Worry and Anxiety in Parents: Ways to Cope with Stress
Parenting: Stress and Anxiety
Parenting can be a stressful and challenging job. Job? Yes that’s right I said it... job. It pays badly and there are long hours, but it’s a job. It may be a job that you love but like many jobs it requires attention to detail and a willingness to grow and get better. Not all parents see it this way but I think the effective ones do. The more you put into it the more you get out of it. Sure there may be times when you get into a bit of a rut or you completely botch an assignment but you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back at it. Anxiety and worry are to some degree part and parcel of parenting but the more we worry the less effective we are as parents. So how can we reduce the stress and anxiety? Well one way is to stop caring and don’t really do the job at all. It’s hard to worry if you’re ambivalent. Just take my Cousin Fred. His attitude is that kids need to figure it all out on their own, so don’t interfere too much and whatever they don’t figure out society will deal with later. As long as none of Fred’s kids bother him when he is watching his favorite sports on TV everything is good. He has it all figured out. No worry, no anxiety parenting. Oh well... when he later visits his children in jail he at least won’t have to worry about them being fed and having a roof over their heads. What a treasure Fred is, a real legend.
So Fred’s way is certainly one way of parenting, but if he was being paid to do the job he would have gotten his walking papers a long time ago. His boss would have told him I need someone who cares about their job, someone with a little passion for what they do . Well if you’re reading this article you’re more likely to be the type of parent who cares and wants to do a good job. So let’s just jettison Fred’s approach and suggest a few other things that might help parents who actually do care cope with some of the anxiety and stress of parenting.
Worry and Anxiety: A Good Thing?
One thing most people in the mental health field agree upon is that anxiety and stress are an essential part of life. They serve a purpose by helping to keep us on our toes and allow us to react when things like our health or safety are being threatened. We all naturally want some comfort and predictability in life, so threats to our security, happiness and comfort can produce anxiety. However, worrying about our kids can serve a positive purpose; it can give us the motivation to prepare our children for potential threats. It can spur us on to make safety plans and be ready for emergencies. Do you have a first aid kit in your car? Do you have an emergency evacuation plan for your home? Do you have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home? If you have small children are your electrical plug-ins fitted with safety covers? Are your bookshelves anchored to the wall? Do your children use child safety seats when traveling in your vehicle? In all of these instances parents have used their worry and concern to prepare for or even prevent potential problems or disasters. I know some people adhere to the fatalistic belief that if something bad is going to happen it’s just going to happen. But I can tell you that my kids were never in danger of pulling a bookshelf on top of themselves so that’s one bad thing that was never going to happen, at least in my home. Sure an argument can be made that after they have pulled the shelf over once they likely won’t do it again...the whole burn your hand on the stove burner lesson. It’s up to parents to decide how prepared they want to be. The truth is we can’t prepare or prevent every potential risk to our kids. Still there are enough risks in the world as it is, so why not at least make our homes and cars as safe as possible.
As our children grow, our influence on their environment becomes less and less. So maybe we teach them to swim or we encourage them to wear helmets and safety gear when bicycling or skateboarding. Maybe they take a bicycle safety course. As they reach a certain age maybe we even teach them how to chop wood safely by wearing safety goggles and using a wedge and sledgehammer. Maybe we take them camping and show them how to respect fire, make a proper fire in a properly placed fire pit, and how to properly put out a fire. Maybe we support their interest in rock-climbing, canoeing or kayaking by enrolling them in courses that teach appropriate skills and safety procedures. The key factor is that if young people are interested in something, they are going to try to find a way to do it. Part of growing up is taking risks. As parents, our role is to encourage independence and growth but also to be concerned for the safety of our kids if possible minimize those risks. It is natural to worry. However, if for example, we know our teens have passed an extensive safe driving course, we will be less worried and concerned when they do begin to drive. We will likely still feel worry and stress when they are out driving, but our stress and anxiety should be reduced by our knowing they have been properly trained and are well-prepared for emergencies.
When is stress and anxiety a problem?
Anxiety starts to become a cause for concern when it becomes a frequent event in our lives and it lasts longer and longer. An increase in the intensity of our anxious feelings is another marker of a potential problem. Do you repeatedly imagine the same stressful event over and over? Does your anxiety and worry affect your sleep patterns? Do you worry yourself to the point of getting physically ill? Does your anxiety interfere with your ability to complete everyday tasks? Does your mind generate things to worry about that are highly unlikely to occur? Does your anxiety interfere with your ability to interact with others in an appropriate and civil manner? For example, I have seen parents, so worried about their child hurting themselves at a playground that they will scream in anger at the child to be more careful. That is their anxiety yelling at their child. A parent who wants their child to be more attentive and careful would be more effective by conveying their concerns before arriving at the park and by doing so in a calm manner. Anxious outbursts, by the way, usually raise the child’s cortisol levels, stunning the child, and if anything make it more difficult for children to be able to pay attention and be careful. Bottom line: Increases in frequency, duration and intensity of anxiety, as well as anxiety and worry interfering with healthy daily functioning, are signs that there is a problem.
What can I do to control my anxiety? Prozac, Zoloft, or ?
This is really a bit of a loaded question. There are a lot of things you can try to do before seeing a medical or mental health professional. I will suggest some things you can try before heading off to your local Paxil pusher for a prescription to receive a nice dose of mood modifying drugs. Yes I realize some people may genuinely need the assistance of these drugs like Paxil, Prozac, or Zoloft to help them deal with overwhelming anxiety, but doesn’t it just make sense to try some other methods first? (If you are suffering from acute uncontrollable overwhelming anxiety, it is recommended you consult a mental health professional). Personally, if I was suffering from debilitating anxiety and none of the strategies I currently use were working, I would first seek help from a mental health counselor (probably one using a cognitive-behavioral approach) who would at least try to help a me get relief by first employing drug free, side effect free, methods. However, for many of us our problems haven’t gone that far and there are a few things we can try before it gets to that point.
Ten Drug Free Tips to help Reduce Anxiety
1.Talk about it with someone else, someone who is a good listener. This might be friend, a clergyman, a teacher or guidance counsellor, or that aunt in your family who always seems to have a wise and sage perspective on everything. Just talking about things can sometimes help you see things differently and can help you to get someone else’s perspective? Try to be open to what others have to say because you may already be so stuck in your point-of-view that you haven’t thought of all your options. Talking things out with the right person can greatly relieve stress.
2. Distract yourself. If not done to excess, activities watching a movie, reading a book, playing a video game, or going for a scenic drive can provide a temporary escape from our worries. The idea that you really need to just sit and be with your problems just doesn’t work. In fact this sort of rehashing of the problem usually just reinforces it. Rather than wallowing in your worries why not find a way to change your state and see how you feel after a brief escape from your worries.
3. Get busy. Start a project you have been avoiding or get to work gardening, cleaning, or repairing something around the house. Go for a bike ride or head to the gym for a workout. Take an aquacise or step class. Go for a swim or a run. Keeping busy and moving releases tension in our bodies. By stressing ourselves physically, we feel more relaxed afterward. Anxiety and worry can result in a lot of tension, so get in the habit of moving and keeping busy when the stress starts to build up.
4. Let go of the need to be perfect. Perfectionism is an impossible goal. Sometimes parents get stressed and worried because they want to do everything perfectly. They want to know the right way to do everything and when they find a better way they worry that maybe they haven’t been as good a parent as they should have been. When things go wrong, maybe they beat themselves up thinking they could have done things differently or prevented the problem. Parents need to know that they can’t control everything and even when they try to, some things are just outside their realm of control. Do your best and when things go wrong try to problem solve and address your problems calmly and intelligently.
5. Let it be. Just like the Beatles song sometimes it’s wiser just to let things be. We can’t control or change everything and sometimes when we worry or feel anxiety we begin to fight it. Unfortunately, the more we try not to think about something the harder it is not to think about it. Sometimes it is easier to simply label your worry and anxiety and let these thoughts stay or go as part of the natural course of a day’s events. When a worry-filled thought pops up quietly say to yourself worrying then focus on your breathing and continue on with your daily activities. Accept it, recognize it as an annoyance and don’t try to fight it. Fighting it sometimes just gives it more power.
6. Try to avoid stacking. I have noticed that when some people have worries or problems they tend to stack them on top of all the other worries or anxieties they can generate. Eventually the burden of carrying this large stack on their shoulders becomes too much. People who manage their problems well tend to compartmentalize. They divide their problems into manageable chunks, prioritizing them and dealing with them separately. Some might deal with the most urgent matters first, while others might choose to deal with the things they know they can manage easiest first. Either way, they are still moving forward. Dealing with the things we have some influence over and putting aside the things we can’t control lets us keep our momentum. Stacking all our worries often brings everything to a grinding halt.
something positive. People who have a high degree of anxiety and worry are
often very critical of others and of themselves. They see what is wrong in the
world around them, they see what is wrong in the people around them, and they
see what is wrong with themselves. They worry about the things they can change, stress over
the things they can’t change and often lack the wisdom to know the difference. Letting
go of that inner critic and seeing what is right in the world around you can
help change your frame of mind. Count your blessings and appreciate what is
good in yourself, the people in your life, and the world around you. At the very least try not to focus on everything that is wrong.
8. Generosity. Volunteer your time to help someone less fortunate than yourself. Find something bigger than you or your family’s problems that needs attention and practice helping others. Helping others can put our own lives and our worries in perspective and can help take the wind out of the sails of our anxiety.
Live in the moment. Try to spend more time just
being in the moment and paying attention to your world without judgment. Notice
how often you think judgmental thoughts and catch yourself doing it. Notice how
often you react to the people and the world around you on the basis of snap
judgments. Now, the next time you find yourself reacting to your children on
automatic pilot, catch yourself and wait five seconds before you say anything.
If it’s something that has you absolutely upset or fuming, apply the 24 hour
rule and wait a day before saying anything. Be aware that underneath your anger
is fear and anxiety. How helpful will your angry reactive outburst really be?
Find another way to relieve that tension because it won’t be worth it when you
begin to feel the guilt over your emotional outburst. Also remember, you are a
role model for your children.Let them see you coping with the things that used to frustrate you.
10. Learn stress reduction techniques. Take a yoga class or learn tai chi or any form of activity that focuses heavily on tension and relaxation coupled with breathing. You can learn to do specific stress reduction exercises by doing muscle relaxation exercises. These focus on tensing and relaxing all the major muscle groups in your body, moving upwards from foot to head, while breathing evenly. It can be done seated in a chair and is a great stress reduction technique that can be performed almost anywhere.