“Motherhood is driving me crazy!” I used to think this statement is an overstatement…until I got quarantined…during a pandemic…with a toddler.
It’s been 55 days since the Philippine government declared a community quarantine, which evolved into “enhanced community quarantine” to “extreme enhanced community quarantine” due to the Covid 19 pandemic. Whatever it’s called, this lockdown has banished my external support system in one snap. It has literally locked me, my husband and our 3-year-old daughter inside our little apartment unit.
Don’t get me wrong. I am in favor of this quarantine setup for everyone’s safety. I just didn’t anticipate it will be difficult for me. I’ve been working from home without household help for more than a year already. This should have prepared me for being stuck at home with a toddler and a mixture of work-related and household tasks, right?
The Cabin Fever/Mommy Burnout/Quarantine Anxiety
However, as days went by, I slowly lost sight of that confident work-at-home mom in me. It made me feel unwell from the inside, and the ugly feeling was just so hard to explain. It’s a feeling that made my day-to-day activities unreasonably difficult to accomplish. I felt trapped. I felt stuck. I was overwhelmed by the sudden changes in my life. Add to that the pressure to work from home while taking care of a toddler without household help or the usual assistance from my parents and other family members. It made me feel like I’m losing my mind that I told my husband, “I think I’m going crazy.”
Some say it’s anxiety. Some say it’s stress. And I’ve read a couple of articles saying it’s normal to feel this way during a pandemic and period of self-isolation. One article even gave a name to the awful feeling I went through, calling it the “Cabin Fever”.
Comparing myself to healthcare frontliners who’ve been battling this pandemic head on, I know my challenges are nothing. But as they say, to each his own. There is another battle inside every home nowadays. There is an unspoken struggle some parents are trying to deal with to go on with their life during “the new normal”. It’s something we don’t share on social media or even with our closest friends for fear of being judged or bashed or labeled as “weak” or “weird” or “crazy”.
The inner struggle we face every single day is something we can’t just dismiss as insignificant. It’s something we have to acknowledge, accept and face so we can move forward and do something about it.
We have to fight for our mental wellbeing
It took a while before I took back my senses and realized that what I’m going through is “normal” at this point. With the help of the supportive people in my life and helpful online articles, I’m slowly learning how to cope with this anxiety/burnout/confusion/whatever one day at a time.
Don’t feel like yourself nowadays? Trying to keep your sanity while moving forward? Crying without knowing exactly why while doing household chores? It’s OK, Mommy. You are not alone.
Sharing some of the things that are helping me go on with my daily life. These are based on pyschology-related articles and vlogs, as well as tips from people who’ve been through the same situation.
Honestly tell the people you trust about how you feel
At first, I was hesitant to tell anyone about how I felt. I was afraid no one would understand, but I realized that the only way people can help me was for them to know what’s really going on. Aside from my husband, I talked to my sister-in-law #1 and a childhood friend (both of them are Psychology grads so I felt they’d somehow understand, haha). Telling them how I really felt was one big relief. It didn’t fix me in an instant, yet it was my first brave step towards accepting my situation.
Make breathing exercise a habit
This quarantine made me realize how important breathing is. One day, an unexpected feeling of anxiety came and literally took my breath away. It’s scary to lose control of your breathing.
I learned that deep breathing techniques are effective in relieving anxiety and stress. When we breathe deeply and properly, we tell our brain to calm down and relax.
A breathing exercise that helps me nowadays is the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique, which I found at Andrew Weil MD’s Youtube Channel. I do this breathing exercise in the morning and before I go to bed.
While we all know how important exercise is to our health, we often forget that physical exercise is also a must to maintain mental wellbeing.
Hard exercise is a way of switching off panic. That’s one of the things I learned from 6 Ways to Reduce Anxiety by therapist Mark Tyrrell. Intense exercise gives the same effect as having completed the fight or flight response cycle. Thus, exercising more intensely more often tends to lower anxiety in general.
My sister-in-law # 2 told me that she learned from mental toughness seminars that creating something out of your own hands helps a lot in reducing stress and anxiety. Some love to create arts and crafts, while others create culinary delights. So go ahead with whatever it is that you enjoy creating.
Quoting this from a blog post I’ve read — “Doing handwork allows us to experience patience and calm and naturally cultivates mindfulness,” says Courtney Rodrigue Hubscher, a counselor with GroundWork Counseling in Florida.
So don’t get annoyed if your Facebook friends have turned into instant bakers, cook, painters or carpenters. It’s probably their way of coping with their situation.
Do social media detox
Social media can help us connect with other people, but sometimes, it can also be the source of our anxiety. Since we cannot totally control what we see on our feeds, we can’t also control the information that we receive. That’s why I opted to lessen my social media time. I also tried to avoid reading too much about Covid.
Stay connected with family and friends
Big thanks to video calling apps for making it possible to communicate with loved ones and friends. The fact that I can see and hear the people I value is enough to comfort me. Even our 3-year-old daughter finds joy in short video calls with her cousins. It’s the closest we can have to a face-to-face communication. Let’s make use of it.
Spend time with God
Regardless of our religion, we can always talk to God. If there’s someone who understands what we’re going through, what’s going on with our mind and body, it has to be our Creator. I learned from a priest once that it actually doesn’t matter if we understand or not what we’re going through. What matters is that we believe that there’s a good God who’s in control of what’s happening to us.
There are a lot of things we can do to spend time with God. Online masses as well as online praise and worship sessions are a big help. Personal prayer time is also a life saver. Whether while staring at the sunset or while washing the dishes, I do my best to tell God my thoughts, my feelings, my fears, my hopes. It brings me peace.
Connect with nature
Spending time with nature can help us de-stress. While it may be hard to find “nature” when we’re not allowed to leave home, there are some ways that can help us be as close to nature as possible. So it’s not surprising that some of our Facebook friends have taken gardening seriously, while others have decided to adopt an indoor plant.
In my case, I just open the window everyday and stare at the trees outside. Seeing greens and breathing in fresh air (OK, not so fresh) are therapeutic for me.
Quarantine the worry
One of the best tips I got is to learn how to quarantine the worry. It’s more doable than telling me not to worry at all. What experts say is we have to acknowledge our worries but we should not let it consume us the entire day.
According to an article I’ve read about resilience during pandemic, we can spend a regular half hour each day to identify and tackle the concerns we have, then commit the rest of the day to other more important things. “When you feel yourself slipping into a worried frame of mind, try to postpone the feelings and focus instead on what is actually happening at that moment.”
Think of others and do something good for them
I’ve learned from one of Bro. Bo Sanchez’ online talks that when we think of other people’s needs, we tend to think less of ourselves. When I think of other people, I realize how blessed I am and I remember my purpose. So think of doing something good for others every day, whether it’s just calling a friend who might be alone, checking how your parents are doing or wanting to cook for the frontliners.
Have fun with the family
Inserting humor in our day-to-day family life keeps me sane. I find solace in my husband’s loud voice and my toddler’s giggles.
Decide that you want to be OK
With all the coping tips and techniques I’ve read and received from people, I realized that nothing will send me out of the dark tunnel I’ve entered if I won’t help myself. Coping with stress and anxiety is also a decision. It’s a choice we make everyday. We have to want to protect our mental wellness. We need to want it badly that we’ll do everything not to lose it.
We may not fully understand what is happening to us right now, but believe that a stronger, wiser, kinder and more courageous woman will come out of this. Quoting from my favorite Disney movie Mulan — “The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.” Be strong, Mom! 🙂