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Don't Panic: Advice for Moms with Anxiety Disorders

I was pacing in my room, then doing sit-ups and then drinking water, all while my young son slept soundly in his bed. I wasn't exercising. I was having a panic attack. I was unclear what caused it, which made it worse.

"Anxiety attacks can both 'come out of the blue' or be brought on by specific triggers, especially if the disorder has been present for a while and there are phobias about certain situations, like driving or being in crowds," says Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

Over the years, I learned how to deal with my anxiety, which is why I was exercising and telling myself not to hit the worst case scenario—passing out. I had been on Paxil for a few years to help with my anxiety problem, but it didn't seem to be working that night.

"There are multiple, different medications that can help treat panic symptoms that are causing distress," says Meltzer-Brody.

I went to my doctor the next day and had my medicine tweaked, and within a week or two I was feeling normal, or as normal as can be. She also prescribed a low count dose of Xanax for emergency situations, like when my heart and mind are racing.

"The selective serotonin antidepressants (SSRI's) are commonly used as first line agents due to their being both effective and well tolerated. Sometimes disabling symptoms need immediate relief, and the benzodiazepines can be a helpful choice but must be carefully monitored to avoid abuse or dependence," Meltzer-Brody warns.

Meltzer-Brody suggests talking to a skilled provider with expertise in treating panic disorder to develop a individualized treatment plan. As much as I believe in meds to treat my anxiety, I don't think it's a cure-all. I wanted a more concrete treatment plan that included therapy.

"Different people require different types of care. Working with a qualified mental health provider is important to tailor the care to the individual," says Meltzer-Brody. "It is important to use evidence-based therapies. The Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) is a great resource for those suffering from anxiety disorders."

In addition to medication and therapy, I also use the following child-friendly tips to get me through a panic attack or to calm overall anxiety—because as a mom, you can't just freak out or lay in bed until you feel better.

  1. Break out the Play-Doh or Legos: I find creating something calms me down.
  2. Go for a walk: Fresh air and exercise always helps.
  3. Call a mommy time-out: Let your child have a little screen time while you rest for 15 minutes.
  4. Try chamomile tea: It has a calming component and even if you think this is B.S., I find the placebo aspect to really work for me.
  5. Call a friend or family member: If you really need help, there's no shame in it.