Anyone who's experienced the many (many) pitfalls of anxiety can empathise with the myriad of symptoms that can hit you at any given time – sometimes all at once.
The not sleeping; the conveyor belt of thoughts violently spinning around in your brain; the emotional turmoil; the feeling of utter helplessness. Now add being a mum into that already complicated equation.
I've suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember. It's easier for me to articulate how it feels now but it's something I've had to learn to live with.
Before I had my beautiful kids, I had coping mechanisms that worked for me when anxiety hit. Going to the gym, meditating, trying to stay in and sleep. Regular therapy and Prozac also personally helps me keep it at bay.
I knew as soon as I got pregnant with my son, Luca, it was going to be one hell of an adjustment.
You see, having kids throws all those coping mechanisms into disarray – you no longer have the luxury of staying home if you need to or going back to bed.
Luckily for me, my husband Domenic is ridiculously supportive. He understands when things get too much for me. He's my constant.
But the most difficult adjustment isn't how I cope with my anxiety – it's the added worry about the kid themselves.
Becoming a mum is like someone giving you a billion dollars. You have to be very careful with it, don't lose it and watch out it doesn't get stolen. When you have anxiety, the responsibility of this precious cargo can be overwhelming, to say the least.
I have two gorgeous children on the outside – Luca, 4, and Sofia, 2, and another little boy still 'in the oven' as I'm 24 weeks pregnant.
Laura with Luca and Sofia.
Everyday life can be a serious struggle. Worst-case scenarios flash through my mind whenever we do anything. I get panicked and start playing out horrible scenes like watching myself let go of my kids' hands when we're crossing the road. Then I'm watching them get knocked over and we end up in hospital – as you can imagine, it's very distressing, even though it's all in my mind.
Even a simple trip to the play centre can spark waves of utter panic in my mind.
I do everything I'm supposed to do – the breathing exercises, repeating rational thoughts over and over. But it's not easy. It's just something I have to live with.
If the kids are up in the middle of the night, I often have to repeat, "I am present in this" as I feel like I'm going mad.
I also worry that my anxiety might somehow rub off on my kids – they're so perceptive.
I've noticed Luca tends to verbalise his feelings by saying: "I feel scared." "I feel angry." etc. And while this isn't necessarily a bad thing, I do wonder if it's thoughts I've repeated. So then I start to feel guilty and worry I'm making them a bag of issues! It's a very vicious cycle.
Of course there's also the argument that mental health issues are genetic – I don't want my kids to go through bouts of depression of feel the nauseating wave of anxiety.
My advice to any mums who are suffering from anxiety is to take time for yourself (wherever humanly possible, of course!). There's definitely a greater understanding of mental health nowadays, and awareness will only continue to grow.
And talk about it – you'd be surprised how many women are suffering.
Last year, I'd had a particularly anxious few days and decided to articulate it on the Facebook page for my blog, Mum on the Run. I posted some advice to partners of mums suffering from anxiety.
It began: "You might have heard that she has anxiety from sitting by her side in a doctor's office, holding her hands while the tears steam down her face. You might have seen her get angry and explode because she's overwhelmed. Wondering where this rage has come from. You might have seen her sit quietly staring into the distance with a panic in her eye.
"Anxiety isn't a one size fits all, it isn't consistent and it isn't always easy to tell. You might think she's just snapped at you, but it was anxiety that did it, you might think she's angry, but it's the anxiety that's got a choke hold, you might think she's not enjoying herself when you go out and it's your fault, but it's not. It's anxiety.
"You know how she can't understand when she asks you what are you thinking, why you would respond with "nothing"… it's because she never thinks nothing. Her thoughts replay like a freight train in her head full steam ahead, over and over. It's exhausting for her. It's why she's tired."
I went on to advise partners how to deal with their anxious loved one.
The post has got over 308,000 shares, 106,000 likes and 79,000 comments. I think that's testament to how many people are suffering, perhaps even in silence. I got lots of mums (and women without children) contacting me to talk about it. And it really opened my eyes to how endemic anxiety is.
I've got a degree in psychology and recently graduated with a degree in social work – I've been constantly spurred on by the desire to help others who might even be suffering from the same issue.
Yes, anxiety is scary and yes, it can multiply tenfold when you have kids but it is something you can deal with, perhaps with the help of a professional.
If you suffer from anxiety and are gripped by blood-curdling fear, anger or however else it manifests itself – know you're not alone and take it from me – you've got this.
Laura's tips for easing anxiety when you're a busy mum
- As hard as it may be, try to reel in negative thoughts before they spiral out of control
- Think about your surroundings and various senses – smell, touch etc to get back to the present – obviously meditation is out of the question when you've got demanding kids running around but some simple breathing exercises can still be done. Breathe in slowly and gently through your nose for about 5 to 7 seconds
- Question your emotions: Ask yourself – "Why do I feel angry?" If the answer is "Because I'm worried" then ask yourself – "Why am I worried?" I find simplifying my train of thought works wonders and asking myself questions can often work wonders
If you, or someone you know, feel anxious or are showing signs of anxiety, know that you're not alone. Contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for a free, confidential chat or visit their website for more information.