PAR­ENT­ING THROUGH ANX­I­ETY

Great Health Guide - - FRONT PAGE - Words Dr Ash Nay­ate De­sign Olha Blagodir

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.

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