11 tips on surviving winter with health anxiety and sick toddlers

It’s no secret that kids are walking, talking breeding grounds for all kinds of bacteria and germs. Their non-existent immune systems take an absolute battering in the first few years, and nothing prepared me for the amount of illness that Molly came down with. Her health is the one thing that still sets my anxiety off, but I don’t panic half as much as I used to. This is mainly down to experience, time, and the fact that she doesn’t tend to get ill as much now that she’s a bit older. (Just had a thought that she’ll probably get sick now that I’ve typed that – f**k you OCD!)

No parent likes seeing their child ill, but when you’ve got major health anxiety a simple cold can convince you that it’s meningitis. This is the one bit of motherhood that I’ve really struggled with. Having Pure OCD/Anxiety that centres around your child’s health is a bit tricky seeing as THEY ARE CONSTANTLY BLOODY ILL. Although to put a positive spin on it, exposure therapy is really useful for this kind of mental disorder, and I’ve had plenty of it. She’s probably saved me hundreds in therapy fees.

Winter is just relentless isn’t it? Just when they’ve got over one thing, the next nasty virus is waiting in the wings ready to manifest itself. I remember when Molly turned one – it was literally one thing after another, and I honestly thought I was going to have some sort of nervous breakdown I was so stressed and on edge. No matter how many times I told myself ‘it’s just a temperature’, I could not relax, getting the thermometer out every five minutes and driving myself crazy.

Molly had it all – hand, foot & mouth, chicken pox, croup, conjuctivitis, urticaria (hives), sickness bugs, constant colds and viral rashes. The worst was ear infections though – she had about 15 in a few months. She basically lived on antibiotics, it was so awful. We were always either at the doctors, the walk-in clinic or the hospital. I don’t remember sleeping much. She’s four in March however and am pleased to say that she is nowhere near as bad as she was. So if you’re in the midst of the constant barrage of disease-ridden toddlers and going out of your mind with worry, wondering if it will ever get better – IT WILL. Here’s some advice that I’ve picked up over the years that might also help:

  • Throw your thermometer away. Yes you heard right. A consultant at Birmingham Children’s Hospital told me that. Treat the child and not the number. Your kid might have a temperature of 40 degrees but if they’re playing normally and eating/drinking, then leave them. Conversely they might only have a slight temperature but they’re not themselves at all. You know your child better than a piece of machinery does (plus it will just drive you mad constantly checking the numbers).
  • They are ALWAYS worse at night. Seriously, what’s all that about? Coughs, temperatures, sickness – they all seem to reach their peak in the evenings (there’s some science behind that if I remember, something about there being less cortisol in the blood). So just set up camp on the sofa with the calpol and hunker down until the morning – they’ll be right as rain.
  • The first three winters are the worst. Another doctor told me that, and I can definitely vouch for it. They do grow out of things (I didn’t believe it at the time), you just have to hang in there.
  • Yes, this is normal. God I was so clueless, I didn’t even know what a viral rash was. I was convinced that Molly has some auto-immune disease, but no – she was just a toddler! Keep repeating it to yourself ‘kids get ill all the time’.
  • Arm yourself with knowledge. My biggest fear was (and still is) bacterial meningitis. I went over the signs and symptoms hundreds of times until they were etched on my brain, so I knew what to look for if the worst came to the worst.
  • Think positively. Just remember that no matter how bad they seem, and how awful it is seeing them ill, it is actually a good thing. Their immune systems are developing those all important antibodies that will protect them in the future. Acceptance is key!
  • This too shall pass. Never have I uttered one phrase so much in my entire life since becoming a mum. But it is absolutely true…you know how resilient kids are, they bounce back almost straight away, and those sick phases most certainly will not last forever.
  • Don’t get hung up on diet. When Molly was really little I was so strict with her food. I made sure she ate ‘superfoods’ every single day like blueberries and broccoli. I even started to give her a probiotic supplement to ward off illness. NOTHING WILL WORK! Seriously, the only thing you can do is accept that this is part and parcel of raising children…they will get ill no matter how much kale you try to get them to eat. She eats chocolate/sweets now (in moderation) and is hardly ever ill, but a lot happier!
  • Vaccinate. This really goes without saying doesn’t it? Molly missed out on the free meningitis B vaccination on the NHS so we paid privately to get her done – BEST MONEY WE HAVE EVER SPENT. There is absolutely no price for protecting your child or for giving yourself peace of mind.
  • Trust your instincts. You know your child, you carried that child, there is NOTHING greater than a mother’s intuition. I don’t regret any time that I ran to the doctors in a panic (even though it turned out to be nothing), because it is always better to be safe than sorry.
  • Ask for help if you need it. Yes mamas…if you haven’t slept in days and can’t remember the last time you brushed your teeth – ask for help! Family/friends/neighbours…get them to take over for a bit. It’s hard enough looking after sick kids without burning out yourself – after all, us mums never get ill do we?!


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