5 Ways To Reduce Parental Anxiety
According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), it’s estimated that 40 million US adults struggle with anxiety. While we don’t have an exact number for how many of these 40 million are parents, it’s safe to say that being a parent is an extremely stressful job. Even though kids grow up, it’s still a job that you’ll never retire from. So how can we reduce the anxiety endured from parenting? Thankfully there are steps you can take to make it all a little more manageable.
As parents, it’s natural to worry. You worry about your child’s safety and well being, especially when they’re young. We don’t want our kids to feel sad, anxious, or lonely so we do everything in our power to make sure that doesn’t happen. We know deep down that there is only so much we can do, yet we still have a bit of hope that our parental instincts can save them from everything.
All of this anxious worrying not only takes a toll on you personally but can affect your loved ones as well. Whether it be a spouse, child or sibling -- your anxiety doesn’t solely affect you. Healthy parenting doesn’t need to involve excessive worry. Quite the contrary, it can get in the way of making well-informed decisions (which is something we do not want as parents). So in the interest of our own happiness and being the best parents we can be, taking steps to worry less is a goal worth striving for.
Know that it’s completely normal to worry as a parent and there’s nothing wrong with you being concerned for your child(ren). But for the sake of you and your family, here are five steps you can take to lessen your worry as a parent.
Raise your self-awareness
There’s really nothing some self-awareness can’t benefit, and anxiety is no exception. Getting to know yourself and understanding why you behave and respond the way you do is absolutely essential. Start by taking a personal inventory. Identify the things that have historically made you worrisome, scared or anxious. These are things that can start from childhood and not necessarily have anything to do with being a parent.
Going through this process will help you understand what triggers your anxiety. In turn, you’ll be able to tell the difference between a worry or a concern that requires parental action.
If you’re not sure where to begin this process, here’s some self-reflection questions to ask yourself.
Growing up, what made you anxious or caused you to worry?
What did your parents worry about?
What did you worry about before you had kids?
What’s your greatest fear in life? And why?
Identify worries in the moment
Sometimes our top worries as a parent are things that aren’t very helpful but are tied to a real concern. This can be anything from social rejection at school to procrastinating on studying or homework. Equipping your child with the tools and resources they need to overcome these obstacles is the best thing you can do as a parent. Worrying won’t get you anywhere but taking preventative measures will. When your child is more prepared, you’ll feel more at ease as a parent that they will be able to deal with these difficulties.
To get a better idea of your parental anxiety, write out the specific worrisome thoughts that come to mind. While doing so, try to label the emotions attached to worry. Is it panic? Fear of loss of control? Also try to locate any physical sensations that might accompany this worry. Is it in your chest? Shoulders? Abdomen? The goal here is to create a full mental, physical and emotional profile about your parental anxiety. There are no right or wrong answers here. It’s just a tool you can use to raise your self-awareness and help you better identify worries in the moment.
Once you’ve created your profile, try spotting worries in the moment before they escalate and gain traction in your head. Notice when that thought has taken over and it starts fueling your anxiety. When you catch yourself doing this, gently shift your attention to what’s right in front of you. Whether it’s a person you’re conversing with or a task at hand, try to focus on that. We can only do so much at once and letting worries take over in our mind will not allow us to be present. When you’re a parent, you have a million things going on at once. Next thing you know, your kid is graduating high school and they’re off to college. So make a conscious effort to live in the moment and enjoy each stage you have with your child(ren).
Being able to raise your self-awareness or identify worries in the moment will come more naturally when you practice mindfulness. It’s not fun to feel worried or anxious and we typically can’t control when those feelings arise. When those feelings do come up, you want to be able to respond in a way that alleviates those thoughts and feelings. Incorporating mindfulness techniques will help you feel less overwhelmed and more content.
Here are 3 ways to practice mindfulness when you notice those anxious thoughts taking over:
Notice the feeling of your feet on the ground. Don’t associate it with good or bad. Just simply notice the sensation.
Take a few deep breaths. Notice any tight muscles in your body and send your breath to those places. Remind yourself to relax your muscles.
Shift your attention to the external world. Focus on your immediate environment using one or more of the five senses (sight, taste, touch, smell, and sound). For example, what do you hear when you focus on the external world? Is it birds chirping? People talking? A train going by?
If you want more ideas for mindfulness exercises, check out our mindfulness recordings here: https://www.mindwellnyc.com/mindfulnessrecordings
Delay the worry
When we get caught up in anxiety, our mind gets crowded. During this time, it’s difficult to differentiate unhelpful worries and helpful ones that require immediate attention. Anxious thoughts make everything feel like it’s the most important right now and they're not going to change or get better. But with everything in life having its ebbs and flows, the thoughts eventually pass. That’s something we need to constantly remind ourselves -- these anxious thoughts will pass.
As far as deciphering helpful vs. unhelpful worries see if you can notice a theme. For example, if your child is sick and you immediately think of the worst case scenario. Although they just have a cold, your mind takes it to the extreme. Maybe this is something that’s happened before and you notice a health anxiety issue. Once you can identify a theme, set a timer for ten minutes and try to delay the worry. For those ten minutes, don’t think about the worry, try to problem solve or monitor the issue. In the meantime, engage in a healthy distraction then re-evaluate if necessary. After delaying the worry, you’ll have time to gain perspective and hopefully not be so caught up in the problem at hand.
Another way to delay worries is to engage in worry time. This means setting aside 20-30 minutes each day to worry. This might sound silly - who would want to do that? However, if you are already spending time worrying, you might as well take control over your mind and the timing of your anxious thoughts. When you have a worry thought outside of worry time, write it down to review later. When worry time hits, sit down with your list of worry thoughts and think about them. You can even write down more. See if you are still worried about the things you were thinking about earlier. When time is up, make sure to redirect your attention to something else and save the rest of your worries for the next day at worry time.
Find ways to relax
When you’re a parent, it never seems like there’s enough time in the day. Between after-school activities, homework, errands, and work (just to name a few) you might not think you have any time to relax. Despite the difficulties of parenting, it’s imperative that you make sure your kids aren’t your sole focus. You can’t be the best parent you can be without taking care of yourself first. It’s important to carve out time just for you and do something you enjoy and / or find relaxing. Whether it’s hiking, spending time with friends or reading -- make an effort to do something just for you everyday. If everyday seems like too much then start with once a week. You’ll be surprised how much the little things make a difference.
Spend a few minutes today thinking about what helps you stay positive and balanced. Then find a way to incorporate those activities into your schedule.
Remember, it’s completely normal to feel anxious as a parent. However, it doesn’t mean it’s something you have to live with forever. Following these steps will help you reduce your anxiety and create a more peaceful household.
If you’re struggling with parental anxiety and would like to speak with a professional, schedule an appointment with one of our therapists today.
And for those with college-bound teens, be sure to check out our new workshop-- Life on Campus: Making the Most of Your Transition to College
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