Approaching Chaos with Calmness
I think of new motherhood as the wild wild west of womanhood. You’re pregnant, you get so much attention, there’s so much build-up to the day of your delivery, and just like that, you’re on your own to figure it out - guided by Google overwhelm and the occasional, unsolicited, just-my-thoughts kind of advice from others.
After I had Renley, I developed a new anxiety I never had before. Postpartum anxiety is extremely common but somehow I never heard about it while I was pregnant. Of course I was prepared for the daunting Postpartum Depression that everyone warns about, but not anxiety (I’ll write a separate piece on this). After she was born, I became fanatical about a number of things: cleanliness, calming my baby, organizing chaos, getting through a to-do list, and more. I had always been a relatively neat person but not the neat freak I suddenly was. Renley is now 16 months old and I’m just starting to get a handle on accepting the mess, not going into internal panic when she cries and I can’t soothe her, and breathing through the overwhelm of a sink full of dishes.
So how do I approach chaos? Here’s a couple coping tips I’ve learned along the way:
Sounds simple, right? It’s not. Even as someone who learned the importance of breath along time ago, I catch myself not breathing whilst panicking. Here’s how Brené Brown relays tactical breathing from poet-warrior and Green Beret, Mark Miller:
Inhale deeply through your nose, expanding your stomach, for a count of four - one, two, three, four.
Hold in that breath for a count of four - one, two, three, four.
Slowly exhale all the air through your mouth, contracting your stomach, for a count of four - one, two, three, four.
Hold the empty breath for a count of four - one, two, three, four.
So when does this apply? In just about everything. I typically know I’m not breathing when my chest begins to tighten up and I’m feeling overwhelmed. Feeding Renley always brings it on because I’m moving so quickly to get her what she needs to eat (as she scarfing down each course I’m cutting up for her) and I know I’ll be left with a mess, which leads me to my next tip:
Master mealtime (Babies over 6mo.)
Meal time is probably one of the more daunting arenas of motherhood I still sometimes can’t wrap my head around. Renley can be a picky eater but I’ve nailed down the meals I know she will eat when I’m in a pinch. In prep for this, there are a couple go-to favorites of hers that I always have in the fridge:
Eggs - takes two minutes to scramble, perfect for when she’s screaming in impatience
Avocado - Renley loves it, so I cut it in half and spoon out chunks right onto her plate
Spinach - boiled in water for a couple minutes until wilted, then add butter and a little parmesan cheese for flavor
Cooked pasta - keep it in there for the final carb course - add butter and parmesan for a little flavor or keep an extra jar of tomato sauce in your pantry (or sauté with spinach - see below)
I find that the key to meal times is to feed her first, not try to eat at the same time. Someday I’d like to change this, but for now, it’s just easier. Sometimes I’ll sit next to her and eat something light but I like to keep my priority on her and eat my meal in peace and quite later. I clean as I go and collect dirty dishes in the sink so I have one area to clean at the end of it all. And when I give her a bath after dinner, I let go of the thought of handling the sink - it will all get done.
Cleaning one section at a time
It’s not uncommon for me to have a tiny freak out that the apartment is becoming a total mess (ask my sister). I can handle one room being messy (progress, for me) but the whole place - nope. So to conquer my clean-freak overwhelm, I came up with a new rule: just clean one section. It turns out that cleaning just a small section makes me feel better. Sometimes that’s just throwing all of Renley’s toys into her toy baskets and fluffing my couch pillows. Other times it’s just tackling the kitchen sink, wiping the counters and swiffering the floors. Sometimes, on a Saturday, I’ll handle one half of my place (living room and kitchen) and I feel like a million bucks. But I found that focusing on one area gives me the endorphins of productivity without the overwhelm of having to clean the whole place. Plus I’ve learned that if one area is clean I feel better, and I’ll get to the rest of the mess later.
Put on sweats and add music
When I come home from a long day at work, I am often bombarded - work bag in hand, suit pants on - by Renley only wanting to be held. Instead of jumping into the evening with her still wearing my work attire and mentality, I started to do something that changed everything. I came home, immediately changed into something more comfortable and returned to the kitchen to put on some music. It helped me transition from one chaos to another a little easier. I go into “mom mode” - leaving my work day behind - and turn on music to make it more fun. Music, in general, has made motherhood easier. I put on Johnny Cash, I sing to Renley, we dance, we get goofy and I feel lighter. Motherhood is all about what you make of it. I think of Renley as my best friend, my sometimes irritable side kick, and I just figure, this is going to be wild so let’s have fun while we’re doing it.
Be aware of your moods
There are days when I can tell I’m off, especially by the evening. I had to start to become very aware of my moods so as to not let them affect Renley or my home. I started to recognize moods - anxiety, sadness, loneliness, anger - and take action to diffuse them. For anxiety, my go-to is breath. For sadness, my go-to was putting on a song like “You Say” by Lauren Daigle or shuffling Johnny Cash - who always makes me sing and dance it off. For loneliness, I journal and remind a mantra that it is only temporary. For anger, I get moving. I take a brisk walk, I go to the gym for even 15 minutes, I do something to literally walk it off, or I go into my bathroom and cry. Anger needs release.
Start to recognize what’s happening within you and, if necessary, take steps to counteract negative emotions. You might have a go-to playlist or let yourself binge a TV show; taking a bath is a big de-stressor for me. Being mindful isn’t saying these emotions are wrong, and it doesn’t demand that we take action to completely dissolve them, but I find that doing something positive helps me to accept what’s happening in a more positive way.