In Tim Burton’s 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland, Alice says… “From the moment I fell down that rabbit hole, I’ve been told what I must do and who I must be. I’ve been shrunk, stretched, scratched and stuffed into a teapot. I’ve been accused of being Alice and of not being Alice…”
Becoming a mother is a lot like falling down a rabbit hole. You can’t be prepared for what is on the other side. The love you feel for your children. The energy you put into worrying about them. The patience and consistency it takes to teach them. Can shrink, stretch and leave you scratched up over and over again. Some days it feels nothing short of being stuffed in a teapot.
As a clinical therapist I have sat in many sessions with an individual calling herself a mother. Knowing her struggle and heartache and watching week by week as she comes out of it. I know all that shrinking, stretching, and scratching turns Mothers into the most extraordinary beings, humans can become.
I regularly meet with moms struggling with anxiety. They feel crippled by their fears, worries, and overwhelming pressure that sits on their shoulders. In these sessions once we identify what their goals and strengths are, the next thing I often do is help them create a therapeutic toolbox with techniques and resources tailored to their circumstances that help them cope. The coping skills in their therapeutic toolbox becomes how they can apply what we have processed during therapy.
One technique I find helpful for almost everyone is something called grounding. Grounding is technique in cognitive therapy. When used properly, it can calm down intense emotions, giving you an opportunity to separate your emotions and thoughts and evaluate your circumstance in real-time. While focusing on taking deep breaths and inhaling and exhaling, you can focus on each of your senses. What can you see? What can you smell? What can you hear? What can you taste? How do you feel physically? (my back aches, all my weight is on my left hip, etc.) While there are many ways to tailor grounding to an individual, I encourage clients to practice this first in moments of peace when they can spend a lot of time thinking about each of their senses and what they are experiencing. That way, when in a heightened stressful state, using the technique of grounding can take as little as a brief/silent 30-40 seconds. This technique literally grounds yourself in the present. Clearing away the extra emotional noise that anxiety usually brings to a situation.
Let’s look at this common situation as an example. You have finally gotten everyone in the car and buckled up and despite your best effort are now a few minutes late on your way to an appointment. Unchecked, the anxiety of rushing to get in the car might carry over into the way you drive or into your tolerance of repeated questions coming from the backseat. Now, all that unchecked anxiety is turned into raw anger or complete emotional withdrawal both having negative emotional consequences. By taking a few seconds to ground yourself as you drive down the street, it gives you just enough emotional steadiness to put things into perspective and offer yourself some needed self-compassion. Everyone is safe. You are on your way and you did your best. You can now emotionally reset. In therapy you would be able to examine this situation to recognize your triggers and process the underlying emotional layers, leaving you empowered to have options and handle it differently in the future.
All the emotional energy you experience as mothers definitely causes shrinking, stretching and scratching. But, just like Alice in wonderland, through it all she was able to find her muchness. Being able to monitor and regulate your anxiety can help you become as the Mad Hatter might say,” much more muchier”. Alice ends her dialogue about all that has happened to her since she fell down the rabbit hole, with… “but this is my dream and I’ll decide where it goes from here.” Anxiety isn’t your enemy when managed and respected. It can be a tool to motivate, protect, and prepare you. You can use it to create the muchness you are capable of.
Yarrow Therapy was created with mothers in mind. Providing online therapy and therapeutic resources for women. Visit us at yarrowtherapy.com for psychotherapy resources as well as individual and group therapy scheduling.