the line but at home a fight over toast versus cereal made her want to jump out of her skin.

She loved her family and Matt was supportive but he just didn’t seem to understand the emotional stress Kelly was going through. Kelly didn’t like to compare, but Matt was helpful at night, however he didn’t have any deadlines to meet. If the kids weren’t in bed by 8 pm, there really weren’t any consequences. It was the exact opposite in the morning. If they were late for school—to Kelly—it felt like the whole day was possibly ruined or put behind.

Kelly felt trapped, and the saddest part was she didn’t even consider trying to get help. Up to that point, it had never even occurred to Kelly that there might be more going on than simply worrying about the morning routine. The panic attacks she'd begun to have had sort of slowly creeped up on her and they felt almost normal now.

Plus, if she told anyone, they would just start to view her as crazy or a failure. She didn't need more criticism from her mom or to jeopardize her career any further.

ANXIETY TO SEEK HELP

Where to start in diagnosing what’s going on can be difficult. For Kelly, seemingly normal worries never seemed to warrant a trip to the doctor. She was used to taking the kids to the doctor for ear infections and stomach aches—she wasn’t used to going to the doctor for herself especially for worrying, but something had to change.

Kelly knew that her personal doctor was the best place to start, but even making the appointment proved difficult. She worried about what she would be told. The same paralyzed fear that she experienced during the morning routine stopped her from scheduling the appointment for quite some time and even when she did end up scheduling, she cancelled twice from her cell phone in the doctor’s office parking lot before she finally made it into the office.

Once she was in to see her doctor, she discovered the doctor’s office was indeed the best place to start for trying to figure out what was going on. Generally speaking, the doctor recognized just based on questioning that Kelly was dealing with severe anxiety and even possibly depression. The doctor started with a line of questioning and even ordered blood work to determine if she was on any medications that might be altering her moods.

In Kelly’s case, the doctor prescribed anti-anxiety medication. However, the doctor did warn Kelly that it could take a little time to take effect as well as, if she didn’t notice any effects, she should return to the doctor’s office as there were several different medications to try if she wanted to.

The doctor also was clear that just taking medication was not enough. She needed to talk to someone such as a counselor who would be helpful in teaching techniques for dealing with stress.

STIGMA WHEN ANXIETY IS DISCOVERED

Kelly felt better that she had made the decision to go to see the doctor, but she couldn’t help but feel embarrassed and even a little ashamed. She felt like she was the only mom that must have had to go see a doctor to deal with the stress of being a mom. She also felt uneasy about the idea of taking medication. Similar to how she felt about going to see the doctor, she didn’t know anyone that was taking medication for anxiety. Or at least no one had ever shared with her that they were taking medication.

 As she looked into it more on her own though, Kelly discovered a few things that made her a little more at ease. Women tend to be more susceptible to anxiety than men for a variety of reasons. The first is that women seem to keep their emotions internal more than men and the second is that a woman’s body produces different hormones which also impact women differently than men.

The other thing Kelly discovered is that anxiety can run in the family. Her parents never talked about topics like anxiety, but it did get Kelly to thinking that what she was going through seemed reminiscent of memories she had of her own mom.

Finally, external factors like caffeine and even the weather could play a role. Seattle is known for its rain, but in reality it’s simply cloudy without the rain. And as for caffeine, though Kelly didn’t drink coffee, she did drink soda and, besides for the caffeine, she had heard the artificial sugars in the drink aren’t good for the average person much less the average person with anxiety.

Kelly did make an appointment to see a counselor and ,through speaking with the counselor, she noticed that her stress was highest in fall. Not only did weather impact anxiety but it was possible that the seasons did as well.

The counselor pointed out that fall is when kids go back to school—that is the time when the routine is formed and hence, the stress. The counselor also recommended that Kelly try to create a regular exercise routine. The routine didn’t have to be every day, but it did need to be consistent.

THE FUTURE WITH ANXIETY

Kelly takes each day as it comes. She has shared her story with Matt as well as a few other moms she trusts. The anxiety has improved, but hasn’t disappeared. Each day presents challenges, but Kelly has several different tools for coping now and just knowing those tools exists puts her mind a little bit more at ease.

Does Kelly's story sound familiar to you? It's OK to seek help and seeking help doesn't even mean anything is "wrong" with you. You may be surprised to learn that 25% of women in the US take some kind of medication to help them relegate stress and moods. 

Just like we need to talk to a close friend of family when we're going through a difficult time, sometimes we need a bit of extra help to get through challenges in our life. Medication can sometimes help with that and so can medication, or talking to a professional.

Here at Mindful Therapy Group, we focus on getting to the root cause of what's going on in a woman's life and provide her with the support and techniques she needs to live a full life. It's tough out there these days, and we all need a little help now and then. If you have questions, contact us at our center closest to you in Mountlake Terrace, Southcenter, or Seattle locations.