Parenting is hard. It’s been described in an infinite number of ways, but one popular saying compares parenting to watching your heart walk around outside of your body. The love between a parent and a child is so hard to describe, and it makes sense that you might have some powerful fears about something happening to your child.
Some parents experience so much fear and worry about their kids that it interferes with their day to day lives, including their ability to parent effectively. How can you tell when what you’re feeling is normal parental concern or something more serious, like an anxiety disorder?
You may have heard that today’s parents are more anxious than previous generations were.
That may be true, or parents today just might have more resources to voice their anxieties in places like social media. Parents since the beginning of time have worried about their little ones, and parents today are no different.
One big difference between parents of long ago and parents now is that we have the entire internet at our fingertips, full of scary stories and warnings. There’s a lot of things to be afraid of in this world, and sometimes it’s hard not to get carried away worrying about worst case scenarios.
Anxiety doesn’t have to be so bad that it stops you from functioning completely.
The tell-tale sign that you may need extra support for your anxiety is if it’s interfering in your day to day life. Anxiety can get in the way of feeling close to your kids, or even make you feel like you’re not a good parent.
Just because something is a sign of anxiety doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. Context matters, and so just because you do some of the following things doesn’t necessarily mean you have anxiety. If you find yourself doing everything on this list, or if you feel like your day to day life has been impacted, anxiety might be the cause.
Here are some signs of anxiety in parents:
- Trying to prevent anything bad from ever happening to your child – shielding
- Avoiding – removing you + your child from situations that frighten you
- Talking about your anxiety in front of your kids
- Expecting unlikely tragic situations to happen to your family (being the victims of a violent crime, accidental death, etc.)
- Feeling consumed about what’s going on in your child’s life
- Excessive research about parenting
What causes anxiety?
That’s the million dollar question. Anxiety can be influenced by a variety of things. Genetics plays a role in developing anxiety, but personal history, physical conditions, and even stress can impact the development of anxiety for parents. Many parents experience anxiety before they have kids and find that it’s gotten worse without them consciously realizing it. Some people are just more anxious than others, so it takes more work to feel at ease, especially for parents. Remember, anxiety is a disorder, it’s not anyone’s fault.
Even if you have anxiety, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a fantastic parent. In fact, showing your child an example of someone dealing with mental health issues in a positive way can give them the safety to come to you with problems in the future. It’s okay to show your kids that you’re not perfect. Often, it can make your relationship with them even stronger, because they know you’re being real with them.
Are you concerned about the role anxiety is playing in your parenting? Here are 4 tips for parenting with anxiety:
Separate fears from facts
Our thoughts are not always based in facts, even though it often feels like they are. How can you make sure what you’re worried about is based on facts and not just on fears? Take a pause to give yourself time to evaluate the situation. Just because you have the urge to panic about something doesn’t mean that’s the only option you have. Take a pause and ask yourself some questions. Is this a real threat, or imagined? Is any of my worry based on actual evidence? Is there anything I can do about this situation at this very moment? Will my focus make the situation better or worse?
It’s also important to think critically about what we hear from other parents. In the days of social media, it’s all too easy for misinformation or disinformation to make the rounds before being called out as untrue. Before descending into a panic when you see a piece of alarming news on social media, do your own research to see if this is truly something you need to devote your precious energy to.
Remember that worry doesn’t change anything
No matter how much you worry, it won’t change the outcome of what’s going on. Worry just keeps you focused on the situation and feeling helpless. Worrying only leads to you suffering, not to any change in the outcome. You can’t worry your way to total safety for your kids, as much as you might want to. Sometimes our minds take off with anxious thoughts before we have a chance to slow down, so if you find yourself in a worrying spiral, be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that worry doesn’t change anything, it just leads to more distress for you.
If this is truly something you need to be concerned about, do some research and talk it over with a trusted friend or family member who knows that you tend to be anxious. Talking it over with someone you trust and who knows the context of your situation may help you see things more clearly and find a solution, whereas worry just leaves you feeling miserable.
Try new coping strategies
When anxiety comes up, it can be tricky to know what to do in the moment to help you feel better. When you’re not feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, sit down and make a list of some new coping strategies you can try the next time you’re in an anxious spiral.
It might also be helpful to add in some coping skills to your everyday routine. Making time for mindfulness can help you to calm your thoughts and focus on the present moment. A mindfulness or meditation practice can also help you catch anxious thoughts before they grow out of control. Another coping skill is regular movement. You don’t have to exercise at a high intensity or wear yourself out to the point of pain, but moving your body can be a great outlet for anxiety. See what other coping skills feel helpful for you and add them to your list to refer to next time you’re overwhelmed.
Bring in a professional
It’s not fair to you to deal with everything on your own, especially when you’re dealing with something as complicated as anxiety. It’s okay to ask for help when you need it, whether that’s from your social circle or by bringing in a professional.
Working with a therapist can give you concrete ways to deal with your anxiety, and even start to get to the root of where the anxiety is coming from so it doesn’t continue to cause distress for you in the future. In therapy, you can even use something called exposure therapy to help face what you’re afraid of and feel less fear. Working with a therapist gives you another support person in your corner to help you deal with parental anxiety.