Christine A Howard

How My Daughter’s Struggles With Anxiety Taught Me To See Life Differently

Have you looked at your calendar and to-do list yet today? I dread it every time I have to look at mine. Yesterday I was putting a reminder in my phone as I do quite often. Except my phone responded with an angry message about too many conflicting things on my calendar. I’m like, “phone, what do you want me to do?” This is my life, my very stressful and anxiety building life.

I try to only look at my calendar when I absolutely have to, because dwelling there makes me tired. The funny thing is, the things on my to-list very often don’t even apply to me personally. My oldest daughter needs to see her speech therapist, my youngest daughter goes to music therapy, and there is a parent boot camp at my son’s school. Not to mention car pooling kids, homeschooling my daughter, keeping the house clean, finding five minutes to talk to my husband, and making sure everyone is fed at least three times each day.

To do list

Can I take a nap now please! The worst part, is that this isn’t even my complete to-do list. So how does an overly busy mom stay sane in all of this chaos? She starts to listen to her own advice. What’s that advice, you say? It’s the advice I give my daughter – only worry about today.

A Little Bit of Background…

My daughter came into my life about three years ago at the age of 13. She was born in unfortunate circumstances, and lived in a hellish orphanage for the entirety of her life until our meeting. Her time there was truly remarkable in the worst possible way. If it weren’t for the kind souls who fight for children like her, she and her sister may have died in that wretched place.

She speaks about purposeful cold showers, her hair being ripped from her scalp in clumps, and beatings with mops and broom handles. I personally witnessed our 13 year old precious young woman being forced to sit on a baby potty in front of a room full of people (yes, males and females) to relieve herself.

The trauma this girl has seen is inmeasurable. So, you can probably understand where her deep seeded anxiety comes from. Every teenager wants to have control, but she actually needs to have as much control over her world as is possible. It is difficult to provide control to a young girl with disabilities that already limit her. Fast forward to school, and suddenly the control that she craves is in someone else’s hands.

The Best Laid Plans…

We Americans love our plans don’t we? Its as if a short to-do list somehow equates laziness. As my daughter entered her first days of school (ever), she suddenly realized this fact. Time had not existed for her in the orphanage to the point that she had no idea about Christmas, her birthday or even how old she was. But time exists in America!

stressed mom with anxiety

Day one of school, the teacher gave my daughter a picture schedule, and taught her how to use it. She then began explaining all the things that would be happening that day, that week, that year, and what probably seemed like the rest of time to my daughter.

While this was probably comforting to most kids, it only caused her stress. Suddenly, she was responsible for remembering every little detail of the very long list that was provided to her each morning. She had to remember all the things that were happening in the coming days, coming weeks, and even make plans for when she graduates high school. Keep in mind that she still does not understand what “graduate” truly means.

The “One Day At A Time” Principle…

When our typically happy young lady no longer desired to go to school, we knew we had to take some action. We removed all the schedules. Our daughter is on a need to know basis. And we have stopped talking about anything beyond the lengh of today.

Working mom

Did you know that it is pretty much impossible for brick-and-mortar schools to accomodate the “One Day At A Time” principle? They have announcements and posters and conversations. Each one with the goal of keeping everyone informed. Now, I am not trying to pick on brick-and-mortar schools. I understand that this is how they keep things running smoothly. It just did not work for my daughter.

We have her schooling at home now, and at home, we can implement the “One Day At A Time” principle. What does that mean? It means that mom has the schedule, we only look at the schedule for today, and anything beyond today doesn’t really matter. Sorry Annie, but we really don’t care about tomorrow, even if it is sunny. Today is all this girl handle.

How My Daughter's Struggles With Anxiety Taught Me See Life Differently

Implementing This In My Own Life…

Have you ever given someone a piece of advice that you actually could use in your own? Well, this is exactly what happened with this. Each day, I would remind my daughter to think about only today. We even instilled Pooh Bear to help with this. I love how Pooh is always talking about how it’s “today” and that is his most favorite day.

This struck my daughter when we went to see the “Christopher Robin” movie. She looked at me, and said “It’s still today!” This is in fact, our favorite thing to say each day. We find ourselves worrying about tomorrow or next week or even next year, and we stop and say, “But, it’s still today!”

As I sat and watched the adult Christopher Robin struggle with keeping his schedule, I realized this principle isn’t just for my daughter. It’s for me, and every grown-up really. Tomorrow is out of our control, so why have anxiety about it? Instead, lets look at today. We can tackle the important things we have today, and let tomorrow figure itself out tomorrow.

Let me tell you, this is so freeing! Now, I look at my calendar in the morning, make my list of to-dos, and don’t worry about the looking ahead. I chunk out larger projects, and put the smaller pieces on the days they need to be completed. By the time I have looked at all the “todays” within the larger process, my project is finished. It’s truly remarkable, because I now have time to carve a little me time into each day.


If you find yourself in full-blown anxiety attacks just opening your calendar, try looking at just today. Find the things that need to happen today, and keep tomorrow in its proper place – tomorrow.

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