PARENTING THROUGH ANXIETY
Ifyou’ve ever experienced anxiety, you know how debilitating it can be. Anxiety is more than just stress. It’s a chronic, pervasive type of stress that permeates every facet of our lives. It clouds our thinking and overwhelms our emotions. It’s agitating, yet paralysing.
Parenthood puts us at a higher risk of anxiety. The risk is even higher for those of us with pre-existing vulnerabilities. And it’s not just in the early weeks and months - sometimes, the symptoms don’t surface until years later. The symptoms of anxiety come and go. We may go for weeks or months without any issues and then the symptoms may flare up unexpectedly. The unpredictability itself can be a source of worry.
No matter where we are in our parenting life and at which end of the anxiety spectrum we are, there are several ways we can alleviate our feelings of stress and improve our mental wellbeing.
1. See the worry.
Most of us are very good at worrying. Worrying about kids, our partner, family, work, education and more. There’s always something new to worry about, no matter how old our children are. Many people view worry as a ‘bad’ thing, because it feels uncomfortable. We may have trained ourselves to ignore it, suppress it, or distract ourselves away from it. However, the healthy way to deal with worry isn’t avoidance. Instead, it’s to work with it and improve the way we manage it.
The reality of parenting is that worry will happen. Instead of trying to wrestle it into submission, we can simply recognise and observe that worry is happening, without judging or shaming ourselves for it. This step alone often provides tremendous relief, because we’re no longer expending all that mental effort into battling with our feelings. It opens the door for us to view our situation with more objectivity, so that we can do something about it.
2. Slow down.
When we’re stressed or anxious, our thoughts become turbo-charged. They don’t slow down until the worry stops, or until we actively teach them to slow down.
There are many ways to do this, such as deep breathing and prayer. The purpose of these activities is to slow down the thoughts, which makes it easier for us to think clearly and more calmly. Even simply closing our eyes and counting our breaths will slow our down thoughts. There’s no rule around this - except to do whatever is sustainable. Something is better than nothing, whether it’s 30 seconds or 30 minutes. The right practice is the one that works for you and which you can maintain for the long run.
3. Unload the schedule.
Our hectic schedules are like rocket fuel for our turbo-charged thoughts. Everything on our to-do list adds to our mental overload, so we’re wise to decide where we spend our time and energy. While every event may seem critical, this may not be the case. Of course, it would be wonderful to do ALL the things, but for some activities, the stress that it added to our lives isn’t worth it.
The phrase ‘know thyself’ is appropriate here. It’s important that we know what we find meaningful in life, e.g. being at our child’s hockey games, restoring motorbikes or active involvement in the school council. Then we can start skimming off the activities that aren’t aligned with those priorities.
4. Say ‘No’.
This can be a tricky one for parents because:
• we want to be involved
• we want to be helpful
• we want a life rich with experiences.
TOO OFTEN WE SACRIFICE OUR OWN WELLBEING FOR OTHERS.
We take on too many responsibilities and commitments and relinquish the very activities that we need to keep ourselves physically and emotionally healthy. Activities like eating nourishing food, enjoying physical activity, cultivating positive relationships, having a creative outlet, getting adequate fresh air and sunshine and taking a rest.
We can live a rich, meaningful life without over-committing ourselves. We can make space for the things that are important for us, so that we feel more fulfilled by doing fewer of the unnecessary things. Perhaps most importantly, we can fully embrace our role as protector and nurturer of our families, while also caring for and nurturing ourselves.
Hopefully, by simply adding even one of the points above in our busy lives, will reduce your stress and anxiety levels during parenting.
Dr Ash Nayate is a clinical neuropsychologist specializing in brain function and resulting behaviour. Ash has almost 15 years’ experience working with children and families, supporting them to feel happier, more confident and resilient. To contact Ash please visit her website.