Parental anxiety is the feeling of fear, nervousness and worry specifically related to being a parent or caregiver. It is also completely normal, however when we start to worry excessively, from the moment we discover we are expecting, it may start to dominate our lives in an unhealthy way.
All kinds of stressful situations can be a part of daily life. They can range from worrying if you will be a good enough parent and worrying about your child making friends, to full blown concerns of terminal illnesses or financial ruin and everything in between.
You may worry about how your own anxiety affects your child and if they may also experience anxiety themselves.
What worries one parent will not necessarily worry the next, as anxiety triggers are different for everyone.
How Anxiety Impacts Us
While low-level anxiety can be positive as it motivates us to stay focused and helps us avoid dangerous situations, excessive anxiety and stress can dominate our day or week, and prevent us from enjoying a fulfilling life.
If we are feeling anxious and low, we may not have the motivation to do simple things such as get ourselves and our children ready for the day ahead. We may struggle to go to work, tidy the house or cook dinner. This can create even more guilt and anxiety as we may feel we are letting our family down.
We may also suffer from physical symptoms such as a racing heart and shortness of breath, or experience headaches and tummy aches, and feel constantly tense in our bodies.
While it is very common to have some fears, and think about worst case scenarios when it comes to the safety of our children, excessive fears do not serve us and we will need to look at ways we can deal with them.
The good news is that once we have identified our triggers, there are plenty of things we can do to help cope with stressful and anxious events.
It is understandable that you will be dealing with lots of new triggers when you have your first child. These anxiety inducing triggers could be trying to deal with the sleepless nights, the first time your child tries solid food, to their first day at school and their first sleepover …. even the first day they learn to drive, start a job and start their own family!
All these events can create repeated anxiety for both our children and ourselves as parents and caregivers, and our children will follow our example when it comes to how we cope.
How Can You Identify Your Triggers?
What is triggering your anxiety right now? Try to be as specific as you can. List your thoughts and worries and think about each one individually. How significant are they? Score each thought or worry out of 10, with 0 being small and 10 being very worrying.
Recognise how this thought makes you feel. What evidence have you got to support this thought, what evidence have you got against it?
You may find it helpful to download the Anxious Thoughts Diary Worksheet.
Once you have identified your significant triggers, ask yourself what is the ideal outcome? What steps can you take to work towards your ideal outcome and who can you ask for help, if need be?
Commit to taking back control where you can, and you will get a real sense of achievement.
Accept What Is Outside Your Control and Within Your Influence
Changing a difficult situation is not always possible, especially as our children grow up and become more independent.
Recognise and accept things as they are. Some things are outside of our control and will therefore fall into our circle of concern. It is easy to spend a lot of time worrying about these things, but they may make us feel very anxious, which causes us to worry even more. Sometimes, we have to just let these thoughts go as they are not serving us.
But there is often an alternative. Focus on where you have influence.
You may find it helpful to download the “Circle of Concern, Control and Influence Worksheet”.
Banish Feelings Of Guilt
As parents, we can feel guilty for so many things and this can add to our anxiety.
Parental guilt can stem from sitting our loved ones in front of a screen to distract them when we work from home; or grabbing a pizza because we haven’t got time to make a “from scratch” healthy meal; or being too exhausted to read a bed time story; or not being able to get them the latest toy craze or the pet they are so desperate for.
There are so many things that can make us feel inadequate as parents when we want every thing to be perfect, and while such guilt is common, it can often make us feel more anxious and unhappy.
Look at the bigger picture and know that just because you feel you didn’t live up to your own expectations today, they were probably not realistic. Every generation can dream about being the perfect parents …. but that really is just a dream, and it always will be.
I can not believe there is a single loving parent that has not felt plenty of guilt when raising their children … but the truth is, we are all human and none of us are perfect. You survived your childhood, and you were bought up by humans too!
Believe in Yourself
When we have our first child, we are inundated with advice from caring friends and family that want to offer every bit of advice. We are offered similar advice when our children start eating, walking, teething, potty training, going to school and leaving home!
Whilst we may appreciate a helping hand, remember you know your child best, and the phrase “parents’ intuition” hasn’t happened by accident. Taking on too much advice from caring family and friends can often make us question our own judgement, as can reading too many books, or googling every worry.
Trust and believe in yourself, and your instinct. You have all the qualities you need to be a great parent. By all means listen, and take on any suggestion you like, but believe in yourself first.
Learn to Say No
We can cause ourselves a great deal of anxiety and stress because we do not want to let people down and often find it hard to say no. This could be in a work or family environment.
We can sometimes end up doing or committing to more than we should. Try and be assertive so that you can say ‘No’ without feeling guilty yourself.
What is it you want to achieve this week (month or hour). Make this your priority.
Look After Yourself
Being active can help us burn off nervous energy. Try and spend time in nature if you can as trees and water can be incredibly grounding. It will not make your stress and worry disappear totally, but it can make it less intense. If we eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly and ensure we get plenty of sleep, our bodies are far better able to cope with stress and worry.
Alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes and excessive sugar are best avoided or limited. We may feel a short term relief at that moment in time, however they all increase anxiety in the long term.
Prioritising relaxation also helps your body return to its normal healthy state. You will be far more effective if you regularly take short breaks. Good relaxation techniques include breathing exercises, meditation, walking and yoga.
Talk To Someone
Friends, family and colleagues can often help us when we are struggling.
Surrounding ourselves with positive and trusted friends can help us see things from a new perspective.
Laughter also boosts the immune system which is often depleted during times of anxiety and stress, so if no one is available right now, watch a comedy or a funny movie and laugh out loud!
Even the very act of forcing a smile and laughing increases the happy hormones, so know you are giving yourself a boost when smiling or laughing is not happening naturally.
Effective Time Management
It may be helpful when managing our time to understand that we will never achieve what is on our priority list if we load it with everything.
As soon as one task is completed, another is created, or two or three. We can waste a lot of time doing unimportant or non-urgent tasks, especially when we are stressed, so prioritising our day and doing the important and urgent jobs first can save us time and anxiety in the long run.
I suggest focussing on three tasks only that day. You will then know your priorities and it avoids being distracted with “like to haves” or “easy to do’s”. Always work towards your end goal.
Question Your Thoughts and Allow Yourself Some Positivity
The way we think affects the way we feel. We often catastrophise or think we can predict the outcome of a future event. This causes unnecessary anxiety. When the Department of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania conducted a test to see what percentage of worries did not come true, the results were a shocking 91.4%.
Maybe, if you have time, take a look at these thinking distortions. You may recognise quite a few!
Be Grateful For What You Do Have
Take time to think about the good things in your life. At the end of each day, consider what went well and try to list 3 things you're thankful for.
This allows our final thoughts of the day to be positive and helps us enjoy a better nights sleep.
If anxiety is something you or your loved ones struggle with regularly, then please get in touch to discuss how I can help you overcome the underlying cause of your anxiety. You can book a FREE 45 minute discovery call here