The one thing that I was never told after my son’s initial diagnosis of congenital heart disease (CHD), is that I was about to face something more painful and scary than I had ever experienced before. No one sat me down to help prepare for this. And I’m assuming, for most of you, the shock of what you’re going through, or are about to go through has been just as overwhelming.
I was often surprised at how many moments in the hospital left me feeling frantic, desperate, spiraling out of control. I questioned my own sanity. Was what I was feeling even appropriate for the situation? When the nurses were working around me like this was all normal (thank God), and it was such a contradiction to what was going on inside my head.
I’ve often wondered why meditation or yoga classes aren’t offered to parents of kids with scary medical diagnoses. At least some free massages. I mean, come on! Think of all the insurance money we’d save later, on therapy and psych admits to the ER (I was a psych admit to the ER…more on that later)!
I was often told to pray about it, talk to God. But the thing is, I was in such a state of heightened anxiety, even my prayers were triggering. Spiraling with desperation as I begged God to spare my son’s life. I needed to ground myself first. To stop disassociating. Something I’ve learned to do through years of experience and practice.
If you’re just starting this journey, or have felt yourself unable to handle many of the events you’ve already been through with your child, and you’re dreading the ones to come, keep reading. This is a list of my favorite ways to center my mind and keep me present during the most stressful times in my life.
1. Conscious Breathing – Notice and Adapt
When anxiety hits, your breathing often gets away from you. This causes anxiety to spiral. Center yourself by making those breaths count. First, just observe your breath. Don’t try to change it, just be aware of what your body is doing with your anxiety. Second, start taking gentle, rhythmic belly breaths. Just doing this for 30 seconds can calm your nervous system and bring you back to center. This is my go-to, because it can literally be done anywhere. The scary doctor’s appointment with bad news, the waiting room during your child’s surgery, or just in the middle of the night when you wake with anxiety.
2. Shift Your Awareness – Plant Your Feet
To get out of your head, plant your feet on the ground. Focus on the bottoms of your feet as you place them firmly on the ground. Notice where they are and how they feel for a good 30 seconds to help bring yourself back down from an anxiety spiral. This is another one that can be done almost anywhere you happen to be when anxiety hits. It also pairs well with conscious breathing.
3. Walking Mindfully – Move to Find Stillness
Oftentimes, when the internal chaos starts, standing or sitting still can make things worse. Walking mindfully can really help. I would often do this in the hospital halls while waiting the endless hours for my son to get out of one of his many surgeries. Walk as slowly as you can, trying to be aware of every step. Sync your breath to your steps. Use a two count for each stride, keeping your steps slow and steady, breathing in for one step, and out for the next. Try it for a minute or two at time.
4. Journaling – Release the Scary Thoughts
Dump everything that’s overwhelming you into your journal. Sometimes just writing down adjectives describing my fear would help me. Putting a name to the monster in my head. Writing the word, “death” released it from my mind when I didn’t have the strength to voice it out loud. Or, “I am afraid of death.” or, “I don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t have him at the end of this.” Sometimes this was in prayerful journaling, and sometimes just thoughts. However you feel the most comfortable in this exercise is important. You don’t need a physical “journal” either. I would often do this in the Notes section of my phone. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated.
5. Place Your Hand on Your Crown – Anchor Yourself – Trust Me
This may sound odd, but sometimes just placing your hand on the top of your head can help ground you and ease anxiety. And maybe this is a stretch for public places for you, but a restroom stall would work well if you’ve worked your way through the entire list and find yourself here. Doing this in conjunction with some of the above actions can really help calm your nerves and anchor you.