THE ANXIETY CONTAGION
Harriet Lerner says, “anxiety is one of the most contagious emotions.” This is true in families, in communities, and in places of employment. Full stop. Full confession. I struggle with anxiety and depression. And it has been clear that my littles are incredibly in tune to my emotional state. Que all the mom guilt. If I set the tone for the emotional well-being of my household, and I am bringing in anxiety, fear, and depression – that is not the type of mother I want to be. It puts a great amount of pressure, but also a strong desire to learn more and do better.
Right now, today, COVID-19 has created the perfect storm for fear. Everything is anxiety producing - going to the grocery store, watching the news, scrolling through social media, ect. Everything that I have seen is about fear, because the reality is the unknown brings fear.
But what if we made a different choice. What if we decided to fill our homes not with anxiety producing intel, but calm producing? How much different would our day-to-day lives feel and look? How much different would our children's experience be?
Brene Brown says that we have one of two responses to anxiety: we either over-function or under-function, and this is learned in childhood. If you know me I am a diehard "over-functioner". When things get hard I get proactive and I “do”. As Brown puts it, “we do so we do not have to feel.” And honestly, I would not say that this has served me well in my life. It has often left me overworked, emotionally numb, resentful, and burnt out. This is the reason many do not know I struggle with debilitating depression and anxiety. Because somewhere along the way I was taught that you do not fall down, you get up again and again, despite the demons you face. In contrast, those who under-function will fold under pressure and let someone else take over. This is not my default and the reason is this: my biggest fear in life is that I would be seen as weak, inadequate, and as not enough. And if I fold under pressure – isn’t that just validating my shame-bind?
Just as in everything – there is strength and weakness in both responses. There is a balance between the two. There is good in both responses. There is a time to ask for help and be vulnerable, and there is a time to fight through fear paralysis and accomplish the necessary.
Courage is not when we are unafraid, but instead how we act in spite of our fear (Brown). This is so timely for our world right now. Because mamas, we still need to do life, despite living in a time of fear. We still need to find normalcy for ourselves and for our children, despite having normal ripped away from us.
It is alarming that 1/3 of adults will suffer from an anxiety disorder in their lifetime and 50% more of these individuals are women. As someone who struggles with an anxiety disorder, I do not want that for my children. And so, it starts with me, it always starts with me. When I find healing, when I find better coping strategies, when I find calm - my children find it too. And if helping myself wasn’t enough, helping them has always been enough. Becoming mama is the catalyst for change, for healing, for growth, because I am no longer the only one being affected. I have a greater responsibility to do better because I am affecting them, their livelihoods, and how they will grow up. So, my question is this: when life is filling us with fear, what can we do to find the calm?
For me, it’s reducing the use of devices, it’s reducing scrolling through social media, it’s avoiding the news and the grocery store as much as possible. It’s in finding the positive things I can do with my children right now, looking for the good and remembering that quality time is sacred in our busy society. It’s reminding myself it doesn’t need to be perfect to be beautiful. I can be present and I can bring calm so that my kids don’t leave this pandemic having developed anxiety lifestyles or anxiety triggers. Instead, what they remember about this time is this: how much time we spent together as a family, how we created memories, how we did things differently and new and with just us. That's the legacy I want to leave them, not only now in the midst of COVID, but always.
*Harriet Lerner, PHD, “The Dance of Connection”
*Brene Brown, Unlocking Us Podcast on Anxiety, Calm, Over/Under Functioning