I just separated from my husband and I thought I dealt with it but now I am suddenly riddled with anxiety. So much so that it is very hard for me to function, work, look after my kids… I am on medication and seeing a psychologist but I want to do something to help myself. What else can I do?
For this week’s Ask Her column, clinical psychologist Dr Lissa Johnson – who specialises in therapy, treatment, and counselling for individuals, couples and families – answers this important question about dealing with anxiety as a single mum.
Be kind and gentle with yourself. Separation and divorce, especially with kids, can be one of the most difficult experiences of a person’s life. Going through ups and downs, and feeling stronger or weaker at times, is normal, inevitable and human.
Having said that, if things are so difficult that you are struggling to care adequately for yourself and your kids, it is critical to let your health professionals know. That way you and your children can get the extra support that you need.
But even if you are getting by, make sure to tell your doctor and your psychologist how you are feeling. Discussing what is and isn’t working is one of the most powerfully effective elements of psychological therapy and treatment. Medications often need to be adjusted or changed, as do therapy approaches, through a process of trial and error. So be honest with your treating professionals.
And be honest with yourself. Take some time to ask yourself what you really need right now. What is missing for you, emotionally?
Is it support? Do you feel isolated and alone? Or day-to-day help? Are you overwhelmed? Or do you simply need a rest? Some time-out, time to process all that has happened, and time to yourself?
The better you understand yourself the better you can meet your own needs, and the more productively you can talk to your psychologist about how to do that.
There may be people in your life, for instance, who you could open up to and draw nurturance from. Or joining a support group might provide a welcome sense of connection and relief.
Alternatively you might choose to cultivate a more compassionate and empathic relationship with yourself. You might take the opportunity to get to know yourself again, perhaps rediscovering parts of you that have lain dormant for a time. Creative parts, for instance, or spiritual or adventurous dimensions to your psyche.
Or you might feel a need to re-value yourself just as you are. It could be as simple as sitting and meditating upon your love for your children, allowing yourself to savour and treasure that feeling, and appreciating it in yourself. Or you might take some time to value your courage and fortitude forging a life on your own, seeing the heroism in your struggles.
It all depends on what you need. When you feel the glimmer of a sense of something stirring in you, like a thirst about to be quenched, or an ache about to be eased, you are on the right track.
Listen to that feeling, and make room for it. Talk about it in therapy. Learn to be your own good friend, taking kind and compassionate care of yourself.
It is easy as a mother, particularly a newly single mother, to spread yourself so thin that there is nothing left for you.
But your kids need you nurtured and nourished so that you can nurture and nourish them. And, as you already know, the more you have to give, the more you get back.
Hang in there. You will make it.