I’m thankful for so much in this life, including the fact that my daughter doesn’t want to listen to the Frozen soundtrack every hour. But listen, that Elsa was onto something, she told me to “let it go”, and eventually I started to listen to her because I had a lot I needed to release.

Over the last few years I’ve poured myself into several books on mental health. I had become so anxious all of the time that it had become part of my identity. I couldn’t separate myself from my feelings and spent every waking moment in a heightened state of feeling. I was always panicking, always rushing, always feeling tense. I was over analyzing everything. My friendships, work relationships, motherhood, my marriage-everything was scrutinized under a microscope until I could find some little detail to fixate on and create a conflict in my head. Just as it sounds, most of these situations were conjured up in my head. By the time I was in full panic and upset and tried to discuss it with my friend or spouse most of the time they had no idea what I was even talking about.

Eventually I began to realize I was self-sabotaging. I had experienced a few tragic losses close together and in an attempt to stay strong for my family neglected to address my grief. Even though outwardly I was able to function day to day, I spiraled out of control mentally. I lost all sense of who I was. I would thrive on negativity, feeling poorly about myself, finding negativity in my environment to latch onto, then fixating on that situation to exhaustion. This loop of non-stop over thinking and stressing myself over so much that was out of my control took a major toll on my health and mental state. The days were dark and I wasn’t sure how much more I could handle.

During the first year of the pandemic my mindset began to change, and slowly I began to appreciate the world around me as I spent more quality time with my family. But just as I began to crawl out of my fog of despair-my mother had a massive stroke. Within 6 weeks my husband and I packed up and sold our beloved home and moved with our young children across country to be closer to my parents. It quickly reignited my despondency. The future became uncertain, and all that was good had been disrupted. The voices from the dark arose again. Eventually I had to make a decision: give up, or move on. My children needed me so I felt I only had one real choice. I picked up my books again, I confided in friends, I began to write. I tried to find hope where the light was dim. Slowly, but surely, I found my footing once again.

I had to make conscious decisions in order to find my peace, however. I made the difficult decision to leave patient care. My new remote position has erased a great deal of my stress in relation to my work, finding care for my children, and allowing me more time for self care. I also have to decide to step away from cynicism and negative situations that can easily trigger my pessimism. I choose to process information I hear or see, gather facts, and actively have to decide if it’s worth reacting emotionally to or not. If what I’m hearing or seeing is uncertain or speculation-I acknowledge and move on until I know the facts.

Over the past year I have also prioritized the well-being of my family. We have each been through so much with all of our changes and in the beginning I was always reactive. But now I have learned to take a step back and to really listen to my family, individually and as a whole. Sometimes my husband and I need some adult time, or one of needs alone time away from everyone else. Sometimes all four of us just need quiet. Sometimes we need to get out of the house and expend energy. Sometimes we need ice cream! But it’s not always the same, and it’s taken time for me to learn this.

I realized I expended entirely too much energy and time in the land of “what if”, never accomplishing anything. It inevitably would lead into anxiety, and occasionally sheer panic. I would sit paralyzed, consumed by my cyclical thoughts, unable to escape and acknowledge the life that was moving on without me. Enough was enough, and having taken these active steps to control what I can, as best as I can, it has served me well.

I think back to how many times I would jump straight to worst case scenario and how many times I was wrong. The times I could have saved myself from undue stress and anxiety if I had just taken a step back and waited. Learning to step away from negativity and to not let the stress invade my veins has been my greatest accomplishment in self-care.

Do I still lose my temper with my children when I’ve asked them to clean up and my multiple requests fall on deaf ears? Of course. Do I still suffer from road rage? I think I was born with it! Far from perfect, I am a forever a work in progress. I try to avoid negative people and toxic conversations especially those online. I try to surround myself with loving kindness from friends and family who support me. Overall when I compare the inner buzzing of my brain to a few years ago it has really quieted down.

I will never be perfect, nor do I ever wish to be. But if I can save myself a few grey hairs and be able to stop and smell a few more roses, I think I can continue to survive whatever else comes my way.