Dr. Samantha Brustad here, Licensed Psychologist and owner of Teletherapy-Solutions.com! As an adolescent and family therapist, I understand parenting is both incredibly stressful, yet one of the most rewarding experiences a person will have in life. Our children fill our hearts with love and joy, but they also test limits and can cause even the calmest parent to feel overwhelmed. Take into account the collective trauma we are all experiencing due to COVID-19 and other recent world events, and it comes as no surprise that many parents are currently experiencing high levels of anxiety. Parenting while anxious can make for a challenging experience for both parents and children.
Yes, being a parent is hard and can make anyone anxious. But when you are living with an anxiety condition, it can be exhausting and overwhelming. Anxiety is created from deeply held core beliefs that we are unable to control or resolve a stressor. This belief causes us to question our abilities, doubt a positive outcome, and obsess about a potential danger. It takes away our ability to have faith in the future and trust our judgment.
Let’s also take a minute to acknowledge the incredible amount of pressure put on parents, especially mothers. From nutrition to discipline to screen time, parents are exposed to more information than ever about how their parenting may affect their child long-term. These sources of information can be helpful, but they can also feed anxious thoughts and behaviors.
So how can parents prone to anxiety parent effectively while maintaining their own mental health? Here are four ways to parent while anxious:
1. Self Care
Self-care is by far and away the most important method to improve parenting skills. You cannot give your best to your child if you neglect your own basic needs. Take time and be intentional about what it is you need to feel balanced and recharged. Some basic needs to consider are exercise, good nutrition, and time to yourself to explore your unique interests. Think about what helps you recharge your batteries, so you have the mental and physical energy to be present and engaged with your child.
2. Set Boundaries & Show Yourself Compassion
While it isn’t advisable to avoid everything that tends to make you anxious, as doing so can ultimately increase anxiety, it is important to acknowledge and at times avoid situations that trigger overwhelming anxiety for you. It’s OK to set limits. It’s OK to take a break. You deserve compassion and forgiveness in the times your anxiety limits your parenting abilities. Remember, you are doing the best you can do and beating yourself up won’t help you be a better parent.
3.Develop Coping Skills that Work for you
Take the time to sit down and thoughtfully consider ways you can decrease your anxiety both in the moment and overall. I recommend you develop a specific plan for the various triggers/situations that commonly cause you anxiety, as well as specific coping strategies for various anxiety symptoms. I’ve provided some examples below:
- Trigger: In-laws criticize your parenting.
- Coping Strategy: 5-minute “time-out”/break, set boundaries, ask spouse for support.
- Trigger: Billy throws a tantrum in public.
- Coping Strategy: Deep breathing, compassionate self-talk to normalize.
- Symptom: Physical (racing heart, tightness in chest)
- Coping Strategy: Deep breathing, yoga, daily relaxation, stretching, mindfulness routines.
- Symptom: Thoughts (intrusive worry, self-blame)
- Coping Strategy: Distraction, Compassionate self-talk.
- Symptom: Emotional (overwhelmed, panic, worry)
- Coping Strategy: Reach out for help, self-soothing exercises.
4. Ask for Help
It is important that you understand that you do not need to suffer alone. I recommend you confide in those you trust about your anxiety. Make an appointment with a licensed therapist who specializes in working with anxiety. They can help you learn how to feel better so you can be free to be the great parent you are meant to be.