If you’ve been following along, you know I have been coping with some postpartum anxiety. And in my recovery process I’ve discovered a few things I’ve been doing to sabotage myself. I’ve noticed some things I use as crutches to cope with my anxiety that really only serve to make it worse.
A coping mechanism is an adaptation to environmental stress that is based on conscious or unconscious choice and that enhances control over behavior or gives psychological comfort. The key word here being control. You see, we think we have a lot more control over things than we actually do. So, these coping mechanisms are really only tricking us into believing we’re “controlling” our environment or our experience, when in reality we’re just running from it.
Some coping mechanisms are harmful and self-destructive. For example, I’ve spoken about my experience with an eating disorder and how I used that as a way to escape my negative emotions. Even though it took me some time to finally stop, I generally knew the entire time that what I was doing was bad for me. However, some self-destructive coping mechanisms aren’t so obvious.
During this time of learning to cope with my postpartum anxiety, I’ve noticed some mechanisms I’m using to feel like I’m in control. And they are directly affecting how anxious I feel on a daily basis. It’s quite the vicious cycle.
Coping mechanisms for anxiety: Self-sabotage isn’t always so obvious
One of these coping mechanisms is my need for order. When I break it down like that, getting all the way to the root, it’s very clear that my “need for order” comes as a direct response to my anxiety, which flares up whenever I’m forced to experience any disorder. But, on the surface, it’s not as obvious.
I always just thought I was an organized person. I like things to be in their place. I like having everything neat and clean and orderly. BUT, when things aren’t that way, I become anxious. And I become overwhelmed. And I feel like I’ll never be able to get everything cleaned up. And I become more overwhelmed. And I lose all motivation. And I’m a total failure. And if I can’t do the dishes, I might as well not do anything.
You can see where my problem is. In tricking myself into believing that I can control my environment by keeping everything in order, I’m setting myself up for failure when things inevitably become disorderly. I live with four other people, three of them children, a giant dog and a very furry cat. My house rarely looks perfect. And it doesn’t have to! We live here.
The other coping mechanism I’ve discovered is my need for routine. As long as everything is the same and nothing changes, I’m not anxious. Again, saying it like this, it sounds very obvious what my problem is. However, day to day, I wasn’t able to see it.
All I was able to notice was that when my routine would falter even just the slightest bit, my entire day would be ruined. If plans changed. If I had to step a single foot outside of my comfort zone. Any change at all would cause me to seize up. But, just like disorder is a constant in life, so is change. Both things are inevitable and very much out of our control.
So, now I know about these coping mechanisms. I can call them what they are, and I can slowly start loosening my grip on them. I won’t pretend like it’s a switch I can flip. Instead, I’m learning to notice them when they come up. I notice the anxiety I feel when the kitchen is messy or when there are school papers all over the table or when my husband leaves his clothes next to the hamper. And instead of cleaning and organizing, I’m letting myself sit with that emotion. I’m letting myself feel the anxiety, knowing what it is and why it’s there. And that process has really helped me start to cope better with it.
I’m trying to go with the flow a bit more. I’m leaving the messes. I’m noticing how I feel when I see them. I’m trying to say yes more to situations that make me uncomfortable. I’m trying to laugh more. I’m trying to listen to myself more. Going inward and really listening to what I need, and then trying to do more of whatever that is. Some days it’s waking up early and exercising. Some days it’s going back to bed when baby takes her morning nap. Some days its taking a walk. Some days its writing. Some days I haven’t got a clue, so I just sit there and breathe and try and give myself a hug from the inside, out. I’m trying to be a better friend to myself. I’m trying.
That’s as much as I can say right now. But I think that’s plenty. That’s all any of us can do, right? Just try. One step after the other, always keeping your gaze forward. If you’re moving forward, you’re moving in the right direction.
If this thing doesn’t work, then try that thing. If that one doesn’t work, try the other. It’s all trial and error. And as soon as one thing starts working, something else breaks and you have to try all over again.
That’s life. We’re in a constant state of trying and learning and growing and transitioning. It never ends. There is no destination. We never get there. But we’re always trying to. And that is a trip worth being on.