367 | Anxiety and the Homeschool Mom (Jessica Smartt) | REPLAY
Seasons of anxiety and depression are difficult but can be even more challenging for the homeschool mother. In this episode Jessica shares her experiences with anxiety, highlighting tips for "emergency-level" anxiety as well as chronic, background anxiety.
Jessica is a wife, homeschool mom of three, author, and blogger. She lives in sunny North Carolina on a big family farm with chickens, goats, cousins, and lots of mud.
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Jessica Smartt Hi, everybody! This is Jessica Smartt. Welcome to the podcast. I'm glad to be with you today. Today, I'm going to be talking about anxiety in motherhood, and specifically anxiety for the homeschooling mom. And that presents its own batch of particular problems as you don't have a lot of step-away time, or there's just always people around and you kind of have to feel like you want to be on your A-game, and you often can't. So I'm going to be speaking about this, and as always, I am not a medical doctor or a counselor/psychiatrist. So consult your doctor before implementing any serious changes or protocols. I'm just speaking in my own experience here, and I do have some experience here. I have often struggled with anxiety. It pretty much appeared in adulthood, and I don't think I realized or named it until maybe five or six years into it. And that does often really help in some ways, just to recognize that I do struggle with anxiety. And so that means that I don't need to believe everything that I am hearing or feeling inside my head. So that's a good big step just to come to that recognition. And those of you who are listening, maybe some of you have already arrived at that or maybe not. But I'm going to talk through a couple different things. I'm going to share briefly a little bit about my story. And hopefully that will be in a way that's encouraging to you and gives you a little bit of hope for where you are now. Secondly, I'm going to talk about the emergent anxiety, those times when it's so overwhelming that it's interfering with daily life. And then I'm going to talk about kind of chronic underlying anxiety that is just sort of there while you're doing your stuff. And I'm going to speak about how to get into some good patterns, and things you can do to kind of be proactive.
Jessica Smartt So I'll start with my story. As I said, I developed it in adulthood and definitely had a strong case of postpartum anxiety that I didn't realize that's what it was until pretty late in the game. I did try to take some medication at the suggestion of my OB/GYN. And I had never taken medication. I'm very sensitive to medication. She put me on a really high dose. I felt like a zombie. I went off it, and just sort of worked out the kinks on my own. But definitely it's just always kind of a part of my life in different seasons. So it came back again with the next baby and postpartum, and that was probably my low in my life, maybe ten years ago. And there was a definite moment, I remember sitting in my bathroom and crying and just thinking, "I am no good to anyone. What is the point of this anxiety? I don't understand, Lord, why you don't take this away." And it just felt so useless and also really hopeless to climb my way out of. And at that point I was not nursing and went to see a doctor. And that was the first time I think I realized that I really maybe would benefit from some medication, just in the sense that I was so desperate and things were so bad. I was in some senses not really functioning well at all. And the people around me were very concerned.
Jessica Smartt A lot of my anxiety stems around a little smidgen of hypochondria. And I say "smidgen" and my husband always sort of laughs. But, you know, everybody has their own things. It's not always that. Sometimes it's my kids. I have a child with really severe food allergies and he has had some scary health moments. And so that's kind of always been a trigger as well. I have good friends that a lot of their anxiety centers around their marriage, and one friend that will always just kind of get into this little rut of "Did I marry the wrong person?" And then others with legitimate marriage crises that... you know, good reasons to be worried. And so I have realized that anxiety is just often there. Sometimes there is a good reason and sometimes there's not. And it doesn't really matter because once it's there, it kind of just does its own thing and it feels real. Even for me, all of these health concerns that I've had that ultimately ended up being not what I was worried that they would be, it felt pretty darn real at the time. And so whatever your trigger is or whatever has gotten you into your funk... And sometimes it's even hard to articulate. I was just talking to someone the other day who just for some reason just felt very anxious and she just was not even sure and thought maybe she should up her medicine or whatever. But I do think this is a good time of the year to be listening to this because I think it's definitely very common to kind of go in a rut with anxiety and depression after the Christmas season. Coming off of all of that, we're not getting (many of us) good exercise and sun, and sometimes our community is suffering. Maybe we've had a couple of bouts of sickness. And so our bodies are just not in optimal health. And then seasonal affective disorder is a real thing. So just winter blues. That comes up a lot. Maybe you don't even know what that trigger is.
Jessica Smartt But all that is to say, you're not alone. I think that moment when I was crying into the tissues in the bathroom, I felt like I was crippled, barely making it through life, and everyone else was normal and perfectly fine. And, well, that's definitely not true, even taking anxiety out of the picture. But a lot of women do struggle with anxiety at different periods of time. A lot of people. So they may not be struggling with it now. But I think it's like one in three does at some point in their life. But also we're only seeing a snippet of what's on the outside. So step one is just to absolutely realize that you're not alone and you won't be stuck in this stage forever. I would have never, ever, ever imagined that I would have written two books and gone on to thrive being a homeschool mom, and start a homeschool co-op, and all the different things that I have done. I felt like I would always be weak and just struggling with things. And so I think Satan can really get in our heads with that. But the first step is to just acknowledge that many people are struggling with this, or have, and that you won't be the same you that you are right at this minute. And there is hope. So that's step one.
Jessica Smartt Let's talk a little bit about just practically, because if you're listening to this, either someone you love or probably you struggle with anxiety or maybe you are right this minute. So I think it's really important to draw a distinction between anxiety that's really completely crippling your life and the low-lying chronic anxiety that kind of just lives in the background. And for me, I live in the number two a lot of life, I would say. But there have been maybe three times that I really end up in the really, really bad anxiety. And if you're listening to that, that's the kind of anxiety that's interfering profoundly with your ability to do your work and to have real relationships. And you may find yourself also crying a lot. I have found that anxiety and depression are really closely linked, and I'll get depressed because I'm so anxious kind of thing, and then anxious because I'm depressed. It's a really fun circle. And so when things are really bad, I do feel bleak about life and have feelings like, "This just is always going to be this way and I'm no good to anybody and this is terrible." And it's really important to have somebody that you're vocalizing those things to, which I'll talk about later. But absolutely, that's step one is find somebody right now that you can say the really scary thoughts and just describe where you are without sugarcoating it.
Jessica Smartt So I experience a lot of physical things when I'm in that really bad place: GI stuff, food doesn't taste good, all sorts of other things that, me being a hypochondriac, that doesn't help because then I think something's actually wrong. Which it is wrong, it's stress. And that does legitimately affect your body. But anyway, when you're in the position where life is completely overwhelming and you're finding it hard to do homeschooling, to pay attention to your kids, to get out of the house, tears just coming really easily, you know that is that stage that I would say is emergent. And at that point it's just like... you're just trying to get some immediate help. And sometimes that is what you have to do in those times. And again, I'm not anyone's doctor. I'm not a doctor. But I have found that at those times, medication is the best way to just bring some immediate stability. I don't like taking medicine. I'm not on it now. I understand hesitations with it. I think there are legitimate concerns with it. But I think there's a time and a place when you just need to stop the bleeding, and get a handle on life, and become competent enough to take some steps back and realize what other small steps you can take in life. And so this first step is to talk to someone right now when you're done listening to this. And then the second step is to immediately call a doctor, an M.D.--you know, most family doctors are pretty well equipped to deal with anxiety and depression these days--and make the first appointment you can get. And I know there are a million and one reasons why that's hard. Maybe you don't actually have a doctor for you, or the appointment is two months out, or money, who knows. But this is an absolute priority. This is the most important thing that you can do today. And maybe you need to have someone hold you accountable or even help make the appointments for you. But you need to do that as quickly as you can to get in to be seen.
Jessica Smartt In the meantime, the frustrating thing about medication and working with doctor's offices is that you're not going to have it in 15 minutes, and you're not going to even feel better in 15 days, probably, which feels really overwhelming when you're already overwhelmed. But what you're going to want to do is basically keep yourself alive and busy while you're waiting for your medicine to kick in, or just waiting for this funk to pass. And I have a blog post that is "20 Things to Do While You're Anxious." I think I originally titled it "While You're Waiting for Your Anxiety Medicines to Kick In." And then I thought, "No, that's kind of weird. I'm not going to title it that." But there are times that you're just going to have to live in that terrible feeling and just keep putting one step in front of the other. And there are things that you can do to make those days more enjoyable. And so it's just making a list of you personally, what is going to get you through these days while you're waiting for your medicine to kick in, or waiting for your doctor's appointment, or waiting for the funk to leave, or whatever it is? There are practical things you can do that make that time better than it could be. And it's different for every person, but I definitely think there are some things that across the board will help. I know exercise... Distraction is really key. I remember one time feeling completely overwhelmed and anxious and I had to do my taxes. Like, if I didn't do my taxes, we were going to have some fine or something. So I had no choice. And by the time I had finished doing my taxes. I did not feel any ounce of anxiety, and it like completely altered the whole day. And you know that... It didn't solve my life, but it got me through that day because I had to focus my mind on something else. And so staying busy, although it sounds like no fun and like it won't be helpful, it really is important. And what you're doing there is you're showing your spouse and your kids how to plug through when life doesn't feel great. And maybe one of your children one day will struggle with anxiety or depression, and so you can show them what it looks like to continue to persevere, even though you don't feel great.
Jessica Smartt And there are a whole range of what that looks like. And I recognize that there are a lot of differences in what that would look like for everybody, depending on just what kind of a mess you are. And so for someone that may be a very, very small step. But whatever you're able to do to keep plugging on and kind of staying in the moment and staying present and just making it through the day, you're going to just do it to kind of get through. And so do your taxes, start planning a birthday party, make your Christmas list--doesn't matter when Christmas is--make gift lists for birthdays, buy one of those calendars where you can write down--like the perpetual calendar--so you can write down when everyone in your life's birthday is and start filling that in, organize your home and all of your paper, clean your house. This is a great time to clean because I find things that I don't have to think about sometimes are really helpful. So I'll just like do all the baseboards or something and it's just going to get me through. Think of an area you want to decorate in your house and go to Pinterest or Houzz or something like that and kind of dream. Make a dream board. Make a shoebox for Operation Shoebox. I really get a lot of life out of thinking about the next party we can throw or, "Okay, the next season coming up for us--we're going to celebrate Easter. What are our Easter activities?".
Jessica Smartt I know it can feel overwhelming, but finding little things like this that kind of gets you a little bit hopeful. And then there are silly things like going for a walk. Well, that's not silly. But sitting down and petting a dog. There really is... Giving someone a hug. Snuggling with a kid and watching a movie. Whatever the little things are that make your life a little bit better, you're going to just try to plug as many of those in. And I say this, I understand that it's not a miracle cure, but it's way better than just Googling whatever is bothering you and talking obsessively about whatever it is, or just sitting around and doing nothing and feeling in the dumps. So "stay busy" is my big thing while you're waiting for whatever that help is. So there's that. And what you're going to do is try to just dig yourself out of that really terrible hole. And it will pass. It really will. Just hang in there. And I think it's also really important to have a group of people that are walking through this with you. At a recent... Well, no, it was probably eight years ago, when I was really in an anxious stage, someone challenged me to a prayer triad. So I found two friends from church that were willing to meet with me regularly. We meet every two weeks and they're the people that know the real Jessica and what's really going on. And I can text them at all hours and ask for prayer and they're there. And so you need to have that support system. Even if it's one person, two people, a handful of people, get people in your life that are going to walk through this with you. Okay. So that's the emergent things.
Jessica Smartt Here I just wanted to next kind of go through some things that I think help with anxiety. This isn't maybe going to dig you out of a big giant hole, but they might help you from falling in a little hole or making the hole bigger. Just things that kind of help a lot. And one thing is to minimize coffee. And I know that's terrible, but I do think that it can make you pretty jittery and already kind of set you off. So if you're in a pretty bad spot, maybe minimize that. I have found... And I know I'm like no fun today, but I have found that eating wheat and gluten just makes my mood not great. And I'm not one... I mean I'm not trying to be like a weirdo, but I really have noticed that in my life. So if there are certain triggers... I actually don't eat dairy and gluten when I'm trying to get my health back under control. So it's worth a try, right? It's worth a try. Just try it for a week and see if it helps. That's just something I found.
Jessica Smartt And related, one resource that I really love is Dr. Daniel Amen, and he has written a book called Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. I could in no way summarize what the book is and do it justice, but he basically uses supplements, medication, diet, and other life skills to help with a lot of brain disorders, whether it's ADHD or anxiety or depression. It's a huge resource. So much in there. And it kind of has a little quiz in the beginning where it will help you to figure out which part of your brain may not be functioning in its optimal health. And then you go under that category and kind of figure out some tools. And some are supplements, some are medications, life tips, diet for that particular type. And I think there's a lot in there that can be really helpful. So I definitely recommend having that on your shelf. Another book that I love, but totally different direction is Linda Dillow's Calm My Anxious Heart. I've probably read it about 67 times. It's not going to fix like a total freak-out panic attack, but it is really good at thinking through some of the theological issues behind anxiety and just encouraging you to give God control and to be able to trust Him.
Jessica Smartt Obviously a counselor. I have a wonderful man that I know I can see when I'm really struggling to get through a difficult time, and you need to have that as well. You need to have a person that you can make an appointment with when you get in a really bad spot. I've also heard really good things about EMDR. That stands for Eye Movement, Rapid Desensitization. EMRD? I think I have the wrong letters on that and I'm saying the wrong thing. I'll put it in the show notes right. But it's a technique that you have to do under someone who has been trained in that method. So counselors, psychiatrists. And I have heard a lot of really good things about it. I personally have not used it, but that can be really good in particular, if there is anxiety or depression caused by trauma. And there are people that I really respect who use this and endorse it and just speak highly of that. Dr. Oz has an anxiety diet. I'm going to throw this in the show notes as well. Worth looking into there. Some of it's kind of common sense, but again, just a little thing that may help. Exercise is a huge one. I don't think it needs to be a total Army boot camp style. It can be walking regularly. But that has been shown in studies to be just as effective as SSRIs and other anxiety medications. I found a couple apps for calm breathing. There's not, honestly, one that I would recommend because neither of the ones that I used, I loved completely. But there are several, and by the time I record this, there's probably even others. So you can just kind of search around for calm breathing apps, and breathing really can actually physically calm your body down and stop some of your physical symptoms. I have not found it to be completely 100% effective, but I think it definitely helps just for moments or nights when you're really feeling stressed.
Jessica Smartt And yeah, just friends and walks and thinking about right now if you were to list three things that really bring you joy... And I know that can feel hard to think of when you're in a really tough spot, but if you had to pick three, what comes to mind and how can you incorporate that into your life? And it's not going to fix it. It's not going to be a total fix. But again, what we're trying to do is just little things that can help you along this path. And because I don't think it is a total one-answer problem. It's a lot of little steps that you make just to kind of get through this season. That's what I found anyway. So I'd love to hear from you. If you have questions or if this has encouraged you, the best way to reach me is on Instagram. I'm @Jessica.Smartt. And yeah, I would just encourage you that you are not alone. And even though it feels very scary and overwhelming, the Lord will carry you through and He is there with you. And the verse that I always put next to my bed during these times is, "The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?" Psalm 27:1. So may the Lord be with you today, and hold you close, and bring you through this season.